Danny Fields Is a Number-One Fan
October 24, 1977
We are sitting in the lower Manhattan loft of Danny Fields, friend of Lou Reed and Andy Warhol, former editor of 16 Magazine, and manager of America’s premier punk band, the Ramones. Danny’s loft is raw. It has 12-foot ceilings, magnificent views of the Hudson through unwashed windows, a nude portrait of Iggy Pop, and a pair of handcuffs dangling from the pull-cord on the kitchen light. We are discussing violence, which Danny finds intriguing as an idea.
“But I can’t take violence seriously as an issue in punk rock,” Danny is saying in his flat, nasal sing-song. “I’ve never seen it in my life, except for Wayne County hitting Dick Manitoba over the head with his mikestand that night at CBGB — but that was such an isolated instance. And then you hear all this thing about that girl in England who lost an eye at a punk concert.” Danny’s features assume a look of acute exasperation. “I mean big deal, you know — one girl, one eye, one concert. That’s the worst thing that’s ever happened in the U.K.? Sports fans are much more violent than that. They do terrible things. They destroy the grass and all those things like that. They should go after sports if they’re really worried about violence.”
Even as Danny speaks, a frantic effort is underway to find Dee Dee Ramone, the bassist of the group, who was last seen two days ago. This evening Danny will even resort to phoning Dee Dee’s mother, but that will only make things worse. When Dee Dee finally does turn up — that night, at his apartment — he will tell Danny he was walking down the street when these guys beat him up and then the cops took him away and wouldn’t let him make a phone call. He doesn’t know his assailants. “I think they were folkies or something,” Danny will say, deadpan.
“It’s so ridiculous,” Danny says. “If they wanted to fight, they’d be in the army.” Danny was at Altamont. He called friends in New York from a phone booth to tell them about it. He’s been in weird scenes with everybody from Jim Morrison to the Bay City Rollers. He doesn’t need the Ramones for violence. Besides, his hobby is death.
“Death is one of the only things that can still make you wonder,” he says. “It’s good show business. It’s the longest-running show of all time. It has a very high audience participation rate. And it’s happened to so many people who were friends of mine. I guess when that happens it has to have a hold on you. People live fast and die young, and a lot of beautiful corpses are left lying around. There was a time when people I knew were dying at the rate of one a month. They took too many drugs or whatever. But that doesn’t make them any less fabulous… Anyway, most of my favorite people are dead. Martha Mitchell… Carmen Miranda… James Dean.… I mean, think about it. Almost everyone fabulous is dead.”
Death and violence are naturals in the world of Danny Fields. Since 1966, Danny — everybody always calls him “Danny,” the same way they call Andy “Andy” — has been involved with some of rock’s most historic fringe. He is a catalyst. Without him, important events — signposts for the current new wave — might never have happened: the Velvet Underground performing at Max’s in 1970, or Iggy and the Stooges being allowed into a recording studio. Danny likes music that is sexy and scary. For this, you have to expect a little death and violence.
Never mind. Mickey Ruskin, the man who presided over Max’s Kansas City when it was the acme of hip, considers Danny “one of the most important people in the world.” More than anyone else, Danny was responsible for the collision of rock and art that began at Max’s in 1966 and continues today on the stages of CBGB and Mickey’s new place, the Lower Manhattan Ocean Club. By exposing people like Jim Morrison, the Cream, Brian Epstein, Lillian Roxon, Janis Joplin, the Buffalo Springfield, and the Stooges to artists, art dealers, and the Warhol menagerie, he has assisted in what Mickey calls the translation of art to music — which is to say, channeling art into a mass medium. But in order to fully explain Danny’s significance, Mickey has to find an art world counterpart. “There are one or two art dealers who I would say are artists. Leo Castelli is close to that. That’s Danny, too. He’s an artist in his own right, and what he does, he does out of a sense of integrity to his art.”
As with any dealer, Danny’s greatest asset is his taste. Danny’s taste is a fine instrument. Years of judicious exercise have honed it to a razor edge that can discriminate swiftly and surely, signaling his choice with the subtlest of gestures — a barely raised eyebrow, or the merest suggestion of sarcasm. “I think it’s magnificent taste,” Danny says proudly. “It’s just superb taste. But then, what else have I got?”
