During the 1980s and 1990s, photographer and DJ Julie Kramer lived the dream at the late, lamented alternative-rock station WFNX: She interviewed, photographed and partied with legendary rock musicians, from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Nirvana to Joe Strummer. WFNX was one of the most respected alternative stations in the country, and even the most elusive musicians would trek to the Lynn studio to pay homage. There, Kramer would dazzle them with her wit and photograph them, too.
Today, Kramer is a DJ at indie617, but the photos were in boxes for many years. Her boyfriend happened to unearth them recently while cleaning out her basement, and he inspired her to dig out the negatives. And, thus, a show was born.
“The Basement Archives Volume One: The Ghosts of WFNX” runs this weekend at The Factory, at 545 Washington St. in Lynn. Gallery viewing hours are Saturday, Oct. 20, and Sunday, Oct. 21, from 1-5 p.m. and by appointment.
The exhibition showcases over three dozen color and black-and-white analog images, including portraits of Elvis Costello, The Clash’s Joe Strummer, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Social Distortion’s Mike Ness, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Bob Geldolf, Bjork and more.
Each has a note describing what was going on behind the scenes before the photo was taken. For instance, “When Johnny Rotten came in, he ate bad clam chowder and threw up. Gene Simmons! We heard him screaming, screaming! He came back in and said, ‘I just passed a kidney stone.’ [DJ] Henry [Santoro] went and looked for it,” she laughs.
Kramer captured notable moments, such as Roy Orbison’s last photo session. Most rockers were pleasant, she says. She recalls Iggy Pop jumping atop a convertible, entertaining the Red Hot Chili Peppers at the Capital Diner and chilling on the WFNX roof with Lenny Kravitz. Most photographs were shot right in Lynn, adding a certain gritty hometown charm to the photos.
Musicians were eager to stroll Lynn alongside Kramer, knowing how important the station was to their fan base.
“I was able to have a rapport with them. I was obviously a fan—and a DJ. And remember, this was before cell phones and computers. How did people learn about new music? They listened to FNX! So they already know we were fans. That’s already a good thing. Then you start chatting. They like you. And then, it’s like, ‘Do you wanna take a walk?’ Think about it: FNX was on the forefront. We broke more bands. We were one of the top alternative stations in the country. Record companies knew that. Of course you’d drive to Lynn from Boston!” she says, laughing.
Musicians usually didn’t intimidate her, but she did get jittery when interviewing her childhood idol, David Bowie. She interviewed him many times, and once he dispatched his manager to Fluevog on Newbury Street to snag shoes just like hers.
“I didn’t cry. Most people cry when they meet him. It was just this great, amazing conversation with David Bowie, who happened to be my lifelong idol. It wasn’t until I got into the car that I was shaking,” she remembers.
So far, the response to her show has been tremendous. Many old FNX fans have stopped by to relive memories, as well as old DJs.
“Everyone is super nostalgic for what used to be. A lot of people’s kids are listening to Green Day and Nirvana now. It’s a slice of time,” she says. “It was fun, exciting, innovative, it was totally taking a chance on a bunch of bands that weren’t anybody that became somebody. We were so on the forefront of playing new music,” she says. “Pearl Jam’s first show was at WFNX. Nirvana played the birthday party. These bands came though WFNX first. … Looking back, it was completely historic. That’s why everyone is enjoying the show.”
Kramer has plenty more photos, and she plans future themed exhibits. In the meantime, learn more about her and the show here.