CLOSE

The Late Movies: Rock On, Wesley Willis

"I make music, I sing my ass off." With these words, Wesley Willis opens a short documentary shown below. Willis was a bizarre musician -- a chronic schizophrenic, his music was crude and thus considered "punk," but in a way no one had heard before. Willis's songs generally consisted of spoken-word poetry over a keyboard's built-in "demo" track, with (generally off-key) choruses sung every now and then.

Because Willis was mentally ill, it was hard to be sure how to take him or his music -- was it okay to find it funny? (In other words, could you enjoy his sense of humor and his music without feeling sorry for him?) I always thought so -- when I met him in the late 90's (I ran sound for one of his shows in Tallahassee, Florida -- and yes, he head-butted me) I got the very clear sense that what he was doing was not ironic. He was completely singing his heart out and expressing himself, and the audience I saw laughed with him, not at him. Willis died in 2003 at just 40 years of age. Below I've collected samples of his work.

Wesley Willis Documentary

Watch Willis write a song about Taco John's. "It's a whole lot of Mexican," then record one of his many "rock on" songs in the studio, get a haircut, entertain some kids at a motel, then be introduced by Jello Biafra at a concert. Warning: a bit of crude language shown onscreen but not spoken.

"Rock and Roll McDonald's," Live 2002

Willis's biggest hit. Amazing. Listen to the audience going nuts and singing along. Sample lyrics: "McDonald's will make you fat. ... They serve hamburgers. ... They'll kill your ass. ROCK AND ROLL MCDONALD'S...."

"I Wupped Batman's Ass"

Fan video. Warning: some crude language pertaining to Batman's overly high opinion of himself.

"I Whipped Spiderman's Ass"

Audio only.

"Cut the Mullet"

"Get out the hair-clippers, jerk. ... Get the rat's nest off your head. ... Tell the barber that you're sick of looking like an asshole." Fan video with various mullet pics.

Live at the Double Door, Chicago

An interview and live performance.

Wesley Willis Interview

Willis visits a high school journalism class in Bloomington, Illinois and the students interview him. Audio only, with still shots in the video.

"Wesley Willis's Joy Rides" Documentary Trailer 1 & 2

"I made about 45 albums in five years, and I'm fixing to make about 100 more."

More on Wesley Willis

Check out Willis's artist page at his record label Alternative Tentacles, Wikipedia (note the "partial discography" -- it's huge), and A Tribute to Willis by various artists. Also, a full-length documentary, Wesley Willis's Joy Rides, has just been released on DVD (trailers above).

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Keystone Features / Stringer / Getty Images
arrow
This Just In
Police Recover Nearly 100 Artifacts Stolen From John Lennon’s Estate
Keystone Features / Stringer / Getty Images
Keystone Features / Stringer / Getty Images

A collection of artifacts stolen from John Lennon’s estate, including diaries, glasses, and handwritten music, has been recovered by German police, the Associated Press reports. After arresting the first suspect, law enforcement is now working to apprehend a second person of interest in the case.

The nearly 100 items went missing from the New York home of the late Beatles star’s widow Yoko Ono in 2006. Years later, German police were tipped off to their whereabouts when a bankruptcy administrator came across the haul in the storage facility of a Berlin auction house. The three leather-bound diaries that were recovered are dated 1975, 1979, and 1980. One entry refers to Lennon’s famous nude photo shoot with Annie Leibovitz, and another was written the morning of December 8, 1980, hours before he was shot and killed. In addition to the journals, police retrieved two pairs of his iconic glasses, a 1965 recording of a Beatles concert, a 1952 school book, contract documents for the copyright of the song “I’m the Greatest”, handwritten scores for "Woman" and "Just Like Starting Over”, and a cigarette case.

German authorities flew to New York to have Ono verify the items' authenticity. "She was very emotional and we noticed clearly how much these things mean to her,” prosecutor Susann Wettley told AP. When the objects will be returned to Ono is still unclear.

The first suspect, a 58-year-old German businessman from Turkey, was arrested Monday, November 21, following a raid of his house and vehicles. The second suspect is one of Ono's former chauffeurs who has a past conviction related to the theft. Police officers are hoping to extradite him from his current home in Turkey before moving forward with the case.

[h/t AP]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
science
Scientists Analyze the Moods of 90,000 Songs Based on Music and Lyrics
iStock
iStock

Based on the first few seconds of a song, the part before the vocalist starts singing, you can judge whether the lyrics are more likely to detail a night of partying or a devastating breakup. The fact that musical structures can evoke certain emotions just as strongly as words can isn't a secret. But scientists now have a better idea of which language gets paired with which chords, according to their paper published in Royal Society Open Science.

For their study, researchers from Indiana University downloaded 90,000 songs from Ultimate Guitar, a site that allows users to upload the lyrics and chords from popular songs for musicians to reference. Next, they pulled data from labMT, which crowd-sources the emotional valence (positive and negative connotations) of words. They referred to the music recognition site Gracenote to determine where and when each song was produced.

Their new method for analyzing the relationship between music and lyrics confirmed long-held knowledge: that minor chords are associated with sad feelings and major chords with happy ones. Words with a negative valence, like "pain," "die," and "lost," are all more likely to fall on the minor side of the spectrum.

But outside of major chords, the researchers found that high-valence words tend to show up in a surprising place: seventh chords. These chords contain four notes at a time and can be played in both the major and minor keys. The lyrics associated with these chords are positive all around, but their mood varies slightly depending on the type of seventh. Dominant seventh chords, for example, are often paired with terms of endearment, like "baby", or "sweet." With minor seventh chords, the words "life" and "god" are overrepresented.

Using their data, the researchers also looked at how lyric and chord valence differs between genres, regions, and eras. Sixties rock ranks highest in terms of positivity while punk and metal occupy the bottom slots. As for geography, Scandinavia (think Norwegian death metal) produces the dreariest music while songs from Asia (like K-Pop) are the happiest. So if you're looking for a song to boost your mood, we suggest digging up some Asian rock music from the 1960s, and make sure it's heavy on the seventh chords.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios