The South Philly music legend explores art, film and his obsession with Vincent Price.
Some people are scared to talk to Mikey Wild. Maybe it’s because he’s a living, breathing South Philly legend. Or maybe it’s because he can be an ornery guy who threatens to burn you with his lighter if he takes a dislike to you.
But some awe is in order, as Wild is the crazy dean of the South Philadelphia punk scene, making his living as a local performer and artist for more than 30 years. You can hear Wild’s honest bawl on area dive-bar jukeboxes, singing classics like “I Hate New York,” and “Chicks With Dicks”—great songs with a swingy grind offsetting Wild’s “Sid Vicious via South Street” vocals. His anthem, “I Was a Punk Before You Were a Punk, Punk” refers to Wild’s unchallenged status as the very first punk rocker in Philadelphia, as frontman for the Hard Ons and the Magic Lanterns, and opening act for punk provokers like Lou Reed and GG Allin on their stops in our fair city in the ’70s. Wild famously upstaged Allin, exposing himself during a rendition of “Chicks With Dicks,” although he’d prefer “not to go into that” these days.
“I do scary psychedelic music now,” Wild says, discussing his new horror-themed solo performances that seem ripped from a ’60s chiller flick. “The lyrics are real scary. I do a song called ‘Zombies in the Basement.’ And another one called ‘Don’t Go in the Cellar.’ I used to come out of a coffin onstage, but I don’t do that anymore. I just play my guitar or my keyboards.”
There’s a lot of laughter at these shows, as Wild plays with ideas of silliness and scariness. When not playing solo, Wild is backed by legendary local punk outfit Scareho, self-described as both “a bad joke that just keeps going” and “an enema recorded with a Dictaphone.” Scareho vocalist and impresario Fran Frank Francis is full of praise for Wild’s authenticity and intensity, as well as his humor.
“The crowd’s laughing with him, and it’s always good times whenever Mikey’s involved,” he says. “But I’ve played with a lot of different musicians, and Mikey gives it 100 percent no matter what. And when it comes to his art or his music, he’s as serious as can be. To know Mikey and to know what he puts into it, he’s pretty amazing.”
Wild is true punk royalty in this town, and his services to Philly music were formally recognized in the 1980s when Wild was anointed “Mayor of South Street” in a formal presentation at the storied rock club J.C. Dobbs. Beloved Philly rock star Alan Mann presided over the ceremony, and bestowed Wild with his official sash. There are still no credible challengers for the office.
If you spend any time on Ninth Street south of South, you’ll run into Wild. At the very least, you’ll see his artwork, which hangs prominently at haunts like 12 Steps Down and Connie’s Ric Rac. Although he’s still known for his music, Wild is now even more popular as a visual artist, represented at the contemporary gallery Pageant : Soloveev.
He pens magic-marker portraits of people in his life, in his head and in popular culture, and sells them at cafes and stores throughout the Italian Market. “Yeah, I do the art. I’m making the big money. I’m selling them for about $5 now,” Wild says dryly, referring to a recent price hike from just $2 per picture.
Recurring themes in Wild’s drawings are giant lizards, horned devils and Santa Claus. Wild also has an obsession with Vincent Price—particularly his performances in Roger Corman’s B-movie horror flicks like The Tomb of Ligeia and The Pit and the Pendulum —which shows up in his work.
Obsession isn’t used lightly here. It’s difficult to overestimate how central Vincent Price is to Wild’s art. Approximately half his drawings depict the actor in some way, although even Wild can’t fully explain the attraction. “I just love the way he acts,” he confesses.
“And now I’m in a movie, playing Vincent Price and his twin brother Brandon,” says Wild, who plays both roles in the short film Paying the Price , a Cain vs. Abel tale in which the “good” brother Brandon is preyed upon by his evil twin, Vincent. Without giving too much away, the plot involves wife-stealing and the kind of general depravity that would make the late Mr. Price very proud. The movie will be released on DVD shortly.
Buoyed by the experience of movie-making, Wild says he’s “looking for shows again” after a brush with illness that brought South Philly punkers together for a Mikey Wild benefit show, and left doctors astounded by his miraculous recovery.
Show bookers and admirers should look for the musician, artist, actor and quintessential Philly renaissance man at Scareho’s summer gigs with the PennJersey She Devils at The Warehouse (1801 W. Indiana Ave.). And don’t be scared to talk to him, since he’s at least 90 percent sweetie-pie. Just as long as you agree that he was “punk before you were punk, punk.” ■
Learn more about Mikey Wild at myspace.com/mikeywild, where you can hear his music, purchase Paying the Price and commission personal artwork.
"I was born in Philadelphia," said Michael DeLuca, aka Mikey Wild, in the YouTube video "Mikey Wild: the Livng Legend." "I'm a Philadelphian. I'm the king."
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