Weekly Wire
NewCityNet No Fiasco

By Dave Chamberlain

APRIL 19, 1999:  He's a hard man to forget.

And it's a good thing that even though Wesley Willis has ceased to be the musical flavor of the month - you can probably quit holding your breath for Tabitha Soren's follow-up interview - not everyone has forgotten.

In fact, ex-Dead Kennedy and current Alternative Tentacle owner Jello Biafra refuses to forget, and refuses to let Willis drop from public consciousness. The label is releasing its second record by Mr. Willis, "Greatest Hits Vol. 2," a collection of Willis' mostly self-made recordings. Only on three of the twenty-two tracks ("The Frogs," "Amie" and "Girls on Film") does a full band - the now-defunct Fiasco - accompany Willis.

Wesley's story is familiar to veterans of Chicago's music scene. Willis is a diagnosed chronic schizophrenic, a huge man of 6'5" and more than 300 pounds, whose lyrical chanting about everything that his eyes see developed into cult, punk rock status. A little more than three years ago, Wesley Willis and the Fiasco were signed to a two-disc deal on American Records, and the succeeding media frenzy that surrounded him was the genesis of moral questions. Would the record industry exploit Willis more than another artist? (Interestingly enough, the American deal was a curiously modest $10,000 for two records.) How would a schizophrenic react if he's blown out the sewers of the record making machine?

The questions were posed, and in the fashion of soundbite mentality, Willis quickly dropped from mainstream sight. Especially in Chicago. No longer are indie filmsters seen walking aside Wesley trying to interview him or get him on film. Metro crowds stopped flocking to wherever he sold his art and CDs. The Fiasco broke up; it's difficult for Willis to tour extensively.

But he hasn't gone anywhere, aside from the occasional tour. You can still find him on the CTA, on the streets (though not in Wicker Park, his old haunt), in bars. In fact, on the occasional Saturday afternoon you can find him at the Lincoln Park yuppie cesspool Lucky Strike, pounding Coca-Cola.

"Greatest Hits" culls from various recordings, and it's dead-on Wesley. Songs are titled to the point: "They Threw Me Out of Church," "I Broke Out Your Windshield," "Suck a Caribou's Ass." So what if the music behind Wesley is very often the exact same as the song before; couched within are honest, lyrical gems like (from "Jello Biafra") "You can really sing your ass off to the max/ you are a good person."

In the liner notes, Biafra perfectly expresses the point: "He [Willis] is, in a nutshell, what the true spirit of punk is supposed to be all about. He is arguably the most honest and original artist in music today. His words are straight from the heart... . He does not pretend to be anything other than who he is. Poets and songwriters wrestle endlessly (some would say drone on) over the meaning and expression of love. Wesley gets right to the point: 'You are my friend/I like you a lot/You are on my side/I love you like Post Raisin Bran.'"

Right on to Willis for not stopping and for giving everyone a reality check - sometimes uncomfortably; same to Biafra for making sure no one forgets.


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