WGBH Host, Henry Santoro spoke with his former colleague, Julie Kramer, about her photography exhibit, "The Basement Archives: Vol. I: The Ghosts of WFNX," at the Factory in Lynn, MA. The interview has been edited for clarity.
Henry Santoro: For the better part of 25 years, DJ Julie Kramer and I worked side by side at, the now defunct, Boston alternative rock station, WFNX. The place was gritty, it was grungy before there was grunge, but that didn't stop countless musicians and bands from coming to the little station in Lynn to promote a show or drop off an album. And the whole time, Julie Kramer had her camera with her taking photos of any and all who came through the doors of WFNX. Well, now these photos are on view at a place called The Factory, also in Lynn, and literally right around the corner from where WFNX once was. And Julie I'm so glad you're doing this.
Julie Kramer: Well, you know Henry, for all these years, all the DJs kept saying, "When are you going to show the photos? When are we going to have a photo show?" So, we're finally having a photo show.
Santoro: FNX was like a messy apartment with microphones. We who worked there called that place home for so many years. We had lots of visitors and bands and musicians and just anybody who was anybody would come through. Do you remember the first band you photographed?
Kramer: I think it was Steel Pulse. I'm going to guess in '88. Yeah. There were so many. Henry, I must be honest with you. I mean thank goodness I was pretty good about labeling all the negatives and stuff, but I have reached out to countless disc jockeys: Do you remember when Lenny Kravitz was there? What date was that Elvis Costello? When was Joe Strummer? This show has been everybody coming together to help me. Because when I wrote "5/93," that was May ’93, but really was that when Bob Geldof was there? So, there were a lot of musicians. Before playing the Channel or Bun Ratty’s, or Axis, or Spit, they would always come to Lynn and they would hang, and we would go to the Capitol Diner or we'd go to the beach or take a cruise around Nahant. And I just documented the whole thing.
Santoro: And you documented it because photography is really your first love?
Kramer: Photography is what I went to college for. That's what I have a degree in. I've always loved radio, I also always loved music and at different points in my life, I was either a part-time DJ and a full-time photographer or vice versa and tried to sort of straddle them both.
Santoro: The project is called "The Basement Archives Vol. 1: The Ghosts of WFNX." It's called the basement archives, because that's where all your little film canisters were located in the basement of your home, right?
Kramer: Right. So, my partner, Jimmy, decided one day to clean the basement and he came across boxes of photographs and he started laying them out and he said, "You were a photographer? Really?" And then he started going a little crazy because he's a huge music fan, and he's not from Boston. So, when he saw the Chili Peppers in the Capitol Diner and all these musicians: Lou Reed, David Bowie, and Chris Isaac, he was just blown away. And at one point he said, "I'm going to do something with this whether you like it or not." I said, "Go ahead, knock yourself out." And then at one point he said, "By any chance do you have the negatives?" So, I went into the garage. I pulled open a box and there were all my negatives all archived in special boxes. And then he just said, "I'm going for it."
Santoro: It must have been like finding a time capsule.
Kramer: Pretty much. I mean I put this stuff away 20-some-odd-years ago, and when he was looking through the stuff and I started telling him the stories about everything, it started to get fun. And he knows you, and he knows a bunch of different DJ, and they would start talking about all the different fun times with WFNX and he said we're going to have a show, but it must be in Lynn. That's where a lot of the photographs were taken, not all of them, but a good portion of them, and it's going to be that feel of the basement. So that's why we're having it in this warehouse, which we have transformed. We have spent months painting and building. But this is the first show, Henry. This is volume one. There's like 10,000 negatives.
Santoro: I'm going to name a band or a person. And you respond from what you remember taking the photo. Let's start with Joe Strummer.
Kramer: Joe Strummer came in and had a guitar with him. Nothing to plug it in. Put it in the trash barrel, for some reason. He was just having fun. All I recall with him is having a good time hanging out. I don't even remember who interviewed him that day. And then we went outside and I think we were going to take a walk or something. I started photographing him and he would show me his guitar and he would do fun things with his guitar. And while we were photographing outside of 25 Exchange, a truck went by and somebody screamed out, "holy BEEP, that's Joe Strummer!"
Kramer: Debbie Harry and Chris Stein came up a few times, to be honest with you. The photos that I took they were up there, and they were promoting her solo record. And we always used to go out to the roof. There was like this big window, we'd have people climb out onto the roof and they kind of nuzzled up into this this window seat and got sort of cuddly, and I photographed them having fun in that sort of cuddly moment.
Santoro: Courtney Love and Frances Bean.
Kramer: That was backstage at the Orpheum Theatre. Drew Barrymore was there because she was dating the guitar player, Eric. We had gone out for some Italian food. And I don't know if you knew this, but Drew Barrymore is allergic to garlic, so I heard 40,000 times at the Italian restaurant. We hung out with them a lot. And then backstage we did photographs of everybody together including my photographs of Frances Bean and Courtney Love.
Santoro: And Frances Bean was a toddler.
Kramer: She was a couple years old and she had a boo-boo on her finger that she kept showing us.
Santoro: Tell us why Gene Simmons of Kiss and Dicky Barrett from the Mighty Mighty Bossstones showed up together.
Kramer: They had done a single together the Detroit Rock City single and he came up and you have a very interesting story about Gene Simmons. I was lucky enough just to see his tongue, but you should tell your funny story.
Santoro: Gene Simmons was not feeling well that morning and he was not the Gene Simmons — the talkative, gabby in your face Gene. He was laid back and he really wasn't feeling well. Something was up with him and I knew it and picked right up on it. And at one point he asked where the where the bathroom was. And I showed him where the bathroom was, and he went in shut the door and I came back in the studio. He let out a scream that you could hear throughout the entire building. It was like the loudest scream of pain that you've ever heard. And he came back in the studio and he was a completely different person. He was happy. He was chipper. He had just passed a kidney stone in the FNX bathroom.
Kramer: We should've grabbed it.
Santoro: I went looking for it, but he flushed it.
Kramer: You know what that could be worth today, Henry?
Santoro: I know, a Gene Simmons kidney stone. Tell us your favorite photos from the show.
Kramer: It's difficult for me to sort of nail it down to be honest with you. I feel like looking at all the photographs, and walking around, the show is hung and ready. I got a really nice sense of what a wonderful sort of documentary it is and a slice of life. Honestly, the photo of Richard Lewis is so Richard Lewis. There were pictures that you look at and it feels like you're looking in their souls — Mike Ness of Social Distortion, and having a relationship with these people when I photographed them. Probably being a DJ helped with that because you have a chance to hang out and do things. I don't know if I have a favorite per say, Henry. I think the whole show together just makes my heart warm and feels good.
Santoro: You can hear Julie Kramer on Indie617, the streaming station here in town, and you can see her photos at The Factory at 545 Washington Street in Lynn.