May 15, 2011

Wesley Willis's Joyrides


I generally do not see gigantic black men who suffer from both obesity and paranoid schizophrenia as kindhearted teddy bears, but the recently deceased iconic rock star Wesley Willis is certainly an exception to my mostly exception-less rule. Unlike most members of his community, Willis despised McDonald's fast food restaurants and loved rock music. Although Wesley Willis got out of the hood and became a somewhat successful musician in spite of his debilitating mind and body, mainstream media outlets have mostly ignored his stranger-than-fiction life story. After all, the so called liberal elite has always loved propagandizing real-life stories about minorities and handicapped individuals who – despite the blatant odds against their success – became cultural icons, yet the incredible (albeit short) life of Wesley Willis is only known by his mostly marginal fans. In the documentary Wesley Willis’s Joyrides, one is introduced to the joyful joyrides and devilish personal hellrides of the extraordinary punk rock icon Wesley Willis. Next to the legendary Bad Brains –  an all-black hardcore/reggae outfit – Wesley Willis is the most well known and revered black man in the mostly white punk rock genre, yet the gigantic schizoid negro frontman was more interested in pure rock ‘n’ roll; a genre largely pioneered by his ancestors, but later abandoned by later generations of black Americans. Wesley Willis may have lacked the guitar virtuoso skills of Jimi Hendrix, but he certainly put his entire haunted soul into his unconventional and totally genuine music. On top of creating a variety of original songs, Willis also covered songs ranging from popular British New Wave group Duran Duran’s “Girl on Film” to American country-rock band Pure Prairie League’s “Amie.” Joyrides is a documentary that presents Wesley Willis at his ecstatic highs and tormented lows, thus it is a fairly objective flick that captures its subject beautifully; presenting the rocker’s incomparable essence like never before.




 The nineteenth century German scientist Karl Vogt once pointed out in his book Man and his Place in Nature that, “The skull of a Negro is as strong as ivory. In a fight, the Negro attempts to strike the chest of his opponent with his head, and both Negroes resemble lunging rams in the process.” Wesley Willis is certainly an exception to Vogt's theory as he used his gigantic cranium to head butt friends and fans as a gentlemanly gesture of affection. In fact, due to Willis’s lifelong friendly skull-tapping, the rambunctious rocker acquired a permanent mark of discoloration on his forehead. Contained within the punk rock star’s indestructible skull was a brain that demanded his body to endlessly draw pictures of freeways and cars, solve complex (but pointless) math equations, and write songs about his lifelong obsessions; including (but not limited to): Ronald Reagan, McDonald’s Big Macs, police, demons, and corrupt governments. Despite his completely genuine interest in creating art, Wesley Willis made no lie of his affinity for cash-money. Like a fat kid in a candy store, Willis was known to go into music stores and buy the finest keyboards and accessories. In Joyrides, some of Willis’s buying frenzies are intimately documented. Willis’s in-store demonic freak-outs are candidly presented in the documentary as well. Wesley Willis had an extremely tragic and violent childhood which seems to be the root of the demons that would haunt him for the rest of his burdensome life. During Joyrides, it is revealed that Willis started hearing devilish voices after his deranged convicted felon stepfather beat him. Unsurprisingly, when Willis was a child, he and his brother were taken away from their negligent parents. As a result of his unforgettable misfortunes, Wesley Willis left his childhood ghetto in Chicago and hoped to never look back. In one particularly disturbing scene, Wesley Willis emotionally tells about how he was sliced in the face by a fellow brotha' during a violent robbery. Luckily, Wesley Willis started many friendships with bourgeois artists who were sympathetic towards his plight, henceforth allowing the rocker to crash in their homes. Of course, Wesley Willis was certainly no freeloader as he eventually earned his own cash when his band The Wesley Willis Fiasco became somewhat successful in the early 1990s. Naturally, many of Willis’s lifelong friends recollect their happy – as well as agitating – experiences with the possessed rock star in Joyrides




As discussed by his various friends in Joyrides, white liberal media darlings felt that Wesley Willis was being exploited by his loyal white punk rocker fans. During the documentary, former Dead Kennedys singer Jello Biafra – who owns the punk record label Alternative Tentacles (which released some of Willis’s albums) – states that “misguided blooding heart liberals” are totally ignorant in their assertion that Willis was exploited by whites with ulterior motives. It goes without saying that white liberals were offended by Wesley Willis’s “white” style of music. After all, white liberals – being cannibalistic self-loathing sadomasochists – love to promote exotic Negro music as its alien character and Negro spirit give them the satisfaction that they are destroying their own peoples culture, therefore Willis’s music fell out of line with their culture-distorting agenda. It is indubitably quite hypocritical how white liberals never see proud savage rappers like 50 Cent and DMX as pseudo-artists that blatantly exhibit and promote the worst stereotypes associated with black American culture. Wesley Willis was certainly not a criminal, crackhead, rapist, nor a posturing baboon, but a man whose greatest interest was making people happy with his heartwarming persona and original outsider art. Due to Willis’s traumatic experiences as a child, he was deathly afraid of his hometown. In Joyrides, some of the artist’s friends state that he had a greater exaggerated fear of his black community than that of rich white liberals who live in gated communities. Wesley Willis’s absurdist lyricism and songs have been dubbed by some as “savant-garde”, no doubt a musical style that is exclusive to one individual. I see Wesley Willis as the white Daniel Johnston; only less neurotic and more charismatic.  Willis and Johnston seem to have also shared similar obsessions.  Whereas Johnston wrote a song entitled Casper The Friendly Ghost; Willis wrote a song called  "Casper the Homosexual Friendly Ghost."  Willis’s life would make for an excellent bio-pic flick as his personal story of struggle is certainly more captivating and unconventional than the one told in the Hollywood film The Soloist (2009), but it is doubt such a work would ever be made, thus, for now, Wesley Willis’s Joyrides must be considered the definitive cinematic work chronicling the neglected punk rock icon’s fairly eventful life.  Even during his remaining days on this earth (while dying in a hospital from chronic myelogenous leukemia), Wesley Willis remained jovial and continued to create music on his electronic keyboard.  Whether you fancy Wesley Willis or not, Wesley Willis's Joyrides is an uplifting documentary that will make even the most bitter of pessimists see the world in a brighter light.


-Ty E

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