Days of Punk | BOOK GALLERY

From Punk to Portraits

January 29, 2021

From Punk to Portraits - The Argonaut

Michael Grecco walked into his first Boston punk club when he was 18. Immediately, he felt like he was home.

“I found I suddenly joined a club where everybody belonged,” he shared. “I could finally be myself, or at least find out who I really was.”

Grecco writes this in his new book, “Punk, Post Punk, New Wave: Onstage, Backstage, In Your Face, 1978-1991” (Abrams Books).

The coffee-table book features 162 black-and-white and color photographs of punk and post-punk artists, with an introduction by veteran music journalist Jim Sullivan, and foreword by Fred Schneider of The B-52’s. Grecco captures the scene’s energy with artists like The Clash, Elvis Costello, The Cramps, Talking Heads, Adam Ant, Joan Jett, the Ramones and The Plasmatics.

He spent many nights in Boston and NYC’s black-walled punk clubs, watching and shooting bands for Boston Rock magazine, too. His fellow club kids were his family. They were his life.

“I was an Associated Press photographer in the day and a ‘club kid’ at night,” he said. “I would get (myself) together and get to work if I had an assignment. I was stringing for the AP at the same time I was a club kid at night. I was out every night. … In retrospect, it was pretty incredible who we hung out with and who I got to photograph.”

Grecco thought—and still believes—commercial radio sucked. He was into anything that sounded interesting, like The Cure, U2, The Mekons and The Smiths.

“The Mekons had an interesting sound,” Grecco said. “We really appreciated the U2 album, ‘Boy.’ Those records were mind-blowingly sophisticated. People (complain) about bands like The Psychedelic Furs, The Human League and Simple Minds being in commercials.”

Grecco’s style was tight jeans, boots and a jacket. He and his friends were also into ska—the Beat (before they were the English Beat), The Selecter and The Specials.

“You have to realize that era was an era of freedom,” Grecco said. “Musical freedom where punk broke the system. The punk bands said, ‘We don’t have to be on commercial radio. College radio stations will play us.’”

He binged with the best of them, and then had to awake to shoot photos of newsworthy folks like Boston Mayor Ray Flynn. He took a hot bath to stop shaking and went straight out on the Boston Common for a Flynn shoot in 100-degree heat, sweating from drinking and doing drugs.

“Everyone likes the Billy Idol cocaine story,” he said with a laugh about a portion of the book. “There are many stories. Doing the book and looking at it in retrospect, I realize I was a part of something really special at the time—a musical revolution.”

It wasn’t until he landed a job at the Boston Herald that he decided to stop. His days in punk clubs exposed him to self-expression and made him strive for it.

In 1988, he headed to Los Angeles to do portrait work, which he has been doing ever since. Now living in Santa Monica, Grecco parlayed his talents into an award-winning commercial and fine art photographer and film director noted for his celebrity portraits, magazine covers, editorial images and advertising spreads for NBC/Universal, GE, Pfizer, HBO, Kodak, ABC, IBM, Yahoo!, ESPN, WIRED, TIME, People, Entertainment Weekly, Esquire and Premiere.

Music never left him, though. He has Gorillaz radio on Pandora, 800 records in a collection and thousands of CDs he burned that he digitally transferred to a computer.

“I really don’t like a lot of rap—unless it’s more sophisticated, like Soul II Soul, A Tribe Called Quest,” he said. “No opera or new country. I like Merle Haggard and Doc Watson. I like music that’s authentic. It has to be authentic. That’s what turned me off to rock ‘n’ roll in the day when I was growing up. Those hair bands, I just couldn’t get into them. I was listening to jazz, like Miles Davis or John Coltrane, and then I heard Kansas on the radio, and it was a total disconnect for me.”

Grecco never took it for granted, nor did he act starstruck. These were his people.

“We were part of this club of cool music,” he said. “It wasn’t until the perspective of the book that I saw what a life it was.