You could be a massive fan of rock ‘n’ roll and never know the name Danny Fields and it would be totally understandable. After all, the movers and shakers behind the scenes aren’t the ones front and center, but the contribution of Fields to rock ‘n’ roll history is undeniable. The life story of Danny Fields is now the subject of a new documentary from writer-director Brendan Toller, Danny Says, which takes its name from the title of a song off the Ramones’ fifth album End of the Century. Danny Says is rather conventional documentary from start to finish, rarely playing with form to accentuate the story, but it’s effective in highlighting Fields’ numerous contributions to the counterculture and featuring a number of hilarious anecdotes about rock ‘n’ roll’s past.
The film opens with some biographical information about Fields’ youth, including his coming to terms with his homosexuality at a young age. Fields never had a “coming out” moment in regards to his sexuality, which makes the amount of time the film spends on the subject kind of baffling as Fields was neither a civil rights activist nor faced persecution. Perhaps it was just an aspect that aided him in understanding the emerging counterculture. After college, Fields starts hanging around Andy Warhol’s Factory, and makes friends with numerous of Warhol’s protégés, including Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground.
For a brief period, Fields worked as a music journalist highlighting the emerging artists of the British Invasion. Fields also had a radio show on the legendary free form station WFMU, which led to his being hired as head of publicity for Elektra Records. While at Elektra, Fields was tasked with the unenviable position of trying to form Jim Morrison of the Doors as a teen idol, and the singer and Fields often clashed. These anecdotes are recounted using some intriguing animated segments that really highlight just how much LSD Morrison was consuming at the time.
Once Danny Fields was no longer dealing with the antics of Jim Morrison, he traveled to Detroit where he witnessed two of the most powerful rock ‘n’ roll acts ever – the MC5 and the Stooges. Fields convinced Elektra to sign both acts, though the MC5 were deemed more commercially viable and were paid much more than Iggy Pop’s upstart band. Unwittingly, Danny Fields had just discovered two bands that would be forever known as originators of punk rock. For the next few years, Fields would work closely with Iggy and the Stooges before Iggy’s drug abuse became too much to handle and Fields sold away Iggy’s contract to a little known artist named David Bowie. Among the highlights of Danny Says are the interviews with Iggy Pop, who is passionate and enthusiastic about Fields’ influence on his own life and incredibly frank about his past demons of drug abuse.
Discovering the MC5 and the Stooges would be enough for anyone to have their name etched into the annals of rock ‘n’ roll history, but Fields had even one more seismic discovery left in him. His greatest contribution to western civilization is the discovery of the Ramones, four disaffected youth from New York who tore the pop songs of the ‘60s down to their bare necessities and sped them up with a new sense of fury and funny. Fields would manage the Ramones and got them signed to Sire Records. There’s a moment in the film where an audio tape of Lou Reed and Danny Fields discussing the demos of the punk pioneers which is fascinating and funny, as Reed brims with enthusiasm for the Ramones. In Fields’ own words he describes how the burgeoning punk movement led by the Sex Pistols poisoned the well for the Ramones’ potential for commercial success, radio and television stations fearing having the Ramones on due to the spit and profanity the Pistols employed.
The Ramones and the Stooges were personally instrumental in influencing my attitudes and tastes, so there is a personal element that makes me connect with Danny Says. However, being familiar with Fields from various books over the years made some of the story in Brendan Toller’s film feel fairly rote. For those that are unaware of Danny Fields’ amazing contributions to rock ‘n’ roll, Danny Says should do an excellent job in bringing a background player to the forefront. Even if you’re like me and familiar with Fields’ story, there are some intimate moments from rock legends and hilarious anecdotes that elevate the material above its familiar frame. Danny Says is a fitting reminder that not all rock legends took to the stage.
DANNY SAYS opens in Los Angeles this Friday, September 30th at the Sundance Sunset Cinemas in West Hollywood and will also be available on Amazon Video, VOD and iTunes.