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Some thoughts on Wesley Willis and his lasting impressions...

In school at every level, there was always a particular subject that showed its many many faces and how its transcended centuries and generations and cultures as part of the essential existence of humanity. Art.

Growing up learning about the part art had played in so many cultures and the faces it took on, and about those who participated in its process, whether as artists or patrons or students. Looking back on times like the Renaissance when wealthy people would commission artists to construct them a piece as a demonstration of their wealth, yet there were those who had passion running so deeply, they would starve and die at the whim of the art they were driven to create. It seems looking back on history there were times of brutal honesty and expression within its purest form.

Today, I often have a hard time finding the honesty and lack of motive in art. The idea of art is so driven by commerce nowadays that it seems almost impossible to express oneself without the motivation of commerciality to somehow rear its head, even if only in some small way. Wesley Willis took that idea and flipped it on its head. Stuffing his art - both songs and drawings- with so many commercials and familiar names and funny phrases. He took the idea of "commercial" and somehow turned it completely inside out.

It's so rare to find someone who's art is so honest, almost wholly about survival and about the battle within oneself; to express oneself merely as a means to survive and overtake that which tries to break one's will to live.

Wesley Willis fought the demons everyday. He had demons with names and personalities that he would hear scream at him, call him names, tell him to break things. I saw Wesley on multiple occasions fight with his demons, break his walkman and headphones because the demons told him to, watch him fight the hellrides he so often took.

By writing and recording hundreds, if not thousands of songs, and by inking countless original drawings, Wesley found a way to always stay one step ahead of his demons. He fought those demons for years, and, absolutely, unattested, he won. Sadly, cancer took Wesley. But the demons, certainly never won. Its a sad day to have lost Wesley, but it was not his fight with his demons that ever got the best of him. He passed in his sleep from a disease that takes the lives of millions.

The brutal honesty of his art, Wesley's drive to stay on a harmony joyride by being the Daddy of rock n roll and constantly creating and performing to hush those demons, that is -to this one student and patron- the purest expression I've experienced in my lifetime. Wesley Willis, the man and the artist, will always be an inspiration to me to create and to dig to the deepest places I can find to express myself with unadulterated honesty.

Thank you for your influence, your art and your honesty Wes. And of course your headbutts.

Rock over London, Rock on Chicago!
Kevin Taylor


i only met him once, during an actionman interview here in chicago, but i was blown away by his kindness and generosity both toward us and all his fans (as well as the lump that was on my forehead for the next 3 days from all his affectionate head butts).

i'm deeply, deeply saddened by this news, as is the rest of the actionman staff. there have been many tears, and tonight in milwaukee (and, i'm sure, around the country) there will be many bands playing in memory of wesley. our thoughts are with all of you, wesley's friends and loved ones.


To everyone at A.T. -
Our deepest sympathies. We loved Wesley here, played his music in our office whenever we felt down, and I personally had the pleasure of dealing with him a few times when I lived in Chicago. Thanks to everyone there for working hard to make sure people knew about Wesley and his music and for being supportive of him.

From the staffs of Epitaph, Fat Possum, ANTI.


I just heard the news about Wesley and I know how highly you thought of him, so I wanted to send my sincerest condolences. After you told me about his music I looked into it and was extremely impressed by the profound truthfulness of his work, and his creative passion. His death is a great loss - his artistic vision and bald humanity shone brightly enough to touch more people than he could have known. He was a genius, a poet, and a madman.

