Rocking Maniac

Where there's a Willis, there's a schizophrenic cult icon who can whup all of rock's mad geniuses

Frankly, if rock writers didn't have crazed visionaries to waste ink on, you people would get plenty tired of reading about expertly played tambourine tracks and tearful obbligato passages. No, you'd be reading about Bill Clinton's three-breasted intern in the Weekly World News like the rest of your weak-willed kind. Just be thankful there's at least one profession on this crazy planet where any kind of mental abnormality can guarantee some degree of reverence.

Wesley Willis, street musician from Chicago and a chronic schizophrenic, became a cult hero in 1995 when Rick Rubin signed him to his label and rock stars like Billy Corgan, Jello Biafra and the Beastie Boys began championing his homemade CDs in the press. However, his prolific output and an ensuing glut of Wesley Willis product (sometimes three records in one year) have prevented him from having much mass impact. That and the fact that he is tone deaf and repeats the same preprogrammed keyboard patterns in his numerous songs.

He's undeniably funny, honest and sometimes touching, too, but many PC writers feel that his career is an exploitive one-joke at best. Bah! Put him up against any respected rock star with a slightly loony bent and you'll find why Willis has 'em all beat.

Wesley Willis: Rock's reigning champion of dysfunction.
Wesley Willis: Rock's reigning champion of dysfunction.


Scheduled to perform on Monday, January 28. Showtime is 8:30 p.m.
Nita's Hideaway in Tempe

1. Rock's Most Coherent Schizophrenic:

Del Shannon: Only people calling his house would know he was a closet schizophrenic, with his answering machine directing to leave messages for either Del or Charles, the guy with the handgun permit.

Syd Barrett: Roger Waters believes his old bandmate was an undiagnosed schizophrenic. Syd's legendary status was assured with one album (Piper at the Gates of Dawn) and an extended period of inactivity that began by miming to a record without moving his lips, playing only the C chord in concert and conducting interviews through catatonic stares.

David Bowie: Of course, rock's Great Pretender was a faux schizophrenic, the result of doing months of interviews as Ziggy Stardust but cashing checks made out to David Bowie. He was no more schizophrenic than any other stockbroker who paints his face half red and half silver.

Roky Erikson: Attempting to get out of a 1969 conviction for the possession of one joint, Roky pleaded insanity and got all the free electroshock therapy he wanted for the next three years. In 1982, he signed an affidavit stating that a Martian had taken residency in his body.

Daniel Johnston: He tried to strengthen his dual position by recording "I Met With Roky Erikson." With all these personalities breathing the same Texas air, the best thing his summit with the 13th Floor Elevator operator revealed was that Roky's mother made them all chicken.

The Winner: Wesley Willis: Anyone can sound like a man torn into mad little pieces, but only Willis actually explained his two-in-one condition in a forthright manner on "Chronic Schizophrenic": "My mind plays tricks on me every time I say something/It brings evil forces out of my head and talks to me vulgar and suddenly I start raving." Which he does, yelping the title like he's at the wrong end of a cattle prod before switching back into his sensible shill voice: "Rock over London/Rock on Chicago/Pontiac. We build excitement." Also, he is perhaps the only rock icon to argue with his demons during interviews.

2. Rock's Fiercest Competitor:

Michael Jackson: Unable to tolerate anyone holding claim to his King of Pop title, he buys up the Beatles' copyrights and cheapens their catalogue into sneaker and cookie jingles, marries Elvis' daughter and tries to get her to ditch her maiden name and records duets with people he felt threatened by (Paul McCartney, Run-D.M.C. and Mick Jagger). He failed to record duets with Madonna, Terence Trent D'Arby and Prince, who refused to face off against Jacko in the "Bad" video because he thought the song stunk and that Michael was a wimp. Michael retaliates by naming his first-born Prince, something akin to Churchill naming his first spawn Adolf.

Oasis: Unable to control their lashing tongues, the Gallagher brothers wish AIDS upon their nearest competitor, Blur.

Diana Ross and the Supremes: When they would have to open for Martha and the Vandellas on the Motortown revues, they'd find out what their rivals were wearing that night and wear the same outfit first.

The Winner: Wesley Willis: His way of eliminating the competition is killing them with compliments, then devaluing that same praise by sucking up to someone else. On "Alanis Morissette," he calls the Canadian "a rocking maniac," "a singing hyena" and "a rock star in Jesus' name," but later disses her on "Porno for Pyros" ("The rock jam session whipped Alanis' ass"). For "Elvis Presley," Willis says "He can really rock the house," the same compliments he reserves for Urge Overkill, Skrew, Rick Sims and some unnamed band at the China Club. As for his own nearest rival, Wesley sends up Daniel Johnston (who believes he will become Casper the Friendly Ghost after he dies) by recording "Casper the Friendly Homosexual Ghost."

3. Rock's Greatest Song Stockpiler:

Brian Wilson: To appease his psychiatrist Dr. Eugene Landy's edict that he must write at least one song a day, the Beach Boy offers him one of countless thousands of unrecorded songs taking up residence in his head -- songs written years before the ridiculous "Brian Is Back" hype campaign.

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