“I was born in Philadelphia,” said Michael DeLuca, aka Mikey Wild, in the YouTube video “Mikey Wild: the Living Legend.” “I’m a Philadelphian. I’m the king.”
The mayor of South Street, Philadelphia’s proto-punk scene, died Wednesday.
Mikey Wild couldn’t really play any instrument and had a talent for being vulgar. He has been a fixture on the city’s punk scene since the late 1970s.
“There were a million of us musicians on South Street, and everybody’s writing songs,” said musician Kenn Kweder. “But everybody knew Mikey Wild songs. He was piercing through the din of all the really great cats there.”
Mikey Wild is identified by his most famous song, “I Wuz Punk B4 You Were Punk,” a counterculture anthem that has been adopted, co-opted, ripped off, and borrowed by countless bands.
“Some people are influenced by other people,” said Kweder. “Mikey was un-influenced. It all came out of him. It wasn’t like he sat around trying to cop licks. It burst out of him.”
Nearly everybody who ever spent significant time on South Street in the 1980s has a Mikey Wild story.
“He was a little frightening,” said writer Amber Dorko Stopper. “A little menacing.”
Stopper first met Wild on South Street when she was 13 years old. She eventually discovered he was a nice guy, if a little unstable. Later in life he drew a portrait of her daughter, and now Stopper is organizing an exhibition of his drawings.
“Right now I’m looking at “The Old Scary Lady from the Scary Movie That Became a Clown.” That’s what this one is called,” said Stopper in a telephone interview. “Vincent Price and Michael Jackson doing some kind of battle here. I have one at home of Christopher Lee battling a turkey.”
Wild suffered from mental illness, but many of his friends don’t know what it was. He told the owner of the Philadelphia Record Exchange, Jacy Webster, that his mother dropped him on his head.
“I’ve had to throw him out of the store a couple times,” said Webster. “I know he wasn’t taking his medication. And then he’d get real angry, ‘I’m gonna burn this place down!’ No, you’re not, Mikey. You’re going to go home and take your medication.”
As abrasive as Wild was, those who knew him say he never had anything mean to say about anybody. He brought endless energy to the punk scene, and the scene looked out for him.
“You never worried about him,” said Stopper. “You knew he was going to be fine no matter what. He would always be safe in the community. And he’d always be a significant contributor to the community.”
Mikey Wild’s drawings will be on display for one night only, June 18, at Soloveev Gallery on Bainbridge Street.