wesley willis was my favorite. anytime I was in a dark mood I could always count on his music to make me happy. every time. I feel really terrible....I've never felt this sad about a musician, but he wasn't any ordinary musician. thanks so much for putting out his music. it's allright because he's finally on a joyride again. hope you all are all right over there

after recording a bunch, and then driving to some shows, Wesley was exhasted, so was i. we got up late one day and his medication wore off, he was haveing a hard time. i had to try to drive while holding his hand while he switched from crying, to trying to hit his head, to yelling at those awfull demons, there was no joy ride for the whole ride back to the studio, a few hour ride. i was exhasted, he couldnt be reassured, at least not for long. we get back to the studio i finally got him in bed, he always asked me to tuck him in, so he finally gets in bed, i am so tired, its like 3 or 4 am, i get into the booth at the studio (wes slept on the bed) i lay down on the floor ready for some alone time and rest, and then i hear this noise, like wesley yelling through the glass in the booth's windows, i think, oh shit, he woke up, he is probely yelling at the demons, anyway i get up, trying to be sypathetic, but i am totaly tired and annoyed, i open the door to the studio where wes was still tucked in, facing straight up, not eving listening to what he was saying, i interupt his outburst, and say "wes, its time to sleep!" he turns his head over twards me with a big huge smile, and says "dont be mad zespy, im just singing my favorite loverboy song!" " the kid is hot tonight, oh so hot tonight!" , over and over we sang, lauging our asses off at how silly it was, and forgiving each other for a hard day. we sang and i ran around the studio belting out the lyrics as he lay in bed singing over and over. it was a great realese. we both slept well that night, the hell ride was over. the joy ride had been just around the corner, we just didnt see it. wes tought me patience, and hope, an how to work your fucking ass off. anway i am rambling. i have many stories as does everyone that had him in their life.


I wrote this in marker on my arm and wore it for a day (in reference, of course, to one of Wesley's songs, the first one I heard that, literally, as this verse began, knocked me to the floor in laughter):

Wesley rocked the hell out of me,
He knocked me to the floor.
I never got back up.
He was being such a genius.

1963-2003 RIP

My deepest condolences. Thanks for helping to bring his music to us.


Dear Jello,
Please let me offer my condolences to you on the loss of your good friend Wesley. Also, I'd like to thank you for exposing Wesley's music to the world--were it not for you, I never would have heard the first "Greatest Hits" CD which turned me into a Wesley fan for life.

For what it's worth, I've written a tribute to Wesley on, a website I write a column for. If you get a chance, please take a look.
R.I.P. Wesley.


[to Jello] just wanted to thank you for the wesley song last night. i actually thought the whole service was touching and appropriate. i had known wes for about 12 years. i was a good friend of pat from the fiasco and i did t-shirts for the band as well as wes's daddy of rock-n-roll shirts. chicago will not be the same without him.

caroline horist


Wesley was great in the best ways - honest, thoughtful, and funny as shit. I am sincerely saddened that I'll never have a chance rock one out on stage with him.

If there's ever a tribute album, please let us know - that's the least we can do for someone that reawakened the love and humor in music for us metalhead cynics.

Damn. What else can I say?

Rest well, friend.


I was real upset to hear of Wesley's passing. He had actually spent a week in my dorm in Buffalo in December 2001 and left a big impact on everyone here. Beyond Wesley's joy and humor and witnessing the suffering of demon attacks, I saw so many people moved by the simple love that Wes gave total strangers. He was probably the most sincerely warm person that I have ever known.

Thank you for the respect and class with which AT handled Wesley's passing. I know a lot of people didn't 'get' Wesley but it really seems like Jello Biafra did.

Mike Knight


Just came home from Wesley's wake. Wes to me was an inspiration on so many different levels that I couldn't even begin to list it here. Jello Biafra said some nice words for his eulogy on the man. As did Wesley's brother. For me, To bump into him downtown or at a club was always an experience. He would always have either a bag or a box of stuff with him to sell. Be it art, Music, Or tickets to a Fiasco gig he always had something to offer. If you ever bought his discs or his art then you know what I mean. You could be having the worst night of your life & bumping into him could make it the best night ever. The guy was certainly robust in everything that he did & I will miss him. May your demons be silent.
Rock Over London, Rock On Chicago.


Wesley & Tom Gordon

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