Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
A 6'5", 350 lbs. diagnosed schizophrenic with a habit of head-butting people, Willis created more than fifty albums full of bizarre, excited, and often obscene rants about crime, fast food, cultural trends, violent confrontations with superheroes, commands for his "demons" to engage in bestiality, and praise for his favorite actors, politicians, and hip-hop and rock artists.
Willis' songs invariably featured the title as a chorus and ended with the phrase "Rock over London! Rock on, Chicago" and then a popular commercial slogan. Willis had no musical training and relied on the prerecorded arrangements from the Auto-Accompany features on his keyboards. Willis occasionally changed the key or tempo or pressed a "Drum Fill" button for a slightly different arrangement. His well-known songs include "Rock and Roll McDonald's", "Cut the Mullet", "Rock Saddam Hussein's Ass", "Alanis Morissette", and "I Whupped Batman's Ass."
Willis and his siblings spent most of their childhoods in various foster homes. In 1989, Willis began hearing "demon voices" and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He called his psychotic episodes "hell rides". Alternatively, rock-and-roll was "the joy ride music" and Willis often indicated that listening to and performing music helped him battle the voices.
In the early 1990s, Willis became creatively active, selling his marker drawings of the Chicago cityscape — drawings which would appear on the covers of his albums — on the city’s streets. In 1992, Willis joined musicians from the city's alternative rock scene to form the hard rock band, The Wesley Willis Fiasco, which produced such future file sharing favorites as "Jesus is the Answer" and "Casper the Homosexual Friendly Ghost". Although few took him seriously, Willis created a buzz in the Chicago music scene and soon caught the attention of American Recordings, a major record label.
Without his band, Willis was signed to American Recordings in 1995 and went on to record two albums for the label (while producing dozens of other albums independently) and became a minor novelty rock sensation. He toured frequently, was profiled on MTV, and was a guest on Howard Stern's radio show.
Some have questioned the æsthetic taste of Willis' audience. Rock critic Will Robinson Sheff wrote that Willis’ "periodic appearances for crowds of jeering white fratboys evoke an uncomfortable combination of minstrel act and traveling freakshow." Others have heralded Willis as a welcome punk respite from overproduced pop music and pretentious indie rock.
- In concert, Willis occasionally replaced Chicago with the name of the city in which he was performing for his famous tagline, i.e. "Rock on, New York, New York" or "Rock over London! Rock on, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania".
- The Wesley Willis Fiasco released one rare 7" record, split with the popular band Sublime. The Sublime side was "All You Need." The Fiasco's side was "Get On The Bus", about Willis' need to ride a bus from show to show with the band because of his intense fear of planes. Transporting the unstable Willis was one of the causes of the band's break up.
- The Wesley Willis Fiasco recorded two cover songs, Pure Prairie League's "Amie" and Duran Duran's "Girls on Film", the latter of which they recorded for a 1997 Duran Duran tribute album.
- Jonti Picking, creator of the Internet cartoon Weebl and Bob, is a big fan of Willis. He has made an animation featuring Willis' song "Merry Christmas", as well as a Weebl episode called "Poet", dedicated to the memory of Willis.
- The slogan of the music software program Winamp, "Winamp, it really whips the Llama's ass", was inspired by Willis' song "Whip the Llama's Ass" from his album Guitar Rock of Ages.
- Willis' "Rock and Roll McDonald's" was featured in the documentary Super Size Me.
- At the time of his death, Willis' total savings were less than $300.
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