Wild at Heart

A founder of Philly's punk rock scene keeps the madness coming.

By Mike Newall
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Aug. 16, 2006

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Illustration by Paul Hoppe

On hot summer days I sometimes sit with Mikey Wild at the Italian Market sidewalk cafe where he peddles his magic marker paintings for $2 a shot.

Demented great-uncle of the Philadelphia punk scene, Wild was once frontman for the Magic Lanterns and a songwriter of such punk classics as "I Was on Dope," "I Hate New York" and "Vincent Price Wasn't Very Nice." He was once an opening act for Lou Reed, and he's been the unofficial mayor of South Street since legendary rocker Alan Mann adorned him with a sash and crown at a boozy party at Dobbs in the '70s.

"You think of punk ethos and you think of Johnny Rotten, a suburban kid who was trying to be this anti-person," says Randy Bucksner, the former saxophonist for the Alan Mann band who recently booked Wild to play a Dobbs reunion concert at World Cafe Live on Oct. 7. "But Mikey was just naturally like that. There was nothing affected about him. He wasn't trying to be good. It was who he was--this crazy little guy with spiky hair in a black leather jacket up there singing his crazy songs. Audiences loved him."

"He was one of the most natural punk rock frontmen I've ever seen," says Ed Wilcox, a drummer for the Magic Lanterns whose 1998 documentary Mikey Wild: I Was Punk Rock Before You Were still sometimes airs on DUTV-54.

There are others who consider Wild an entertaining joke. Clearly these are people who haven't enjoyed his conversation.

"I'm becoming Vincent Price," he said the other morning, while leaning back in his chair and slowly bringing a Parliament Light to his lips.

Wild thinks the 3-foot plastic skeleton sitting up on the footstool in his bedroom is haunted by the ghost of Vincent Price.

Late at night, once everyone is asleep, the skeleton will tiptoe down the hallway, past his mother's room, down the stairway and out the front door. Strolling down Ninth Street, the skeleton will gradually take the form of a man--not Wild, not Vincent Price, but some unrecognizable person.

Once properly disguised, he'll drink whiskey at 12 Steps Down and let the night take him where it may. Wild always awakens to the sound of the skeleton's returning footsteps.

"How you doing today, Uncle Vinnie?" he'll say.

The skeleton rarely replies.

Here at the table a teenage store clerk starts to sweep the sidewalk.

"Hey, get away from us," screams Wild, spit flying from the corners of his mouth. "I'm doing an interview here. You're like a monkey on my back, man."

The store clerk laughs.

"Take it easy, Mikey. I bought one of your paintings the other day."

"Whatever, man. I'm the king, man. King of Philadelphia."

Wild's only studio album Mikey Wild and the Magic Lanterns: I Was Punk B4 U Were Punk, was released in 1999 to mostly positive reviews. It's still played on college radio stations and on dive bar jukeboxes in cities like San Francisco and Detroit, where Wild enjoys a small but loyal following.

Here in Philly he was recently "suspended" from his favorite Ninth Street coffeehouse for bothering female customers. "He's very loud and sometimes says perverted things," says a store employee. "He sometimes tells our female customers they don't need bagels because they're too fat already."

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