Wesley Willis’ music has healing properties: I can attest.

Wesley Willis was a musician from Chicago who released a butt-ton of albums in the 90’s and early 2000’s. He was also a visual artist. His songs mostly consist of shouted lyrics over keyboard demo songs. Wesley was affected by schizophrenia and his songs often include lines about his hallucinations.

I first discovered the music of Wesley Willis by accident while hanging out at a friend’s house in high school. We were poking around his music collection and “Rock and Roll McDonald’s” popped up on his queue. We giggled like the Connecticut prep-school boys we were; it was so bizarre. Throughout the next few years I maintained a fascination with Wesley’s music, downloading as many of his songs as I could.

In the summer of 2007, following my junior year in college, I visited a friend in Chicago. I had never been to Chicago and was excited to check it out. I had worked myself into a tizzy over some stupid first-world problem or another (oh, gee, this girl doesn’t like me, whatever will I do??!?) and was over the whole pretentious East Coast hipster-douche thing. I lacked the self-awareness to realize that I was the definition of such; that’s a story for another time.

I ended up having the time of my life in Chicago, meeting some wonderful down-to-earth people and spent most of my trip listening to Wesley Willis songs with my friend. The trip helped me get over my mopey feelings, I got a strong hankering to move to Chicago after graduation (a dream I finally realized eight years later in a uniquely roundabout way by relocating to Minneapolis), and I developed a new appreciation for Wesley’s music. I loved the simplicity and straightforwardness of his lyrics:

You are a nice doctor! 

You are my grateful one 

You are my man

You are the greatest 

(“Aftab Noorani” lyrics courtesy of Elyrics.net)

Immersing myself in the world of Wesley’s songs helped me cut out a lot of the angsty bullshit I was wading in at the time. There was a sort of logic to their lyrical content that helped me organize my thoughts: I like this. This is good. This other thing is bad. I will do this and not that.

I started thinking a bit more clearly (as clearly as a 20 year old could think, at least), speaking a bit more deliberately (i.e. cutting down on flowery bullshit-speak), and opened myself up to a host of new experiences that upcoming year. Wesley’s music helped with my social anxiety, which can be moderately debilitating at times. It helped calm me, and in doing so allowed me to focus in on things that really mattered.

“Northwest Airlines” is the song I’ve included here. I think this song perfectly encapsulates Wesley’s simple but effective songwriting approach: pick a topic about a person/company/band you’re interested in, write exactly how that thing makes you feel without wrapping it in a series of obscure metaphors, and sing your ass off. His songs convey a refreshing joy and enthusiasm for life. They remind me that it’s important to appreciate what you love and forget about what you don’t.

In the words of Wesley from one of his trademark song endings: Rock over London, Rock on Chicago. Wheaties: Breakfast of Champions. Rest in peace.

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