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Inside Boston’s punk scene of the ’70s and ’80s

Michael Grecco’s photographs of the acts who played local clubs in punk’s early days are on display in the South End

Singer Martha Davis of the band the Motels with cake celebrating their album success upstairs at Spit.Michael Grecco Productions Inc.

Michael Grecco was a witness to history.

It began one evening in 1978 when, as a 19-year-old photojournalism student at Boston University, he wandered into the Rathskeller, the Kenmore Square club better known as the Rat.

“The radio at the time was so bad, so commercial and manufactured,” Grecco recalls. “I walked into The Rat that night and I was, like, ‘Holy crap, this is wild.’”

Punk rock was just becoming a thing and many of the acts that would define the era — bands like Buzzcocks, Talking Heads, Elvis Costello & the Attractions, the Clash, and the Ramones — had started showing up in Boston, playing sweaty sets at clubs like the Rat, the Channel, and the Underground.


Bewitched by the music and the maelstrom, Grecco went to many of those shows and, luckily for us, brought along his Canon F1 camera to document the delirium. Friday, some of his photos — and a few frantic videos he also shot — will be on display at the Anderson Yezerski Gallery in an exhibition dubbed “Days of Punk.” (The exhibition will also include a soundscape specially created by Roger Miller and Peter Prescott of Boston post-punk pioneers Mission of Burma.)

Lead guitarist Poison Ivy (born Kristy Marlana Wallace) of the punk rock band the Cramps photographed backstage before performing at the Channel in 1980 in Boston.Michael Grecco Productions Inc.

The photo show, which runs through June 17, features mostly black-and-white images of punk paragons Devo, Billy Idol, Wendy O. Williams of the Plasmatics, and Jello Biafra, among others. Saturday, Grecco will also be sitting down with former WBCN DJ Oedipus at the Bang & Olufsen store on Harrison Avenue to talk about the early days of punk in Boston. (The event is already sold out.)

“Boston had a bigger scene than New York then. It was a college town with more young people living in the city,” says Grecco, who grew up in New York. “It was a really fervent audience.”


While still a student, Grecco interned during the day at the Associated Press, and at night he was shooting bands, on stage and off, for Boston Rock, the dearly departed ‘zine started by Newbury Comics founder Mike Dreese, and WBCN. Along the way, he says, he had a ton of fun, even becoming friends with a few of his photo subjects, including Idol.

Billy Idol performs live on stage one month after his debut solo album release of "Billy Idol" in Boston on Aug. 1, 1982.Michael Grecco Productions Inc.

“I mean, when the Cure played the Underground, they had to use my New York State driver’s license to get one of the musicians in because he was underage,” said Grecco. “We were part of the crew almost.”

Eventually, Grecco got a staff job at the Boston Herald, where he worked until 1986, when he moved to LA to become a celebrity shutterbug. If you can’t make it to the show, many of the photos are collected in Grecco’s most recent book, “Punk, Post Punk, New Wave: Onstage, Backstage, In Your Face, 1978–1991.”

Lead singer Wendy O Williams of the Plasmatics takes a sledgehammer to a TV in Boston.Michael Grecco Productions Inc.

Through June 17, opening reception May 19, 5-9 p.m., at Anderson Yezerski Gallery, 460 Harrison Ave., A16, andersonyezerski.com

Mark Shanahan can be reached at mark.shanahan@globe.com. Follow him @MarkAShanahan.