Whether you take The Doors, The Stooges or The Ramones as the birth of American punk rock, they all owe something to a guy called Danny Fields
In the email exchange in the week or two leading up to my interview with Danny Fields you get the impression you’re dealing with a real character, an eccentric perhaps. After finally deciding on a city and day to do the interview (Liverpool on a Friday) Danny tells me of his plans to stay up continuously on prescribed upper meds from the Wednesday, when he flies in from the U.S., until Friday for our interview, so he can reach maximum delirium and sleep deprivation for our conversation. He asks for personal details about myself so he can know what to expect of me and inquires what my preferences and leniencies are when it comes to drugs. I fully expect to arrive in Liverpool to meet a deranged, drug-ravaged lunatic who hasn’t slept in days, who will thrust a variety of pills and powders into my hands, face and nose the second I walk through the door. I envisage dark times and a lost weekend ahead. However, in advance of our meeting I watch Danny Says a new documentary on Fields, the one-time Ramones manager and man responsible for getting The Stooges, the MC5 and Nico signed to Elektra Records, and I see a pretty genial, relaxed and entirely sane elderly gentleman recalling his life story on camera. Then again, I also find out that he once gave Jack Bruce acid-laced popcorn and was the first ever person to be censored on public access TV for pretending to stick a light bulb up someone’s anus. So, I travel to Liverpool (where he is being interviewed on stage as part of Liverpool Sound City) even more unsure of what, or who, I am about to encounter.
As Fields welcomes me into his hotel room, it’s not the makeshift drink and drug den I had perhaps thought it would be but instead much like anyone else’s hotel room – a half unpacked suitcase on the floor with various electrical items charging and a sterile atmosphere cloaking the air. Part of me is relieved and the other slightly disappointed. Danny’s voice has gone somewhat from picking up a chill on the plane so his plans for staying up for three days straight until he is barely making sense have fallen by the wayside. Instead he becomes fixated on the lighting in his room, which is admittedly dark, which he hates. He points at all the various pictures and diagrams of the Titanic that adorn the hotel walls in bafflement, describing it as celebrating a colossal failure, and he gushes of his love of Eurovision, which he intends to watch with glee the following evening. We talk for three hours in a very relaxed and detailed manner about many aspects of his life whilst sharing white wine, Fields sitting calmly in his slippers, not, as it turns out, hanging from the light fittings, barefoot with a head full of drugs, and me fearing for my own life and sanity.
“There’s nothing to cringe about,” he says of the documentary, directed by Brendan Toller, who also directed the music documentary I Need That Record! – a 2008 release, which focused on the future of independent record stores). Danny Says is littered with complimentary talking heads from the likes of Iggy Pop, actor-director John Cameron Mitchell and Patti Smith collaborator Lenny Kaye, as well as hilarious anecdotes. The film is ostensibly about Fields, but just as much about the fertile explosion of music in the late ’60s and early ’70s in New York, of which Danny was at the helm and a significant driving force.