When seeking out 1960s-era Stooges, scouting for artistic talent requires a super-human senses, especially amongst a sterile, yet expansive musical climate. The task is even more commendable if one isn’t intimidated by Iggy Pop’s raucous, extreme stage performances. More than just being in the right place at the right time, Danny Fields’ tastes were not only shaped by being immersed early in the New York City Warhol / Velvet Underground scene, but his extensive career has been accentuated by respectively informing the entire history of rock n’ roll. Behind the scenes, yet always a focal point, Danny has been significantly involved in the musical careers of Jim Morrison, Nico, The Stooges, and of course, the Ramones, just to name a few. Danny’s history in trendsetting and shaking up counter-culture is well documented in Brendan Toller’s recent documentary, Danny Says, as well as Jim Jarmusch’s Stooges documentary, Gimme Danger. However, in order to understand the history and plethora of urban legends amidst the early punk rock circles, as well some of the mind-boggling circumstances, we taken a deep dive in our exclusive interview with Danny Fields.
The Chelsea Tribe: I guess you started in New York in the ’60s, right?
Danny Fields: I started a lot in the ’60s. I graduated from college in ’59, then I went to law school for a year, and then I dropped out and moved back to New York in 1960.
Okay. So you eventually became involved with the Warhol Factory scene, how did that come to be?
DF: The Factory was invented in the very early ’60s, when Andy [Warhol], Billy Name, and a little crowd of artists found this space on East 47th Street, which became known as ‘The Factory’, which was covered with silver foil and was then known as the ‘Silver Factory’, but that’s the origin of that iconography. Now, with respect to the New York / Downtown scene, before there was a million of us, there were a 1,000. There were a 1,000 and we knew each other pretty well. I’d say if there were 10,000, you’d know a 1,000 out of the 10,000, but you knew who the other 9,000 were. New York was a way smaller universe then. That’s just the kind of thing you can only acquire by growing old, so you can have perspective on things, and decades upon decades of more than just a still picture of Jackie Kennedy weeping or something.
You are one of the first openly gay people within that circle, so were they generally accepting?
DF: Wait, wait. No, no, no, no, where does that come from?! Why does everyone ask me that as the first question?! Like that’s the biggest deal!
DF: No, don’t be sorry. [chuckle] I’m just kind of expecting it, and it’s just like everything else is sort of like, “Oh, let’s put each other at ease, and just get down to this openly gay thing.” I don’t know, I never saw it as that. I had a ball. Since my years at Harvard, it can be a crowd of closets, that everyone in the crowd was gay, but only a few of us knew it of each other than not. It’s one of those things that’s like in a movie, “But we were all lesbians and we lived in the same dorm? Oh my God! We could’ve skipped all those men and just got married then and there with each other. Okay, but we didn’t.”
You really interested in this gay stuff? Most people wanna talk to me about music, and I hate both of those things. I hate ‘gay’ and I hate music. But you know me, I hate something and it becomes intrusive, or disrespected. I would say the very act of talking about music is disrespecting it. I’m sure there were words in English before that word was arrived upon, but ‘disrespect’ is a good word.
Anyways, in choosing Universities to study at as an undergraduates, the first choice which would’ve been mainly Boston and Yale, because they were close and there seemed to be a gay mini-verse going on, and quite well-established, but it looks that way even at Harvard. I saw that it was there, it was kind of visible, and as Oscar Wilde phrased, “When you walk down Piccadilly with a poppy or a lily in your medieval hand”, just kind of like the ethos of that. It looked like a gay youth movement, as seen in every liberal town, or certainly every immediate university area. And there it was, so finally it was like you found people who were cultural similar and their sexualities skewed, but everyone was smart. Everyone’s always been smart, and now here come the Holden Caulfields in college. Everyone looked like Holden Caulfield, and for my cohort… [chuckle]
That was the most important book [Catcher in the Rye] in our lives, and we’re only just beginning to know it now. You’d have to wait ’til everyone like me is totally dead, and then they’ll go back and they’ll see how that book changed the world.
