What You Talkin’ About Willis?: The Art And Madness of Gemini and Wesley Willis
There is something inherently schizo about the Gemini. A quick scan of Gemini artists proves at least two stereotypes correct: one, that they often have multiple personas, and two, they generally need others to extract and then enact those personas. Consider Andre 3000, who is always whipping up some new self via fashion, or Prince, who’s first a man, then a symbol, then man again, and whose attention span is almost – but not quite – as long as a my five-year-old with a coloring book. He’s onto the next chorus or phrase or phase faster than he should be, accentuating virtuosity and an abundance of ideas over gradual evolution and form. He’s spiritual, then he’s erotic, now he’s spiritual again. He is polar opposition played out musical form.
The there’s Tupac, another Gemini who waffled from thug to sensitive poet, from OG to political force, often within the space of a single verse. On off, off on, the light switch of the Gemini consciousness illuminates both sides of their variant and nervous nature.
In some cases, schizophrenia is a reality. Brian Wilson spent years trying to reclaim his sanity – with help, of course, from the controversial therapist/svengali Eugene Landy. Geminis often need a foil for their creativity, someone to bounce off of and define themselves against. Paul McCartney had Lennon, Andre 3000 has Big Boi, Tupac had Biggie and Puffy, Prince has had a cast of rotating femme fatales.
Wesley Willis was born in 1963 on May 31st, a date he shares with Walt Whitman, Brooke Shields, John Bonham and Johnny Paycheck, among others. For Willis, the duality and the playful schizophrenia we banter about when it comes to Gemini is quite real. But what makes his music and art so appealing – and, in some ways, profound – is that his filter is wide open. The influences and references, especially on the classic “Rock and Roll McDonalds,” come at the listener with an innocence and playfulness that triggers the latent babble centers from our youth, where we remember what it was like to sing like, without pretension or judgment, that: “McDonalds is a place to rock/It is a restaurant where they buy food to eat/ It is a place to listen to the music/People flock here to get down to the rock music.”
It’s ridiculous, funny and surreal. No one goes to McDonalds to get down to the rock music. Then, without warning, Willis gets dangerous. He starts ripping McDonald’s a new a-hole, outing them and their fatty foods. He even goes onto to dis McDonalds by saying Burger King is better. What starts out playful turns into an aggressive dismantling of the franchise that vegans everywhere would no doubt champion as their anthem.
The rest of Willis ‘discography isn’t much more different. Whether he’s singing/ranting/rhyming about KMFDM or Kurt Cobain, the song structures are nearly identical. Repetition seems to give Willis a familiarity with his subject matter that the inner and outer worlds do not.
So how does this play out astrologically? When I looked at Willis ‘chart, the thing that stuck out the most is the fact that Mercury in Taurus in his chart had just gone direct on the day of his birth. What does that mean and what does it have to do with his mental health? The ancient Egyptian, Ptolemy, was one of the first great stargazers. He wrote copious amounts about astrology, many of which became seminal works. He was the first astrologer to notice the apparent backwards motion of planets – particularly Mercury. This backwards movement is called, “retrograde,” and we are currently in one of those phases. Mercury rules Gemini and is the planet of speech, ideas and communication. When it goes retrograde, the common understanding is that communication and agreements go astray and awry.
Eventually there comes a point where it stops going backwards and goes direct again. That point is called “stationary,” and Mercury appears to be suspended, ever so briefly, in the void of space. Because of its close proximity to turning direct in Willis ‘chart, there is a very strong chance that Mercury is stationary for Wesley Willis, which could evoke a rigorous dialog surrounding the effects of this phase, which lasts sometimes only hours and the quality of the intellect, thought and mental health. Willis ‘Mercury is also in a fixed sign, Taurus, and his repetition of language and speech, at a primal level, reflects the Taurus consciousness of being locked in groove of safe and comforting familiarity.
I understand that there are other complex factors in Willis ‘life that contributed to his mental well-being – or lack, at times, thereof, but astrologically the Gemini Sun with a stationary Mercury in Taurus can be interpreted on a causal level to be a significant factor in this case.
Without getting too granular, yet another aspect in Willis ‘birth chart which could have significantly affected both his schizophrenia and his output was a direct square – 90 degree angle – between his natal Saturn in Aquarius and his natal Mercury in Taurus. A square of this nature makes formulating thoughts and speech quite challenging. Yet because Saturn is in Aquarius, it allows Willis to channel his art and to act as a cultural cipher, ingesting and regurgitating people, events, celebrity and institutions in a primitive, childlike and fascinating manner.
Astrologically or not, Wesley Willis was our modern version of the village idiot, Dostoyevsky’s fool, the voice of untempered experience that made us laugh and, at times, just slightly uncomfortable with our own relationship to madness.