“I was the best friend of several superstars,” Danny Fields told the crowd at Spoonbill Studio yesterday, explaining how he went on to sign Iggy and the Stooges, manage the Ramones, and become one of the godfathers of punk.
Fields is a wonderful, weaving raconteur, with wandering recollections of a time when being in the right place and meeting the right people was all there was to it. Set up with prompts by Sacha Lecca, deputy photo editor at Rolling Stone, Fields started at the “beginning,” which meant hanging around the San Remo on Bleecker and falling into Andy Warhol’s orbit. His role was “kinda shadowy,” a witness to it all. “Suddenly some of us were very rich, very famous.” The Velvet Underground, Edward Albee.
“I don’t know how I got there,” Fields says, and you sort of believe it. It goes something like this: Helping out some female friends with a folk act, he called the Whiskey A-Go-Go in L.A. to make sure they would be well taken care of, and someone at the Whiskey asked him to take care of their new band while they were in New York. “Women especially were in a frenzy over the lead singer.” Fields met The Doors, and then Elektra Records’ Jac Holtzman, and heard a song—“something about fire”—and said it would be a hit despite the “extremely pretentious organ solo.” Fields was asked to start the Elektra publicity department, which meant an expense account and plane tickets—“heady days.”
Through Bob Rudnick and Kocaine Karma Twins, Fields started DJing a radio show, playing Pink Floyd, who had “never been heard in America,” and this was “before Dark Side, when they were really amazing.” The show got him to Detroit to see MC5, and he was knocked out. “If you like us,” Wayne Kramer told him, “you’ll like our little brother band—The Psychedelic Stooges. “I heard them before I saw them,” Fields said, and then “there was Iggy. What a bonus.” His delivery said it all—Iggy was gorgeous.
Field called Elektra to say he’d seen two bands, one revolutionary, and “the other, they look harder to get developed, but there was something there that was quite magic.” He was told, “Offer the big band $20K, the little one 5.” The bands were all slack jaws: “Are you kidding?” The deal was done the next day.
The Ramones came after Fields: “They Bombarded me—‘you’ve got to come see us, you’re gonna like us.’” He’d been writing a column for a Village Voice alternative, The Soho Weekly News, writing about Television and Patti Smith, “because they were the first to invent CBGB world.” The first Ramones song he heard was “I Don’t Wanna Go Down to the Basement.” “They had everything, they were perfect. I liked them so much that after, [they said] ‘Do you want to write about us?’ [I said] ‘I went to manage you.’” The response: “We need new drums, can you come up with three thousand dollars?”
Fields talked us through some slides—ostensibly, photographs were why we were there. His new book, My Ramones, is a redesign of what was first a limited edition from Fields’s massive collection. He got into taking photographs partly from his friendship with photographer Linda Eastman (later Mrs. McCartney)—“Why do some ppl get called artists? It’s because they slice off a little piece of something, a person or a scene” — and partly because, after getting The Ramones signed to Sire, “There was nothing for me to do.” So, “I’ll take pictures, because this should be recorded, and I love this band, and this is a moment.”
Favorites included the band standing in trash behind CBGBs; at a show in New Jersey that they played with Blondie (“The only band in this whole universe they actually liked, that they didn’t see as a threat, and were fine with”); and flipping through records at a “store on 2nd Avenue that no longer exists. This whole process no longer exists—unless you’re a vinyl nut.”
During the Q&A, Fields recalled the time a fan yelled that Johnny’s driving a Cadillac wasn’t very punk rock. Intimating that he could drive whatever (the fuck) he wanted to, Johnny replied, “I invented punk”—perhaps the most punk statement there is.