Danny says we gotta go
Gotta go to Idaho
But we can’t go surfin’ cuz it’s twenty below
I grew up with those lyrics, The Ramones End of The Century vinyl spinning all the way through the 80’s. I knew Danny Fields was their manager, and that he was also the guy who got The MC5 and The Stooges signed, but I never really got the full scoop on Danny Fields.
So thank god for director Brendan Toller and whoever else thought it was a good idea to make this documentary, because frankly, it’s fascinating.The doc screened at The Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax with a DJ spinning tunes to the half-couch seating boho space.
It’s a portrait of the ultimate scenester-connector in rock and roll. A tastemaker – a brilliant Harvard grad putting his considerable wit to creative use by teaching America about raw talent, authenticity and the meaning of art. By the end of the movie, You fucking love the guy.
Danny Fields hung out at Andy Warhol’s Factory with Lou Reed, Nico, Edie Sedgewick – you name the avant-garde cool persona of 1960’s NYC and Danny is captured in a photo with them in that era. From there you hop on the roller coaster of his life through his teen fan magazine days where he spotlighted The Beatles’ ‘bigger than Jesus’ comment and arguably soured the mop tops on touring forever – ha! Marching onward, he signs two of the most influential bands in rock and roll history (The MC5 & The Stooges) with one phone call (!) He introduces David Bowie to Iggy Pop, suggests Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe stop hovering around and take a damn seat at his Max’s Kansas City table – and on and on.
I think my favorite part of the film is when Danny plays The Ramones for Lou Reed for the first time. All we’re watching on screen is a cassette tape roll around, but the almost childlike joy in Lou Reed’s voice as he gives his first impressions is something I’d pay to see again. I wish I could quote verbatim, but basically he proclaims them to be the worst nightmare of middle American parents everywhere. It’s awesome.
Fields is deliciously charming as one of the main narrators of the film, shrugging off gigantic cultural milestones as all in a day’s work. He’s self-effacing, but sarcastic and funny, jumping from topic to topic as if he’s sitting in a bar with a would-be friend. He’s endlessly affable but deeply opinionated, and when he doesn’t like something, he’s not trying to hide it, like when he marvels at the marketing of Johnny Winter as the “fastest blues player in the world.” He shakes his head, launching into an impression of the blues – the whole point is – they’re slow.
It’s such a great story, and Toller gets the most out of it with his casual, stylish interviews, archival photos (some Iggy ones I’d never seen) and beautiful animated sequences by Johnny Woods and Emily Hubley (who did the animated sequences in Hedwig & The Angry Inch) illustrating the moments when footage may have been impossible.
I have to say, I agreed with everything Danny said, including not wanting to go broke and lose his shirt over a drugged-out Iggy, and hiding car keys from a drugged-out Jim Morrison who was subsequently livid, two points on which Fields seemed to feel some kind of apology was necessary. He came off so grounded, the coolest rock babysitter ever of course, but so much more important than that.
Rightly so, much is made about his taste – and I do think that is the crux of it – he had great taste in music and, as one interviewee put it, he created a platform on which these chosen artists could stand, so that people would take notice.
Perhaps that’s one element that’s missing in music today. When all genres are so ubiquitously present, where is the curator to sort it all out? Where’s our Danny Fields slogging through hundreds of crap bands to finally pluck one out and say, “Here! This group. Watch them.” The world needs more Danny.
Until then, we have Danny Says.
*Photo of Danny Fields from his archives