Not fade away

Ain't no party like a Wormtown party
By CLIF GARBODEN  |  April 30, 2008

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BOSOM BUDDIES: The notorious Captain PJ with then Worcester mayor and current Massachusetts lieutenant governor Tim Murray at Wormtown's 25th-anniversary party at Ralphs, in 2003.

Wormtown. It's a state of being, an alternative reality, a club-music subculture centered in Worcester, Massachusetts. It's 30 years old and it may or may not be on it's last legs. Those familiar with the undergroundish institution neither need nor ask for further explanation. Newcomers to the scene may or may not have arrived too late ever to really get it.

But basically, back in 1978, a grassroots pro-punk/hippies-suck initiative coalesced around a Worcester fanzine called Wormtown Punk Punk Press. The name Wormtown, if not the original mission, stuck, and as recently as 2007, the Lucky Dog Music Hall kept the idea alive by hosting weekly local band showcases called Wormtown Wednesdays. Via a string of teen garage bands, Wormtown has re-invented itself numerous times — serially embracing punk, hardcore, alt-rock, ska, speed-metal, and whatever else dared assume its name.

In short, it's a fungible scene — complete with its own pantheon of band-legends and it's own "You Know You're in Worcester" gaggle of regulars. This weekend, Wormtown will celebrate itself with two nights of reunion shows at Ralph’s Chadwick Square Diner. The Friday, May 2, program features the Commandos (late-’70s punk), the Pathetics (1996 neo-punk), Black Rose Garden (early-’90s angst fronted by the lion-voiced Rose Elliott), and the Numbskulls (2001 neo-neo-punk). Saturday's lineup includes the Performers (1980, "Worcester's answer to the Clash"), the Odds (1981 retro-garage), the Prefab Messiahs with Bobb Trimble (art-punk et al), and Boston's the Classic Ruins (garage/rock).

When the Phoenix newspapers launched a Worcester edition in 1992, I was tapped to be editor of the satellite start-up. The Wormtown scene was well in place when we got there, and while I longed to embrace it in the pages of the Worcester Phoenix (such bands were considered "disreputable" by the Worcester establishment and got scant press coverage), I hesitated to presume or intrude on what was clearly something with a life of its own — media support or no media support. No matter. After a year of weekly local-music coverage penned by the ever-faithful (Reverend) Joe Longone and a couple of Phoenix-sponsored local-band showcases, Wormtown embraced us. Thus began an alliance — centered on the annual Phoenix Best Music Poll — through which I met the bands and the fans and, thereby, found a home away from home.

The Worcester Phoenix closed down for lack of advertising in June of 2001 — the same week we announced that year's Best Music Poll winners. But even without the paper's direct support, the Wormies held the awards concert anyway (they graciously invited me to help emcee) and continued the tradition for several years after that. There is no substitute for believing in what you're doing.

Since then, I've attended several Wormtown sponsored anniversary, reunion, and Christmas parties, the highlight of which was hearing ubiquitous one-of-a-kind Worcester scenester Captain PJ sing "Roadrunner." Indescribable is too vague a word for it.

With this weekend's parties, Wormtown is — sort of — committing suicide. Enough, the aging children of the punk revolution say. But despite all the coffin-nail pounding, Wormtown may endure to rock another day. At least I hope so.

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