And then Andy Warhol changed the world, and I was near to the fringe of that too, so one begins in the edge of the whatever galaxy you aspire, or identify with, and then hopefully you move towards the middle, and then in the middle you’ll all be spinning around with friends. And new things are welcome, and old things are looked at with a bit of askance, but cherished for just being there. Well, it’s essentially cherished whether you liked it or not.
Danny and I started discussing how I was going to actually transcribe this interview, in which he shared a bit of sympathy. In one of Danny’s many figurative hats worn throughout his career, he worked as a writer / interviewer for Datebook Magazine. It was during his tenure at Datebook, in which Danny notoriously bestowed both John Lennon and Jim Morrison some sensational press, kick-starting the each of the singer’s reputations for controversy.
I actually wanted to ask you about Jim Morrison. When he came to New York, were there any notable interactions between him and anyone else in the New York art / music scenes?
DF: He was having affairs with some of the hottest women in New York… and he called many shots. Yeah, and he was a star. We made him a star. How could we not? What were we supposed to say, “You can’t sit at this table, you’re a star!”
Well, I’m not saying we made him a star. We accelerated the potential into the real. You can’t ‘make’ self-courage, it’s kinda like that. The journalist community likened to us, because they decided he was ‘Boy of the Year’ or ‘Poet of the Year’, whatever word, if you wished. ‘New Teen Idol of the Year’ or ‘Male That Makes the Women Scream’, or other words. He was ready to be famous; luckily, other people, when he wasn’t there, would say hot things about him. He was working too. This wasn’t an accident, he and his band worked in the city. And it’s brave, it was brave then.
What was the timespan? How long was he there for?
DF: The first time, a couple of weeks. The first they played and then… I don’t know these things off the top of my head, it’s in the books.
I know phases of their careers and my life intersected, and it’s always like three dimensional at least four, five, seven. It’s a big deal. He became a powerful still, especially seeing the power of him on the looks of people’s faces, even at his grave. And there are people who think that may not be his grave, and it continues to become a sexy American fable or musical. What a great musical score, one of the great musicians doing a great musical score.
But I’m telling you, looking back he was part of the industry, a public boy, poet, star, etc. It was like a new industry and I think he understood cinematic, theatrical, and musical aspects all at once. He was a great star.
Jim Morrison is obviously an L.A. icon.
DF: You didn’t ask me what he was really like. No, we’re not talking about the person, the friend, that he was certainly close. The person one works with, versus the person one works for. This part of your life is defined by each other. I don’t know what he thought. He hated me. But, everything I tell you, take with a grain of salt, so…
How long was your stay in Detroit? How did you first hear of the MC5 and the Stooges?
DF: One weekend.
It was just a weekend?
That’s it. We went out, and really liked them both, and then you connect with them both, the professional and personal, and political, and showbiz factors. Once you saw them, either or both of them, it was astonishing. 48 hours, or 36. So yeah, I made sure that they were in good hands, with someone else who could really devote the necessary requirements. I will say that there are the most astonishing artists in both bands, and people connected with them as well, not only people who played instruments, but people like John Sinclair [MC5’s manager], who are great to this day.
And Iggy, of course.
The audience at that time, was small. They had an influence later down the line, but at the time, it must have been a small circle, right?
DF: I don’t know what you think is a small circle. I thought it was not a small circle. There were people who liked them from the start. I guess it was small, but it was extremely intense, and with the energies needed, and the tastes needed, it was a very important circle to be.
Was Iggy easy to deal with at the time? Was drug abuse an issue?
DF: Was he easy to be with? Of course not. It’s never easy, it should not be easy to be with anyone powerful and important, for whom you are working. That happens. To be trusting of and confiding in and asking of, I would say, yeah, probably. It’s hard to know. Iggy’s actually here now, in town for the New York Film Festival, promoting Gimme Danger. The promotional shot is a photograph of him that I took, it’s in the collection of Gillian McCain now, but there’s no photo credit. And now this is the New York Film Festival, and it’s a big picture of Jimmy the star. I happily spoke a lot to the director, Jim Jarmusch, about my memories of what happened. I haven’t seen the final cut or what even made part of his movie, so I don’t know. It was a good talk. We were both very fond of Iggy and the Stooges.