One thing about Danny’s taste: It is broad. He likes heavy romanticism — Van Gogh, Miklos Rozsa film scores, Joan Baez’s voice on “Farewell Angelina.” He’s very big on fantasy and the macabre — underground comics, the 1940 Thief of Baghdad (“the greatest work of art of the 20th century”). And he is fascinated by “primitive-evolved art” — ancient Egyptian pottery, the early films of Andy Warhol, the music of the Ramones. Especially the music of the Ramones.
Danny’s taste has focused on one particular form of primitive-evolved art: hard rock music. What does he like about hard rock music? “That it’s hard — like a Bach fugue is hard. There are no loose ends. It’s a charge — like taking off in a plane. It’s a thrill, and the longer and harder it is the more of a thrill you get. Sometimes I cry… I think it’s so beautiful that I cry.
“When I first saw the Ramones I said, ‘This is the best band in the world.’ You know, I’m their biggest fan, I guess in the world. I think—” Danny’s face, normally poker-straight, is stricken by concern. Only with great effort does he subdue the notion that somewhere in the world a bigger fan may lurk. “I guess every real fan wants to feel he’s the number-one fan in the world. Well, that’s the way I feel about the Ramones.”
Broad as it is, however, Danny’s taste does know limits. “Do you want to know what I hate? I hate blues and jazz. Those are about the only two things in the world I hate. That’s like people who can’t write melodies who do blues and jazz. It’s just noise to me.”
“Danny is one of funniest, smartest, most creative people I ever met,” says Susan Blond, the rock publicist and Warhol actress (she threw the baby out the window in Bad) who starred with Danny in Anton Perich’s X-rated cablecasts back in 1973. “He’s a great talker, and it’s always fun to do anything with him. He has a great sense of what’s going to happen before it happens. He’s always believed in certain acts that, even if they didn’t become successful commercially, were real important to the history of rock & roll. And he’s very powerful. He has power with important people. But to explain how great he really is — I mean, to capture the greatness that is Danny Fields…”
The greatness that is Danny Fields began to take shape in the early 1960s, when a precocious 20-year-old Danny dropped out of Harvard Law School and started hanging out with one of Cambridge’s bohemian crowds. Born in Brooklyn, raised in Queens, educated in the New York public schools, Danny graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Pennsylvania with a major in English lit and a minor, as he puts it, in Brooks Brothers. The arbiter of his Cambridge scene was Ed Hood, the intellectual son of a Mississippi cotton planter, a man who has nested in the twilight groves of academe. Hood’s friends — Edie Sedgwick, Donald Lyons, Paul Morrisey — were people so dazzling, so extreme, and so unique they would soon be added to Andy’s personal collection at the Factory.
Danny was one of the first to arrive in New York — he came to study literature at New York University — so his Chelsea loft became the local crash pad for visiting Harvard hipsters. He began to frequent the Factory, too; there he met Nico and Lou Reed and Andy himself. “My favorite people hung out there,” he says, “and everything they did was my favorite thing.” NYU was dropped; in its place came a series of jobs — production manager at Liquor Store magazine, staff writer at an outfit that packaged crib books (he managed to sneak Carmen Miranda into The Dictionary of Biography). In 1966 he entered the world of rock & roll as an editor at Datebook magazine, a now-defunct service publication for teenage girls.
Danny didn’t fare too well at Datebook: He wanted the Beatles and the Stones; the publisher wanted the Beatles and Paul Revere & the Raiders. But it didn’t matter. He went to L.A. when he got fired, sat at the feet of superstar press agent Derek Taylor, met the manager of the Doors. On his return he appeared at the doorstep of Elektra Records to volunteer as the Doors’ press agent. The New York rock press consisted of only about five people, but then Danny wasn’t getting paid, either.
Other gigs came his way. Robert Stigwood and Brian Epstein hired him to do publicity for the Cream on their first American tour. He worked with Murray the K on his disastrous 1967 Easter show — disastrous because nobody bought tickets, despite a line-up that included Wilson Pickett, Simon & Garfunkel, the Cream, and the Who. He became a part-time D.J. at WFMU, and made it the first station in the country to play Pink Floyd. Then Elektra offered him a salary as publicity director. When he moved in that spring, Danny became one of the record industry’s first company freaks.
