Saturday, 22 August 2009

Wesley Willis Sampler

Daniel Crapston

To mark the sixth anniversary of this one-of-a-kind performer's death by heart failure (it was yesterday actually), I've uploaded not an album or one of Jello Biafra's excellent 'Greatest Hits' compilations but all of the free tracks from the Alternative Tentacles website. That's 24 tracks in total, a pretty good deal I think. Note that this comprises Wesley's extremely prolific solo output (he once recorded 4 albums in 36 days) and only one track by Wesley Willis Fiasco, the punk band he fronted.

Wesley Willis was a cult legend in the 90's, a hit in the early days of P2P filesharing, and certainly not your run-of-the-mill Chicago street musician. He was a clinically obese, diagnosed chronic schizophrenic and talented felt-tip landscape artist who liked to greet new friends with a headbutt (thus the ever-present third eye bruise on his forehead) and relay his totally unique, blunt and childlike worldview via simplistic three chord songs - each one as bewildering and hilarious as the last. The songs will crack even the iciest veneer, and as well as making you laugh give you plenty of food for thought when you look at his life - it was traumatic by all accounts as he suffered child abuse and abject poverty, only to later have to (literally) battle his inner demons. This was not a well man. But far from his music being some sort of exploitative arena for the Wesley Willis Freak Show (it sure as hell woulda been if he'd been picked up by a major), it seems like 'rock-a-roll' was Wesley's catharsis and therapy, his means of suppressing the voices in his head. He actually named these demons, and the accompanying psychotic episodes they induced he referred to as 'warhellrides'; apparently he normally experienced these riding on the Chicago bus lines - one of his favourite hobbies. Wesley mainly sung about things he enjoyed, and having opened for many bands in his time was particularly fond of writing songs about them: 'Foo Fighters', 'Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers', 'Swervedriver' being just a few.

'Rock over London, rock on Chicago'

Check out the Alt. Tentacles tribute page and enjoy the music. It will bring a smile to your face at the very least. Whilst Willis is obviously the star of the show with his out-of-tune voice and unique wisdom, his band/producer clearly knew how to tap in to the weirdness of the uncategorizable songs and the sprightly backing is prone to long instrumental passages and weird, Ween-esque pitch-adjusted harmonies.
Rock 'n' Roll McDonalds
Northwest Airlines

If you are taken with this stuff, the AT prices seem more than reasonable and the CDs come with an obscene amount of extras. One of the best parts of ordering from an indie or direct from the artist is the personal messages ('Keep on rockin' Jinsie!' etc) and the occasional freebie thrown in the parcel you didn't ask for. Then there's the fact that you're helping to stem the tide of mainstream cattle music; and who knows maybe less great bands would split prematurely and fewer promising labels would go under if people actually did things the old-fashioned way and bought stuff they liked. Mindless acquisition will only take you so far if you have half a brain. I personally can't wait to start buying up my most cherished digital music hoardings on CD.

Perhaps that's why most major labels have been turning a blind eye to mp3 blogs, it's free advertising... fortunately however there are still people who are opposed to lining the pockets of corporations who, for many decades, have overpriced awful, awful music and gone out of their way to screw the artists. But, hey, as long as fashion fascism exists and the apathetic populace continues to buy what they are told to, it'll go on. I'd sooner pay 9 quid for a Wesley Willis record than a single penny for a fucking chainstore Calvin Harris album on Sony BMG or Polydor or whatever... Especially as that penny would not be going to Harris.

No comments: