SXSW: The Wesley Willis Doc


Just as Stephin Merritt re-reads Ethan Frome every year for spiritual rejuvenation (which is ludicrous, incidentally—do not read that book under any circumstances that don’t involve a syllabus), it is highly advised that every month or so you brew a cup of tea, draw the curtains, dust off your comfiest chair, immerse yourself in silence and solitude, and bask in the restorative glow of Wesley Willis’ “I Whupped Batman’s Ass.” Put it on repeat for a while. It is, in its own inimitable way, as rousing and inspiring as “Eye of the Tiger” or “America, Fuck Yeah”: a stirring tale of adversity, resistance, and triumph.

Batman beat the hell out of me
And knocked me to the floor
I got back up and knocked him to the floor
He was bein’ such a jackoaf

Not jackoff: jackoaf. Jack oaf. An important distinction. (It meant a great deal to me at 19, in any event.)

We all have our favorite WW jams—“Rock and Roll McDonald’s,” “Kris Kringle Was a Car Thief,” “The Chicken Cow”—and our own private misgivings about enjoying them. A bit of a conundrum, that. Willis was a morbidly obese schizophrenic plagued by “demons;” he wrote essentially the same song—deploying a tinny, goofy Casio beat—over and over and over and over, with Wesley wildly, profanely ranting o’er top about vampire bats, Urge Overkill, Superman, etc. He was thus beloved in an outsider-music/Dr. Demento sort of way, but he clearly took his work more seriously than we did. It’s the old “laughing with him or at him?” debate, which has raged on even after his death from leukemia complications in 2003.

Given the warm reception afforded The Devil and Daniel Johnston recently, it’s evident that Willis, too, would be excellent fodder for a full-length documentary—or, as the makers of Wesley Willis’s Joyrides prefer to call it, a “Rock You Mentary.” For those of you who’ve convinced your employers to scoot you off to Austin a week early this year—the SXSW Film Fest begins Friday, though the tunes don’t begin until next Wednesday—here is your Pick to Click, etc. This is actually not the first film about Willis (see 2003’s day-in-the-life flick Wesley Willis: The Daddy of Rock ’n’ Roll), but Joyrides would appear to the first biopic: talking heads, wacky drawings, etc. The filmmakers (Chris Bagley and Kim Shively) seem to sense what makes their subject both fascinating and somewhat controversial, so hopefully this won’t be two hours of a mentally ill guy raving about “whipping a cheetah’s ass” and whatnot while people laugh at him. Rock over London. Rock on Chicago. He went to Jared!

Screening info for Wesley Willis’s Joyrides available here