Days of Punk | BOOK GALLERY
January 28, 2021
Onstage, Backstage: Photographer Michael Grecco Captured Boston’s Punk and Post Punk Scenes - PleaseKillMe.com
Michael Grecco picked the right time to be in Boston. As an undergrad at BU studying photojournalism, he began exploring the clubs of The Hub with his camera and was soon snapping on assignment from alternative and mainstream press venues. Now a successful commercial photographer, Grecco looks back with fondness at those early years—samples from which are contained in his new book Punk, Post Punk, New Wave: Onstage, Backstage, In Your Face, 1978-1991 (Abrams). Grecco spoke with PKM about those days.
Though less celebrated in the grand scheme of rock & roll history, Boston has never been a backwater. In the years 1978-1991, in fact, a particularly rich and varied music scene unfolded there every bit the equal to New York’s and L.A.’s—not just punk, but post punk and new wave.
Photographer Michael Grecco just happened to be in Boston then and had a front row seat to the musical mayhem most of the time. Working on assignment for everything from alternative weeklies and the Boston Herald to the Associated Press and radio stations, Grecco was on the run most of the time, snapping local bands that should’ve been bigger (Gang Green, Mission of Burma, Human Sexual Response), national acts (Talking Heads, Ramones, The Cramps, Dead Kennedys) that passed through the city and superstars like David Bowie and The Clash.
A habitue of such outposts of the underground as The Rat, Spit, Metro, Thayer Street Lofts, Jonathan Swift’s, Cantone’s and The Channel, venerable theaters like the Orpheum, the Paradise, the Opera House, the Bradford Ballroom (where he shot personal faves The Buzzcocks and the Specials) and even concrete sound killers like the Cape Cod Coliseum, Grecco was like Paladin: Have Lens Will Travel.
The visual evidence of his time in Boston is contained in Punk Post Punk New Wave: Onstage, Backstage, In Your Face, 1978-1991 (Abrams), an impressive collection of the best of his black-and-white photographs. The book is augmented with his personal memories of the occasions captured on film, a foreword by Fred Schneider of the B-52s and an detailed and an informative introduction by longtime Boston Globe writer Jim Sullivan.
Grecco’s book sets the tone right out of the gate, with a cover shot of Wendy O. Williams taking a sledgehammer to a television set tuned to MTV, followed by an opening two-page spread of Poison Ivy of The Cramps psyching herself up backstage at The Channel.
“The shots of the Cramps were the most fun to take,” recalls Grecco, also citing a series of shots of Lux Interior writhing on the stage and losing his leather pants and, backstage, where he does something particularly nasty with a hotdog bun (this raunchy interlude included in the book). “The onstage and backstage shots of the Cramps were both at The Channel. The crowd was really going wild.”
The Channel, he writes in the book, was “a big, black, low-ceilinged 1,500-capacity place with ever sticky floors” located in South Boston, where “Southies were always looking for a fight.” Thus, the dance area at The Channel would allow for “legal” brawls. He took some of his best photographs here, at shows by the Cramps and Dead Kennedys.
As for the cover shot of Wendy O. Williams photographs, Grecco was there on assignment for a local rock magazine and a radio station.
“I didn’t have any interaction with Wendy,” said Grecco. “I didn’t hang out backstage or anything. It was a promotional shoot for Boston Rock magazine and publicity thing for WBCN, set up by Oedipus, the punk deejay. But later I shot the the Plasmatics’ show at The Channel. It was kind of scary. Wendy fired a shotgun near my head on stage and I couldn’t hear for a week after that.”