You’d be forgiven for never having heard of Danny Fields. He’s never been centre-stage, yet it’s fair to say that punk, among other significant sonic revolutions, could never have happened without him. Fields, a pioneering NYC rock hack of impeccable taste and remarkable vision, made connections, embraced the shock of the new at every opportunity, and in so doing, sped up the process of change. He became the PR conduit between outsider artist and mainstream media, getting bands signed that no other agent would touch on the strength of formidable reputation and casual charm.
This former ‘school faggot’ (“everybody knew but me”), devoted to amphetamines from the age of ten, dropped out of Harvard Law School, hung out with Leee Black Childers on the pre-Stonewall Greenwich Village gay scene and hooked up with Warhol, who taught him that the very essence of being cool was to ‘do nothing’. Soon enough, he’d mastered the art of doing nothing to such an extent that he saw the birth of the Velvet Underground while sharing an apartment with Edie Sedgwick.
His connections saw him stumble into rock writing, where he metamorphosed into the Zelig-as-catalyst persona that came to define him. “What motivated me,” he remembers in Brendan Toller’s excellent documentary portrait Danny Says, “was to be in the right crowd.
And what a crowd. While working as The Doors’ publicist, he persuaded Elektra to sign both the Stooges and the MC5. He discovered and managed the Ramones, orchestrated their signing to Sire and secured their pivotal support slot with the Flamin’ Groovies at London’s Roundhouse in June ’76, a night that helped unify and consolidate the nascent UK punk scene. He worked with Lou Reed, Cream, Nico, Judy Collins…
Danny Says is packed with heavyweight interviewees (Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper, Tommy Ramone, Lenny Kaye, Wayne Kramer et al), and showcases the easy charm of Fields in a series of candid interviews with the man himself.
You leave Danny Says with the distinct impression that if rock is to survive and prosper, the scene needs more Danny Fields; more courageous visionaries favouring the artistic over the fiscal, forward momentum over instantaneous profit. Because while fans like Fields take chances, financiers only ever play safe. And where’s the fun in that?