Danny Fields

The legendary NYC scene-maker opens up his previously unseen photo archive and looks back over his rock ‘n’ roll life

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If there was ever someone who could be credited for creating cool, it’s Danny Fields. Manager of the Ramones, editor at the iconic 16 magazine, one of Warhol’s glitterati, and the man responsible for signing the Stooges and MC5 (on the same day), since the 60s Fields has existed behind the scenes, shaping pop culture as we know it. He, however, has a more modest interpretation of his contributions, “I was never anything except an editor,” he says with a flick of the hand. “I was never a writer, never a photographer, although I wrote some things and I took some pictures. As for me and music, the connection is tenuous; my talent is just that I’m a super audience member, a ‘number one fan’. And I think I have good taste.”

Born in 1941, Fields grew up in Queens, New York. He was a smart kid, and was skipped ahead two grades at school. After graduating from college at 19, he briefly attended Harvard Law. “I didn’t care about law, I just wanted to live at Harvard,” he says. “I figured if I could live anywhere in the United States I might as well live in the most elite place there is. Plus every time I went there I saw all these cute boys who I thought could be my boyfriend, because I’d never had one.” He laughs, sat cross-legged in an armchair in his Manhattan apartment. “But I dropped out because law was boring. See... the law students went to class in jackets and ties, and carried briefcases. But over on the other side of Mass Ave, in Harvard Square, everyone wore turtlenecks and Levis, and carried green book bags. All the boys had longer hair and soulful eyes, and life was decadent, at last. The cute people were not in law school.”

Following Harvard, Fields moved back to NYC, and fell in with the Warhol crowd. His loft in Midtown became a crash-pad for his Cambridge pals – most notably Edie Sedgwick – as well as a regular hang- out for frequenters of The Factory.

“It was Thanksgiving weekend in ‘63, and I threw a party at my loft on 20th St. My Harvard friends and the Greenwich Village fags and Factory people were all there dancing and seducing each other – it was a big connection moment. A friend from Harvard walked in with Nico, her first (semi) public appearance in New York, and everyone just gasped – that’s what you did when you saw her, because she was so beautiful, such a presence. At the centre of the room there was a big punch bowl with vodka and grapefruit juice, and she walked over, held the ladle high above her head and poured the punch straight into her mouth in one steady stream. I thought, ‘Wow, what a star!’”

I figured if I could live anywhere in the United States I might as well live in the most elite place there is. Plus every time I went there I saw all these cute boys who I thought could be my boyfriend, because I’d never had one

Around this time Fields landed a job as editor of the struggling teen fan magazine, Datebook, where he gave bands like the Velvet Underground and the Jefferson Airplane their first pieces of national press. He was also the man behind an infamous headline that would change the Beatles’ career forever. “It was Beatles time,” he recalls, “and the owner of Datebook bought the American rights to interviews with John and Paul, which had run in the UK a few months before. In his interview John said, ‘I don’t know what will go first, rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity... We’re more popular than Jesus now.” I thought, ‘Wow, there’s a headline!’ And so I put it on the cover.”

Most are familiar with the story that follows: the headline caused global hysteria, Beatles protests broke out across America, death threats flooded in and the KKK picketed concerts on the band’s imminent American tour. “It was like Nazi Germany – all along the Bible Belt the Jesus morons were steamrolling everything to do with the Beatles into the pavement. White trash America in action – this was 1966. After enduring that madness for a week, the Beatles said, ‘Look, we don’t need this, no more touring’ and they never played for a ticket-buying audience in the world again.”

“Linda Eastman – later to become Linda McCartney – and I became friends in those Datebook days. [After her death, Fields authored a tribute to her, Linda McCartney: A Portrait.] Years later, when I was visiting her and Paul in Sussex, she said to me, ‘You know, I don’t think Paul knows it was you who did that Datebook thing.’ So I told him, and he just chortled and said, ‘So you’re the one.’ Obviously it had been an extremely stressful time, but in retrospect, we all realised that was a moment.”

After Datebook, Fields began working at Elektra Records, where he was responsible for the discovery and subsequent signing of the Stooges, MC5 and Nico, who recorded her solo LP The Marble Index with John Cale for the label. “I got a call from my friend Ronnie Heron in LA, asking if I could help get some press for a band she managed called the Doors. They had just recorded their first album for Elektra and were coming to NYC. Also, all the leader- of-the-pack groupies from Max’s Kansas City were talking about this hot new lead singer in town, so I had two reasons to check them out.”

I thought they were a really good band, so the next day I phoned Elektra and told them I was the press agent for the Doors – which wasn’t technically true, but no one else was, so why not? I met with the president of the company and I said, ‘The band did this one song – something about fire. I keep humming it, I think it’s a hit.’ And he said, ‘Well, it’s seven minutes long, and besides we’ve released a single called “Break on Through”. Well, it died, but a few months later I got a call back saying they’d cut the organ solo out of “Light My Fire”, so it wasn’t 70 years long anymore, and they’d sent it to radio stations and now it was a hit. They said, ‘So why don’t you come work for us?’”

Fields began working as the Doors’ publicist, and played a large role in Jim Morrison’s transition into a teen idol, despite the fact that the two famously did not get along. He also introduced Morrison to Nico – something he now winces at the memory of. “Yeah, I fixed them up,” he says. “I’d seen Jim with skanky girls, and I thought it would be bad for his image to have all these trashy garbage groupies sitting on his face in the dressing room. So I introduced him to Nico – they both being poets and high-minded artistes, with a major overlay of Parisian gloom. And they hit it off. I ended up having to sort of kidnap him. He’d taken more drugs than I’d seen anyone take in my life, and we were staying at a house in the Hollywood Hills, and I thought, ‘If he drives off the hill and dies I’m going to get fired’, so I hid his car keys, and after that he hated me. He was an asshole. Janis Joplin never spoke of him by name, she just called him ‘that asshole’.”