There were strains from the beginning, and not just with the company. Danny didn’t get along too well with Jim Morrison either. Morrison was extremely smart, Danny recalls, but he used to do “pricky things,” like going out to dinner and refusing to speak. Janis Joplin used to refer to Morrison as “that asshole.” “But I know why he hated me,” Danny says. “It’s because I kidnapped him once.”
It wasn’t kidnapping exactly; it was more like protective custody. Danny got a call from Nico and Edie Sedgwick, who were staying in this decaying mansion in the Hollywood Hills. They wanted Danny to keep them company, and Danny suggested that Morrison come along. (The Lizard King meets the Moon Goddess — it would be interesting.) Morrison consumed so much acid and vodka that Danny got nervous about giving him the car keys. So he hid the keys and went to sleep in a spare bedroom — only to be awakened by Nico as she flung herself across the bed and shook him furiously while the Lizard King perched naked on the window ledge. Danny went back to sleep. When he woke up, the two of them were standing in the courtyard: He was pulling her hair, she was was screaming.
In 1968, Danny started going to Michigan to see the MC5. The MC5 were the high-energy house band of John Sinclair’s White Panther Party. They lived in Ann Arbor with Sinclair, a “minister of defense” who carried a rifle everywhere, some tie-dyed rank-and-file, and women who cooked and cleaned. “Butch America,” Danny calls it; he went to charge up his batteries. Before long he talked Elektra into signing not only the MC5 but also some of their friends — a less political but equally aggressive outfit called Iggy and the Stooges. If the MC5 were high-voltage broadsides for the Revolution, Iggy was likewise for suicide.
The vice-presidents at Elektra were put off by these bands, with their talk of offing the pigs and their compulsion to smoke dope in the office; but that was nothing compared to David Peel and the Lower East Side. Peel had been discovered chanting revolutionary nonsense syllables in Washington Square Park. Danny persuaded Elektra to call his album Have a Marijuana. “I knew it would sell,” he says. “I knew that if you put a title big on the cover, every kid in America would want to bring it home and give his parents a heart attack.”
On January 20, 1969, the day Nixon was inaugurated and Danny’s parents were hijacked to Cuba, Danny was fired. Elektra dropped the MC5 forthwith, but by summer Danny had gotten them signed to Atlantic. He got himself a publicity job there soon afterward. Unfortunately, the only acts he liked were Loudon Wainwright, the Allman Brothers, and the Velvet Underground, who broke up just as their Loaded album was released. “Atlantic wanted me to take Emerson Lake & Palmer records around and play them for my influential friends,” he says, incredulity creeping into his voice. “I wouldn’t do that. I mean you can’t pay me to do that! So naturally, I got fired.”
The last straw came when Danny decided that Atlantic had to have a hospitality suite in Washington for the 1971 May Day action. Working on the premise that Aretha Franklin might perform (she didn’t, but she might have), he took a room in the Howard Johnson’s across from Watergate; which was famous then as the residence of John and Martha Mitchell. Danny returned to New York before anything actually started — he’d heard there would be mass arrests and he had no desire to end up in a concentration camp — but he left the room with Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, signing the bill in advance. When the tab arrived at Atlantic, it boasted phone calls to Hanoi and a balance of thousands.
After that Danny did publicity for the Cockettes, San Francisco’s theatrical transvestites, and tried briefly to manage the Modern Lovers. He also tried managing Iggy and the Stooges, but the strain of keeping that band alive — “literally alive,” says a friend — was too great. When they drove a 14-foot truck onto a bridge with a 12-foot clearance, drawing three lawsuits as a result, Danny, decided to bail out.
Before long he had a job helping his friend Gloria Stavers edit 16. Although it was only temporary, he stayed five years. Danny may seem like an unlikely purveyor of bubblegum, but he did have an undeniable flair. He kept notebooks filled with hard-sell coverlines: “Donny Osmond — The Story of His Feet!”, stuff like that. If there was any conflict between his role in the underground rock world and his job spinning teen dreams, he didn’t detect it. “I was just channeling something towards who it was supposed to go to,” he says. “And besides, the Bay City Rollers are much better than ELP.”
