Visit the The Wesley Willis tribute page
Dear Friends and fellow Wesleynauts,
We are deeply saddened to report that Wesley Willis passed away on, Thursday, August 21st, 2003. Wesley will be greatly missed by all that had the privilege to know him, as well as the fans who have been fortunate enough to experience his genius.
To pay some more respect and to have a harmony joyride, Alternative Tentacles was a part of The extreme 24 hour non-stop Wesley Willis Radio Fiasco! It ran from December 20, 2003 at 9pm through 9pm Dec. 21st on the “fine 89” KFJC, one of many fine San Francisco Bay Area college & community radio stations!
Wesley was diagnosed with Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML) at the end of 2002, and had to undergo emergency surgery on June 2nd to identify the source of, and to suppress internal bleeding. It is not clear if this bleeding was related to his leukemia or not, and the exact cause of death is still unknown. Wesley had been recovering at a Hospice in Illinois, and since the surgery his health had deteriorated rapidly.
His songs were simultaneously disturbing, hilarious, blunt, and intoxicating. Wesley’s sheer excitement and unaffected honesty about every cultural phenomenon, defined his music as truly individual, and truly punk rock.
Wesley released well over 50 albums – 4 of which are on Alternative Tentacles,his most recent, Greatest Hits Vol. 3 (CD)was released just weeks after he passed away.
For more information on Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia, please visit http://leukemia-lymphoma.org .
We at AT are committed to keeping the legacy of Wesley’s life going. He was an amazing person. If you are not familiar with his music, please check out his music. It’s worth it.
Wesley Willis’ Artist Biography :
Rock over London… Rock on Chicago… The Big W will rock your world!!!! For those unaware, WESLEY WILLIS was a Chicago icon who rapidly achieved cult status. He began his career singing on the street, accompanied by his Technics KN 2000 keyboard. He was soon playing opening slots for local bands, and later recording songs as an homage to these performances (i.e.- “Urge Overkill”, “Swervedriver”, “Foo Fighters”, “The Frogs”). In 1989, WESLEY was diagnosed as schizophrenic; he explains that writing, performing, and recording help quiet the voices in his head.
Wesley Willis stood 6’5″ tall and weighed somewhere between 300 and 350 pounds prior to contracting leukemia, and liked to greet people with a headbutt. Wesley enjoyed walking the streets of Chicago, peddling his detailed ballpoint/felt-tip renderings of the city and riding around on the bus. On October 21, 1989, he began hearing voices and was shortly thereafter diagnosed as having chronic schizophrenia. Willis claimed to have “schizophrenia demons” in his head that take him off of his “harmony joy rides” to put him on “torture hell rides”. In 1992 Wesley began writing songs, and soon after, guitarist Dale Meiners took Wesley in to his studio to record them. After many line-up changes, Meiners and Wesley formed the Wesley Willis Fiasco, with Wesley as frontman. Willis had built up a small cult following with his bizarre, three-chord rants about trivial everyday items, music, and people he knows. For the first part of the 90’s, several independently released tapes of his songs appeared, eventually followed by indie recordings of his albums. He now has over 1000 songs in circulation and has recorded at least 50 albums. At one point he recorded 4 different albums in 36 days. Each one is completely finished in 5 hours or less.
His songs are simultaneously disturbing, hilarious, blunt, and intoxicating. WESLEY’s sheer excitement and unaffected honesty about every cultural phenomenon, from a city bus ride to McDonald’s, coupled with a refreshingly wacky sense of humor, define his music as truly individual. Played frequently on the nationally syndicated Doctor Demento Show and featured in major publications, WESLEY has rubbed elbows with everyone from Steve Albini to the Beastie Boys’ Mike D. Apart from self-releasing dozens of CDs, Wesley has two albums on American Recordings. In 1995, his number one fan, Jello Biafra, eagerly compiled WESLEY’s Greatest Hits Volume I, which was soon followed by Volume II in 1999. Alternative Tentacles Records then released Rush Hour LP/CD in 2000. Greatest Hits Volume 3 had been scheduled to come out on October 6th, and it still will. It will contain an “enhanced” portion with some great video footage of Wesley as well as downloadable sounds, and a gallery featuring his drawings and some photos of him.
We love you like a milkshake, Wesley, and we will miss you!
Wesley Willis: Artist of the Streets
wesley willis short documentary
Wesley Willis Live at the Double Door Chicago