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A Bygone Era in Boston’s Punk Scene Is Revisited in Michael Grecco’s Anderson Yezerski Exhibition

In “Days of Punk,” black-and-white photographs take viewers into the heart of clubs that shaped Boston’s music scene (without the sweat).

Profile by Olivia Deng

Punk rock band lead singer Wendy O Williams and the Plasmatics lies down on stage during a performance in a black and white image.

Michael Grecco, Wendy O. Williams of The Plasmatics #3, Boston, Massachusetts, 1980. Archival pigment print. Photo courtesy of Anderson Yezerski Gallery.

With a camera in hand, Michael Grecco traversed underground venues and clubs throughout Boston in the ’70s and ’80s: the Rat, the Channel, the Underground, Spit, and Metro.

“It smelled of vomit, stale beer, and smoke,” Grecco said of the Rat. “I wandered into the Rat in maybe ’77, ’78, and it was the battle of the bands. La Peste was playing and I was just blown away. Before we graduated high school, a friend brought over the Ramones record, so I had been exposed to punk. But to really hear another variation of that sort of cool, hard-driving, interesting, expressive music just blew me away.”

From 1978 to 1986, documenting shows and going out to clubs was Grecco’s life in Boston. The photos from that time period, plus snippets from New York and Los Angeles, are on view at the “Days of Punk” exhibit at the Anderson Yezerski Gallery until June 17. Musicians Grecco captured on camera include the Clash, Billy Idol, the Cramps, Wendy O. Williams, the B-52s, Devo, the Dead Kennedys, and Human Sexual Response.

That period in time is brought to life at the white-walled and minimalist Anderson Yezerski Gallery in SoWA—a space that starkly contrasts the grungy scenery that Grecco was capturing. Nonetheless, the electrifying energy of the photos pops off the walls.

Jello Biafra, lead singer of the punk rock group Dead Kennedys performs on stage on April 1981 in Boston, Massachusetts.

Michael Grecco, Jello Biafra of The Dead Kennedys #3, Boston, Massachusetts, 1981. Archival pigment print. Photo courtesy of Anderson Yezerski Gallery.



“Days of Punk” is based on Grecco’s book Punk, Post Punk, New Wave: Onstage, Backstage, In Your Face, 1978–1991, published in 2020. Grecco, now a portrait photographer in LA, was looking through archives of his earliest work and realized he had a story to tell. “It became something very important to me because it was my roots and in a way it’s informed my whole life. It’s made me self-express, it’s made me open to any experience,” he said. “It took pulling these images out of my archive to realize that they were important for me as an individual, for music history, and for Boston.”

The images displayed at “Days of Punk,” mostly shot in black and white, captured the vivacity of nights out in Boston. “I’d go, ‘Okay, I’m gonna have a quiet night at home and just chill.’ And then I’m like, ‘Fuck that. Let’s go to the Rat and see who’s playing.’” On view are a variety of shots: bands performing and interacting with the crowd as well as portraits of musicians.

Lead guitarist Poison Ivy (born Kristy Marlana Wallace) of the punk rock band "The Cramps" is backstage before performing at a theater in 1980 in Boston, Massachusetts.

Michael Grecco, Poison Ivy of The Cramps #3, Boston, Massachusetts, 1980. Archival pigment print. Photo courtesy of Anderson Yezerski Gallery.

Grecco’s portrait of Poison Ivy of the Cramps is a standout. “I have two favorite pictures and they’re portraits,” Grecco said, referring to his portraits of Poison Ivy and Billy Idol. “You look at this body of work and you really see me striving to do more than just document the scene. I really tried to take people aside and do an intimate portrait where the subject’s engaged.”

It is evident from the photographs that Grecco was not an outsider looking in, but an active participant chronicling the subculture he was a part of. “I sort of had this dual life. I worked for the Associated Press during the day and dressed in Boston attire. A button-down shirt and khakis and hiking boots was what you were expected to wear in those days so you wouldn’t shock anyone,” Grecco said. “And then at night I was a club kid and got dressed up and was part of a whole different culture. And those two cultures never met.” Grecco also shot photos for Boston Rock magazine and WBCN.

Now, with this exhibit, Grecco hopes viewers get a slice of Boston’s rock history. “Why was Boston always overlooked with bands like Mission of Burma and Human Sexual Response? I don’t know, but in a way I’m trying to change that history.”

Installation view of "Days of Punk" at Anderson Yezerski Gallery.

Installation view, “Days of Punk,” Anderson Yezerski Gallery, 2023. Photo courtesy of Anderson Yezerski Gallery.

 


Michael Grecco’s “Days of Punk” is on view at Anderson Yezerski Gallery through June 17, 2023. 

Olivia Deng

Contributor

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