Wesley Willis: Concert Review, In Memoriam
Concert Review, In Memoriam.
When I first heard Wesley Willis rambling about donkey cocks and Alanis Morissette, my initial reaction was like most peoples: who the fuck is this guy and what the hell is he talking about. By strict perseverance, Willis became an icon in his own right, selling out shows for the mere fact that everyone wanted to see what he was going to do next. Would he head butt someone too hard, would he swear incessantly at nobody, would he even play? I had heard a lot of his stuff by the time I saw him live, and its safe to say, that what I hadn't heard was probably a lot like what I did hear. I approached the merchandise table to get his Greatest Hits LP and when I saw that Willis himself was manning the table, I was even a little more hesitant. Call it stereo-typing, call it whatever the fuck you want, the guy scared me a little. He looked completely dazed and more than confused. When he autographed my friend's record, he spelt his name wrong; his manager was there to count the money he was handing back; and he would randomly swear at people walking by. His concert was pretty straight forward: hit the DEMO button on the synth, think about lyrics and yell them at the laughing crowd; occasionally he would head butt a fan, but after a young girl participated and walked away looking as though she'd seen a ghost, no one else volunteered.
By the show's end, I felt bad for him. There were more people who had come to the show to merely laugh at him. His show sold out, but by the time it ended, the place was ¾ empty. He had been treated as a sideshow that only holds people's attention for 30 minutes. After that, the synthesizer beats got repetitive and most people trickled out; most were content to say they had 'seen Wesley Willis'. I did manage to stay until the end, but even though I did, I felt like an asshole. I wasn't 'having fun' or 'partying it up'; I was watching a very disturbed man sit at a synthesizer, press buttons, and scream into a microphone. To say his stage show was 'good' is hard; to say he was interesting is easy. But that's where the problem lies: should we commend Willis for 'breaking boundaries' or merely being that one artist who can get by with just about anything (and I mean anything). It's a binding situation: genius artist or profitable sideshow? To this day, I can't say I completely agree with either. Wesley Willis was merely Wesley Willis and that was enough for me.
To say he fit any categorization is untrue; to say he is a truly original figure in a music industry determined to categorize is perhaps the easiest thing of all. When I heard about his death last year, a few things went through my head. In a way, I think he's better off wherever he is. I don't know if he believed in 'heaven' or what; I sure as hell don't, but if he did, more power to him. I'm sure that he's head butting the angel Gabriel at this very moment.