Speaking of documentaries, was there significant consulting with the Danny Says movie or were they just asking you for your recollections?
DF: It’s not my movie. It’s the movie-maker’s movie. There’s some alternate theories, and this is especially the case when it comes to a documentary, because ideally what would be seen as the truth; sound, footage, recording, audio/video on a dub, etc. anyone could make several movies as a resource. Brendan Toller made this one, and he’s been doing a good job, and people like it. It’s not my movie. I had no input into the making of it. I was in it, requested to be interviewed, and Brendan had access to anything I recollected, but don’t ask me what’s in it. Though, I listened to tapes I hadn’t listened to in a long time. So we did all that stuff, as a fan/documentarian of, in this case. I’m sure the musical content of what I was connecting with at the time played a factor. For you, it was for sexual contact or the gay contact, I hope it was, I’m kidding… [chuckle]
So, the reason why he was making this movie and I know I said “It’s not my movie”, but I do have to continue to be able to live on the same planet as this thing about me. So, you do want to know what people are gonna see, but I didn’t see an inch of the footage before it was done. I never asked them what it would look like or what was said about me. I don’t wanna know any of that. I don’t wanna be near any one on the cutting room floor, especially when the producers are giving me times and minutes and footage and they’re sending you bills… And the publishers are being the worst, like “We’re the Warner music group”, etc.
Do you think a label like Elektra Records could be successful in the 2016 music climate? What’s your general view of the music industry these days?
DF: No. Do I think it will be one? Of course not. They wouldn’t want to be that. They’ll tell you they want teachers and editors and curators, what it will all come down to. You’re asking for curators in our universe, a new universe in which everybody fancies him or herself as a creative force, which is true. I grant you that, but the public does not necessarily wanna see what you had for breakfast, and what hundreds of millions of people do apparently. So, who’s ready for that? It was so different back then on the record labels. You can’t even see what a ‘thing of the past’ they’ve become and they’re basically collectors’ items. It’s very front porch and rocker. So bless us on the front porch and rocker, but what are you gonna take?
But that was the era of the labels, and the era of big money, and the Grammy parties that try to outdo each other in splendor and location. Location, location, and blocks of limos ’cause it was before the masses had cell phones, when you called your driver. A lot of it was manual, and you’d go running out in the street where there were a mile-and-a-half of identical limos, and waving for your driver, and you don’t even remember his name. But there were imperial parties, Grammy parties like it mattered, because nobody went to the show, they went to the party. You could keep the television off for the show. Those were the labels, until I missed them, and yeah they were great for me then.
So in today’s time, they won’t have the budget to be so heroic. Part of it’s ’cause they’re gone. You have to find a new way of putting things on plastic discs or tapes or something, and they found a new way, YouTube for example. How can you have a record label when there’s YouTube, and you can listen to any music in the world that was ever recorded? You press a button and there it is. That was the future. We all dreamed of it, and who knew it would destroy the goose that laid the golden eggs. Back in the day, it wasn’t close to reality, but it was amazing. It wasn’t like Vinyl [HBO Show], at least my part of it, it wasn’t at all, but I don’t know. There were some labels like that around the time, and I had to call them about some trade magazine, Hits Magazine.
The idea of a label seems quaint, and wonderful, but so even Renaissance paintings seem quaint in a way. [chuckle]
Any projects that you’re currently working on that you wanted to say anything about?
DF: I’d like to have a book of my photographs of the Ramones, called ‘My Ramones’, which you’ll probably never see because it’ll be limited edition and sold on the internet, but not in America. And I’m proud of that, because I like my photographs.
You have to follow many kinds of procedures, and this year is the 40th anniversary of the Ramones. It has to be presented in a really important way, as with them, presentation was key. This will mark the advent, the first album, and the tour to the U.K., both of those milestones. You have to divide it up in appropriate bits, like the summer in London with the Ramones, all of that. I’m so glad to have been part of such an excellent thing that happens in our world with the Ramones. Because I was taking pictures, and then looking at them later, and I just like visual story.
DF: I like having a good eye, good ear, I don’t know. I like to dance. Music I can dance to.