Duane Bruce has stories to tell. And one of them might even be about you.
The former Boston radio DJ, known for his work at WFNX 101.7 FM from 1987 to 1992, has written a new memoir titled, appropriately enough, Hang The DJ. The 400-page, 36-photo book, which you can order now via Lulu before its official release later this month, is a brazen tell-all of Bruce’s career in the radio industry, and centers mostly around his tumultuous and noteworthy time as overnight host at WFNX, the legendary alternative rock station owned by the Boston Phoenix. WFNX left the FM airwaves in July 2012.
“I think some people will be pleased I cleared the air a little bit, and some people will get their knickers in a twist,” Bruce tells Vanyaland. “I take the brunt of it, though, because I was an egotistical, drug-fueled lunatic at the time. Now it’s just two of the three; I got my ego in check.”
Included in Bruce’s anecdotes and “great stories” are tales from the frontlines of radio after WFNX broke Nirvana to a mainstream audience in 1991, some awkward interactions with WBCN DJ Oedipus, the time he had WFNX program director Max Tolkoff “arrested”, his insistence that “flying space slugs” would appear on the walls of the Lynn studio during his overnight shifts, and interactions with the ghost of the man who killed himself by jumping down the ‘FNX elevator shaft just before a long holiday weekend. And then there are the drugs.
“The drug use in [the book] is insane,” Bruce admits. “Ecstasy was brand new, and my first taste was at a live remote in Harvard Square dressed in a bunny outfit with a giant head… both literal and metaphorically speaking.”
A lot of the late-’80s/early-’90s players in the Boston rock radio industry are included — and some are merely referenced, deliberately left anonymous. Bruce admits some of the stuff in Hang The DJ might be debated by those involved, but he maintains its his story the way he experienced it. “I didn’t write with any animosity,” he adds. “I tried not to hold anything back, but also tried my best not to get anyone in trouble.”
And Bruce notes that his email is on the first page of the book, providing “ample opportunties for people to reach out” should they see fit. Check out the Alex Arcadia-designed cover art below, and read an exclusive excerpt from Hang The DJ, provided by Bruce, after the jump.
Hang The DJ, Vanyaland excerpt, by Duane Bruce
My friend Angel had moved, along with her family, to a place not too far from Lynn. They lived in Rockport, Mass., which was about thirty miles away. They were kind enough to offer to let me stay with them until I found a place of my own, once things with WFNX worked out. I drove down on Friday to meet with Michael Bright and Bruce McDonald. As I drove into Massachusetts, I still had trouble picking up the signal at 101.7 FM. Eventually, it came in strong, and the music was insane. It was the middle of the day, and they were playing “Attack Ships on Fire” by The Revolting Cocks. I couldn’t help but notice the repetitious Harpo Marx horns in the song. I fell for that song instantly. They went from that into “Go!” by Tones on Tails. There was no Foreigner, Styx, or Journey. There was no Skynyrd, Twisted Sister, or Bon Jovi. Best of all, there was no Kansas or Toto, Dorothy!
Here I was, about to start a new chapter in my life, and I was determined to shape up, take it all more seriously, and become more respectable. Yeah, right. I bit my own hand to keep from laughing too hard. Look out, Boston. Here I come.
I found 25 Exchange Street, the station’s address, and looked for a place to park. You could tell that Lynn had been through a rough patch. The fires had only been blocks away. Today, Lynn is a much nicer place all the way around, but back then, it was one fucking tough city. Drugs and mental illness plagued the city. When Reagan was in office, he cut funding to mental health facilities to help pay for his ‘Star Wars’ missile defense system. This included the Danvers State Mental Hospital, which closed its doors, turning out all the people that had been there, many of them their whole lives, and who did not know how to fend for themselves. This caused many problems with crime in Lynn.
As I approached the station, I couldn’t help but notice a milky-white puddle next to the curb in front of the station. It looked like someone had poured a gallon of skim milk into the gutter. In the five years that I worked at WFNX, I swear, that puddle never disappeared. It was always there. No one knew what it was, or where the source originated. I began to fear it. Extraterrestrial no doubt.
The station was on the second floor of an old bank. It had wood paneling with rock posters covering what they could. It had a hideously worn-out carpet, and was loaded with desks that looked like they had all come from a fire sale. There was a black leather couch, which was cut to shreds just weeks before by The Replacements, with a switchblade. You a funny boy, Tommy Stinson. When they told you to ‘cut it out’, that’s not what they meant.
“Hi Duane. I’m Michael Bright. Thanks for making the ride down.” I instantly found both Michael and Bruce McDonald to be very inviting individuals that had tremendous foresight into the future of WFNX. They had a vision. It may not have matched the owner’s vision exactly, but it was close enough, and they just plowed ahead with it. That was the type of enthusiasm that I also shared, as did the rest of the staff. It was very liberating to have the ability to play great music, one after another, after another.
I filled out the necessary paperwork, and became an employee of Phoenix Media Communications. The station was in Lynn, and the Boston Phoenix newspaper offices were in Boston, twenty miles south. Yes, it was a hike between the two cities. But it was a lot closer to me now than it had ever been, so twenty miles, please, I could do that in a kiddie pedal car. Just don’t drive through that puddle of white stuff.
I would be back tonight at midnight to prepare for a 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. shift, the same for tomorrow night. That’s if I didn’t burn the place down. I drove out to Rockport to grab a little sleep. I really appreciated the fact that Angel’s family, the Haschalk’s, gave me a place to crash, wash, and eat for a while. It would have been a lot longer commute without their help and kindness. They were good people. Thank you.
Of course there was no sleep. You know when you are going to start a new job and the alarm is set for six and you fall asleep at five-fifty? I made the drive back to Lynn. It was a whole lot different in the dark, taking surface roads to get to Rte. 128. The famous Rte. 128, where you go ‘faster miles an hour’, according to The Modern Lovers classic song. I blasted WFNX in my car the whole ride in. I was psyched to do a show. It had been months since I had any creative outlet. I was to be paid the sum of $6.00 per hour. That was better than the $4.25 that I had been used to. The deal was, bring your own headphones, and the station provided the rest. I pulled up in front of the station at the stroke of midnight. Let the circus begin.