February 512, 1998
The spirit of punk rock is to celebrate your freakiness or weirdness, but most punk rockers have the luxury to remove it like a costume at the end of the day. When you're Mikey Wild, you can't
Wild in the Street
Philly punk rock legend Mikey Wild is the subject of a new documentary
by Sara Sherr
In the Philadelphia music scene, Mikey Wild just simply happens. Or sometimes he happens to you.
My first Mikey Wild experience was in the summer of 1992 when I was a brand new employee of Tower Records on South Street. They put me in the basement that day, the place to haze the new clerks and punish the bad ones. During my first day of answering questions that begin with "y'all got" and "youse have," a strange little man in a biker jacket and a John Lennon shirt walked up to the counter and garbled something. People had been garbling at me all day, so I think I said something like, "Huh? What? I'm sorry, I think we're out of that." I was about to hide underneath the counter to study the different sizes of shopping bags, when one of my co-workers came to the rescue. Since he had spider webs tattooed on his elbows, nothing fazed him. "Heey Mikey," he said and in a rare display of customer service, escorted him over to the Beatles tapes.
Little did I know that I had just dissed the Mayor of South Street. Leader of the Magic Lanterns and local legend of sorts Wild penned punk classics like "Vincent Price Wasn't Very Nice" and "Chicks With Dicks." He's also the author of two books and now the subject of a documentary, Mikey Wild: I Was Punk Rock Before You Were, airing February 17 on Drexel University TV (Cable TV 54).
Whether you love him, hate him, or just misunderstand him, the phenomenon of Mikey Wild is pretty fascinating. He's the id of the music scene, saying and doing whatever he wants, much to everyone's entertainment and/or dismay. As a person with limited mental capabilities, the world is against him so he creates a world of his own.
The spirit of punk rock is to celebrate your freakiness or weirdness, but most punk rockers have the luxury to remove it like a costume at the end of the day. When you're Mikey Wild, you can't. I Was Punk Rock Before You Were probably won't convince the unconverted that he's a genius or a great talent, but it does force you to rethink Mikey Wild and what our motivations are when we latch on to marginal people. Jello Biafra has Wesley Willis. Indie rockers have Daniel Johnston and Jad Fair. Record collectors have Roky Erikson and Syd Barret. Who's cool and who's crazy? Who's the genius and who's the freak?
The half-hour documentary, filmed by Magic Lantern bandmates Ed Wilcox and Dave Kuffa, follows what looks like a day in the life of Wild. Wild plugs his new single, "Satan Needs Head." He visits Strapping Fieldhand Bob Dickie at his Ninth Street Music store and recounts his mid-'70s beginnings in a band called The Hard Ons. He drops in at the Villa di Roma restaurant in the Italian Market, where we learn that Wild "idolizes Caligula" and wants a lamb for Christmas. To eat? "I hope so," says the waitress, who lets Wild hang out as long as he doesn't start flicking his lighter at people saying, "I'll burn you." He visits his alma mater, The Don Guanella School in Springfield, where he says that it used to be for "bad kids and retarded kids." In a telling moment, when Wilcox asks a woman in the office if he can film there, she tells him, obliquely, he'll have to "get a paper." "Where can I get one," he asks. "I have no idea. You'll have to leave," she answers. Back on South Street, Wild makes the scene in front of Krass Brothers and at a boutique where his girlfriend works. And we see Wild's paintings: the devil, a cat smoking a cigarette, an alien, Jesus, and a "psychedelic Beatles." There's also amusing anecdotes by The Morefiends' Alan Shinn and performance footage at The Hut, Astrocade and an older, darker Khyber Pass. Wilcox sums it up best when he says in one scene, "My dream is to turn myself into a big cartoon character and I look at Mikey and say, 'This guy's already done it.'"
According to Wilcox, who also drums for Temple of Bon Matin, he and Kuffa started filming I Was Punk a couple of years ago at the urging of DUTV station manager George McCullough.
"It's easy for people to turn him into a medieval freak show but it doesn't do him justice," says Wilcox, who thinks that Wild is a great punk songwriter in the spirit of The Ramones or The Sex Pistols. He hopes to use the film as means to generate record label interest in Wild in the wake of Wesley Willis' success. The Chicago schizophrenic was adopted by local rock musicians and picked up by Biafra's label Alternative Tentacles and then by major label American.
"I'd feel a lot sorrier for someone who goes to a show to laugh at Mikey than Mikey himself," he adds.
If you're still unconvinced, the final scene of the film says it all. When Wild is asked what his parting words would be, he simply says, "I did everything."
Mikey Wild: I Was Punk Rock Before You Were airs Tues. Feb. 17 on DUTV-54 at 9 p.m., followed by a live performance at 9:30.