Wesley Willis Dead at 40

The first time you heard a Wesley Willis song you probably said to yourself, “what the hell?” I know I did. Sadly, he died of chronic myelogenous leukemia the other day.

“”Wesley will go down as one of the most unique songwriters and entertainment personalities in history,” Biafra said Friday. “What really struck me was his sheer willpower, his unrelenting drive to succeed and overcome his horrifically poor background, child abuse, racism, chronic schizophrenia and obesity among other things. He was the most courageous person I have ever known.”

Mr. Willis said he often heard voices that urged him to “do bad things,” and his music and visual art helped him to “quiet the demons in my head.” As a result, he became one of the most visible examples of what has been called “outsider art”–visual art or music made by untrained artists, many of whom suffer from mental illnesses.

Though he sometimes recorded with an improvisational noise-rock band called the Wesley Willis Fiasco, led by his friend Dale Meiners, most of his albums were taped on a primitive recorder and featured him rapping over the canned instrumental sounds preprogrammed into a cheap Technics keyboard. These songs usually found Mr. Willis paying homage to a rock band that he had just seen perform, and they invariably ended with the tuneless, shouted declaration, “Rock Over London! Rock on Chicago!””

We’ll miss you Wesley.