Then the Ramones started calling me constantly, really aggressive, saying, ‘Why are you always writing about Television and Patti Smith? We’re playing at CBGB’s too! Write about us!’

While at Elektra, and after he was fired (“I always got fired, from everything”), Fields acted as the de-facto manager of Iggy and the Stooges. “They were the main thing I cared about at the label, but managing them was more than I could cope with,” he says. “However brilliant they are, their power can run you over, everything in the early 70s was a disaster for them: their drugs, their finances, the fact that nobody in radio would touch them. I was in over my head. Then one night I got a phone call from their road manager at 4am, to inform me that the Stooges had borrowed a bunch of equipment and a truck, and were driving along when the truck smashed into a bridge, destroying the truck and the equipment and the bridge. I was like, ‘OK, uh... put it on my Mastercard?’ That was the end for me.”

Next came a job as co-editor at 16 magazine – the top teen publication of the moment and one of the most influential fan mags of all time. Here Fields wrote about, and subsequently shaped the careers of the teen idols of the era – mainly the Bay City Rollers, who were the front cover for 13 months in a row: a new record. Fields also had a column in the Soho Weekly News – plugging artists he liked alongside bits of underground gossip. “I always wanted a column because it puts you on the A-list; you get invited to all the best parties, meet everyone, and you never have to pay for food, ever,” he smiles. The Soho Weekly was distributed hot off the presses at Max’s Kansas City, guaranteeing Fields and his column the hippest audience in New York. “Then the Ramones started calling me constantly, really aggressive, saying, ‘Why are you always writing about Television and Patti Smith? We’re playing at CBGB’s too! Write about us!’ But I thought they were some cha-cha band. ‘Ramones’ – that sounds like a Spanish word to me. Anything that ends in ‘ones’ is not English. So I was like, maybe...”

A semi-known fact about the Ramones is that the reason the group became friends – and later, a band – is because they were all Stooges fanatics at their high school. So not only were they nagging Fields because they wanted to be in his column, but they were also great admirers of his, aware of the integral part he played in the Stooges’ career. “The first time I saw the Ramones play and the first words Joey sang were, ‘I don’t want to go down to the basement’. Now, unless you’re Bob Dylan or John Phillips, I don’t give a shit about lyrics, but man, those are some great words! It’s like every comic book you’ve ever laughed at. I just loved them, and they looked so great, and the whole show was over in 17 minutes! They were the perfect, ready-made band.”

Fields offered to manage the band immediately after that first gig, on the sidewalk outside CBGB’s. Their partnership would last five years – the longest running job of Fields’s life. The Ramones song “Danny Says,” is about their beloved friend and manager; “Danny says we gotta go / Gotta go to Idaho / But we can’t go surfin’ / ’Cause it’s 20 below”

In 1996, another generation came to know the name Danny Fields with the release of the bestselling book, Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain. The book tells the story of punk through interviews with everyone from Warhol superstars, to Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, to the groupies who fucked them. Danny acts as a primary voice in the book, having been witness to many of the events that shaped the history covered therein. Dedicated to Danny Fields as “Forever the coolest guy in the room,” Please Kill Me has since been translated into 12 languages, and for many alternateens the book has become scripture – the sort of book you keep on your nightstand and flip through so many times it looks as if it could turn to dust. “What’s so awesome to me is that people who were flourishing 40 years ago are now of more interest than they ever were then,” he says of the book’s popularity. “They keep being fascinating. And I give a good interview...”

Throughout his career, Fields has also amassed an incredible archive of photos from his starry encounters – thousands of negatives and albums full of cracked and fading Polaroids. The photos selected to accompany this article have never been seen by the public until now. Many were taken on lazy days spent hanging out in Fields’s 20th St. loft, and provide an intimate look into the lives of some of the world’s greatest icons. “I liked taking pictures of people hanging out at my loft, because they were often gorgeous and/or fabulous, and looking back at those images now, I think they’re more gorgeous and fabulous than ever,” he smiles. “When I started managing the Ramones in the mid-70s, I got a Nikon F2 and just started shooting. Also, Sony had just come out with a home video camera, and I got one and taped a lot of their shows. They’d look at the tapes afterward and would often see mistakes they’d made, which would lead to them beating each other up, in anger and frustration. Then I’d take the camera home and make porn. The tapes weren’t labelled too well, so years later when some video producers were putting together a collection of early Ramones performances, I just handed them all over, warning them there might be some non-rock ‘n’ roll footage there that might be a bit... kinky.”

Fields’s incredible contributions to the worlds of punk, pop, photography and journalism are too far-reaching to attempt to define or quantify. However, it only takes a few moments in his presence to understand that he is a truly special person – a hyper-intelligent, kind, genuinely unpretentious man who devoted most of his life to facilitating the creativity of the people he believed in most.

“I’ve been very lucky to have known so many incredible people,” he smiles. “The sort of people you can’t even imagine until they come into your life. Because when you stop being surprised and delighted by people, you might as well give up and crawl into your grave. The people in your life are all that matter. My greatest regret is that I didn’t take more pictures of everyone.”

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