The passing of Wesley Willis has had more of an affect on me than I thought it would. No matter what you thought of his music or his place in the pop cultural pantheon, he was still a real person that I had the opportunity to meet once and knowing that he is now gone is strange. The world seemed somewhat more balanced when I knew Wesley Willis was in it, struggling with his diseases and forging ahead. So his idea of a Rock N Roll Superstardom and 'normal America's' view might not have converged, but Wesley was still an inspiring force to behold in spite of that.

My old band Underwater was by sheer, freakish chance thrown on the same bill as Wesley Willis one night at the Echo Lounge and while I had always been curious to see him perform, I'd never had the opportunity. The unfortunate reality of the show was that the vast majority of the people there to gawk at Wesley left after a handful of same-sounding songs about the normal Wesley Willis subjects- food, rock stars and other celebrities, and events from his everyday. To most people there, wrapped in the comfort of ironically 'digging the crazy guy', the situation seemed to get more and more tense over time when it became clear that he wasn't going to 'snap out of it' and talk about how he'd come up with this zany character of Wesley Willis. Instead, he was just--as a lot of people are--a nice guy trying to make music to keep the demons at bay. He was an intimidating presence, and one that I wasn't sure how to take, but in the end that night, he was just a nice guy with a deep, boomy voice who was wondering when we'd all get paid.

For most people in a position like his (does that even make sense to say?) life is just too hard, too much to bear, and it makes the trivial relationship squabbles that so many songwriters whine on about seem excrutiatingly trivial. Here was a man who had trouble fitting into clothes, was being berrated in his head by his schizophrenia, and he still found a way to write happy, matter of fact songs about how much this or that person rocked! It's easy to dismiss his work, and even easier to cling to it the way people in the art community flock to exhibits of 'outsider art'. What I think is a little harder is just appreciating the music for what it is, the way we appreciated simple songs when we were children. I would never misappropriate terms like 'genius' to describe Wesley Willis' work, but he was definitely on to something, and on to it in his own way that will never be duplicated. It's a great loss that he is gone, but I'm glad to know that he was able to make music that made him happy. It's time to pony up for that Best Of anthology I've always meant to get.