In 1974, Danny started a gossip column that turned the Soho Weekly News into an instant must-read in the music industry. That’s how he got involved with the Ramones. They pestered him for months to come down to CBGB to catch their set. He admired their persistence, but not enough to reward it. “I wasn’t sure what they did,” he says. “And the name… I thought they were a cha-cha band or something.”
The Ramones are four guys from Forest Hills who more or less invented the state of being we now know as punk. They were wearing ripped jeans, dirty T-shirts, and black leather jackets more than three summers ago — before Danny ever saw them, before CBGB became a shrine, before any of the bands that played there had record contracts, before the Sex Pistols had been formed in London, before the term “new wave” was ever applied to rock & roll, before safety pin first pricked adolescent skin. Nobody else was acting punk then except Patti Smith, and she was doing it different from the way the Ramones did it. She did it poet-like, and the Ramones did it rock & roll.
When Danny did see them, it was at the insistence of Lisa Robinson, a close friend who edits Hit Parader and writes a syndicated column called Rock Talk. Lisa went to see them because Lenny Kaye, Patti’s guitarist, had told her they had more energy than any band he’d seen since the Stooges. The next morning she placed a frantic call to Danny, informing him that not only were they incredible but that he of all people would love them. She was right. “My whole theory is that it takes me five seconds to know if I’m going to really love something,” Danny says. “The Ramones were just ripping hard, you know — machine — RRRRCHCHCHCHTTTT!” Danny vibrates. “I went up to them after the set and — ‘You guys are great! You guys are great!’ That’s all I could say.”
Still, Danny had no desire to manage them. He had no desire to manage anyone, ever. He did advise them, however, and in the process he began to realize that this band was different. The Ramones were not merely brilliant, they were professional. They understood not only what their antecedents had been doing but why they had failed: the disorganization and lack of discipline of the Stooges; the political overkill of the MC5; the unfortunate transvestism of the New York Dolls. Lisa says Danny came to think of the Ramones as “just like the Stooges, only without the curse that was Iggy.” He calls them “the vindication of everything I’ve ever done.”
This summer, Danny finally quit 16 and assumed full managerial responsibilities. These include providing logistical support for the band’s day-to-day activities and coordinating the efforts of accountants, lawyers, travel agents, road crew, booking agent, and various departments in two record companies. “I free them from all these things,” he explains. “I take all this tangential stuff off their hands. I mean, what if they had to book their own hotel rooms?”
Sounds like a big job. “Oh, it is. It’s certainly the most grown-up thing I’ve ever done — the most responsible thing. It’s… well… I don’t know. It’s better than working at a record company, I suppose… But I’m proud of them! When a record they make is great or a show they put on is great, or when a look on a kid’s face who’s just seen them is great, I just feel proud to be part of this thing that’s so terrific.
“…Parental? I was thinking that, too, that I really sound like a proud parent. We’ll… yeah, I guess. I guess that’s one way it could be perceived. I don’t particularly like that image. I like to think of it as more like a coach — or like someone who owns a race horse. Of course, I don’t own them and they’re not a horse, but… that’s really perfect. You’re not its parent. I mean… there’s no question that you’re not its parent…”
Linda Stein is Danny’s business partner and a dedicated proponent of punk rock: “It’s so hip to be punk,” she declares, pointing out excitedly that punks have been turning up at all the gallery openings and fancy parties in New York, London, and Paris. Every 57th Street opening has punks in attendance, and wherever the lords and ladies of England go, punks go with them. Why, punks even attended the wedding party Yves St. Laurent threw for Lulu de la Falaise in Paris. There were French punks on hand, and some very important English punks. “Even central casting has a punk department now,” she declares. “They’re all over the place.”
“Oh, that’s just a joke,” Danny says tiredly. “It’s an attractive style for young people who are sexy.”
“But it’s the style,” Linda asserts. “It’s everywhere.”
“It’s sexy,” Danny says, sounding very final.
