Wesley Willis has gotten me thinking once again about dwarf tossing. Yes, you read that right; I am struggling with the issue of tossing little people for entertainment. I am not being facetious. When I really ruminate on the issue of exploitive entertainment, I am just about all for it (freak shows, “COPS,” Reform Party conventions) except when it comes down to dwarf tossing. I don’t cotton to tossing the little people, even if they’re handsomely paid. And Willis, who is a paranoid schizophrenic, opens the same can of worms.
Willis, who hails from Chicago, was diagnosed with his disease in 1989. He made extra money by selling his highly-detailed drawings to people on the street, and eventually hooked up with guitarist Dale Meiners, who began showing Willis’ work. Shortly after that, Willis began to collaborate with Meiners on a musical project which became known as the Wesley Willis Fiasco.
The Fiasco was a metal band, fronted by Willis, who basically read his poems over the music. Lyrically, Willis could be downright hilarious as he guided listeners through the minefield that is his mind. Whether he was covering Duran Duran or singing his original compostions like “Make Sure I’m Out Screwing Up” or “I Broke Out Your Windshield,” it always seemed like Willis was like a precocious child or court jester, calling it like he saw it. And not many see things the way Willis does.
The Fiasco was actually quite a success but, as documented in the film Out of the Loop, the band broke up after eight months of touring. As Meiners said in that documentary, “Wesley’s mentality kind of dictated the mood, and that’s tough.”
Willis, however, has kept on doing his thing. He has recently released his second full-length album on Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles, and is touring nationally, reportedly, by himself. If he isn’t supported by a band, expect less of a musical offering, and something more like performance art, or a reading; Willis will likely be playing his beloved Technics KN2000 keyboard, programmed to his favorite preset rhythm (country rock 8) and singing all his songs to roughly the same tune.
So should you go see this guy? I’ll be honest and say that if you do, prepare to be more than a little unnerved. The guy will say some weird stuff and people will laugh and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll wonder what’s so damn funny about a schizophrenic spouting off, and you’ll have a rich inner dialogue about art, exploitation and the relative merits of tossing little people.
Wesley Willis plays Jay’s Upstairs on Thursday, March 2 at 10 p.m. Cover TBA.