Linda is married to Seymour Stein, general manager of Sire Records, the Ramones’ label. Danny describes Linda and Seymour as “the first couple of the new wave.” Linda, 32, is a longtime friend of Elton John and has performed various jobs for Sire since meeting Seymour seven and a half years ago. Seymour, 35, formed Sire in 1966 after several years with Sid Nathan’s King label in Cincinnati. His aim then was to imitate the approach of the independent record men of the early the ’50s — people like Sid Nathan, Jerry Wexler at Atlantic, Jac Holzman at Elektra — who couldn’t compete with Decca, Columbia, Capitol, and Victor for the big pop acts but could record rhythm & blues and country & western and jazz because nobody else was interested. “What the big companies didn’t realize,” says Seymour, “is that the esoteric music of today is the pop music of tomorrow.”
Although it is largely built on the success of Focus, a Dutch group that sounds remarkably like ELP, and although its two biggest-selling acts right now are Renaissance and the Climax Blues Band, Sire has moved into esoterica in a big way with the new wave. So far, Seymour has signed an Australian punk band called the Saints and four CBGB acts: the Ramones, Talking Heads, Richard Hell, and the Dead Boys. All but the Ramones have just released their first albums; the Ramones’ third, Rocket to Russia, is due out shortly.
Unfortunately, radio remains resistant to the charms of the new wave. Programming directors complain that the music is too violent. Linda Stein says the Ramones’ second single, “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker,” failed to crack the airwaves because it had the word “punk ” in the title. The suspicion at Sire is that most stations won’t play anything by anyone who wasn’t on the scene in 1969. “I think within the next nine months this will all be behind us,” Seymour says. “But right now we need people in radio who are willing to take chances. What Alan Freed was to the ’50s, what Tom Donahue and Scott Muni were to the ’60s — that’s what we need today.”
So far, no one like that has appeared. Jerry Wexler agrees with Stein’s nine-month prognosis for a radio breakthrough — and he hates punk rock. The form is calculatedly offensive to adult sensibilities, and radio people do tend to be monotonously adult. Hence Danny’s attempts to downplay the violence. Danny thinks punks are sexy. Unfortunately, he thinks violence is sexy, too: “You know, like Philip Marlowe slapping someone up — that’s always sexy. As long as no one gets hurt.…”
When the Ramones finished their set during the Ramones/Iggy Pop double bill earlier this month, Blanche Boyd, the novelist whose latest book tells of insanity, lesbian incest, and death by wasp sting, turned to me and said, “I feel like I finally understand the meaning of assault.” All around us the audience was in uproar: Shocked, confused, and tingling, it gasped and begged for more. The Ramones had withdrawn after a mind-numbing performance that ended with the audience chanting, “GABBA GABBA HEY!” in high frenzy while Joey Ramone held aloft a six-foot placard bearing the message and Johnny, Tommy, and Dee Dee all vibrated with the rhythm of the pneumatic pelvis.
You see what Danny means when he calls the Ramones “a great construction that works.” Unlike other bands he has worked with, the Ramones are in total control. They understand that in order to discipline others, they must bear the mark of discipline. Not for them the Day-Glo anarchy of the MC5 or the carnal gluttony of Jim Morrison. The Ramones are ready.
It’s easy, too, to understand Danny’s desire to be their number-one fan. “I say I work for the Ramones,” he says. “The word ‘manager’ makes me shudder. It sounds like a puppet-master or something.” Danny’s position must be secure; his wish to serve is so much stronger than the average fan’s. It comes with the promise to bend his power to their purpose.
That power can be considerable. Lisa Robinson says Danny’s influence with Lillian Roxon — now dead, like so many others — was so great that she once rose from her sickbed to see a guy who jumped out of a frying pan dressed like an egg because Danny had told her he was the wave of the future. “I think he did it to be perverse,” Lisa adds. But Lisa also points out that Danny only now is being accepted in the record industry as the legitimate manager of a legitimate band that’s with a legitimate label and a legitimate booking agent (Premier Talent, the heaviest in the business). This is apparently due less to any shortcomings as a businessman than to his willingness to explore territory other people are afraid to consider. But perhaps this could be his time. In 1966, when the Velvet Underground introduced S&M to rock & roll, people were more eager to wrestle the boot than to know it. Everything seems so different now.