Sunday, February 28, 2021

Danny Talks

Danny Says, Brendan Toller's 2015 documentary about the career of Danny Fields, is lovingly made, affectionate not only for Fields, who's very easy to love here, but for the eras which he heralded and in no small part helped to build. In the 1960s Fields hung with Andy Warhol and his extended crowd, popping up in the corners of, and often dead center in, countless photographs of that scene at Max's Kansas City and other infamous rooms, worked as an editor at Datebook (where, it's suggested, he was responsible for including John Lennon's loudly infamous Christianity remark on the front cover), as a self-made publicist for the Doors, and then in the same capacity as the middle-man who helped to sign the MC5 and the Stooges to Elektra. He later managed the Ramones through their first three iconic albums, lamenting, as he did of his earlier passions, that he couldn't get them on the radio, where they fully deserved to be. Joey Ramone wrote "Danny Says" for the Ramones' End of the Century album; it's a fitting title and end song for a story about hard work and perseverance in the margins and for the weird, wild, beautiful people who love, toil, suffer, and are unutterably fabulous there.

Aided and abetted by the usual number of talking heads, Fields holds forth dryly, humorously, and with a kind of existential, blissy, shoulder-shrugging sighing at the life he's lived and the people he's know, suffered, and loved. At one point, in the middle of an excitable rant—as excitable as the laconic Fields gets—he interrupts himself to go to the bathroom; wisely, Toller includes this bit of vérité as it characterizes Fields well. He often interrupted himself to try something that no on else yet had tried, and this made for a mercurial, up-and-down career, less remunerative than it might have been had he led a more conventional work ethic. Fields is a delight to watch and to listen to: with mischievous blues eyes and half-grins, with his body-slumping, occasionally kvetching and animated, Fields talks matter of factly about growing up as a "flaming faggot" and Jew in mid-Century Brooklyn, a precocious, intensely intelligent young man who entered Ivy League colleges early yet never finished, who came alive sexually in the West Village when downtown was churning with lovely freaks and lovelier weirdos, everyone making art, or talking about making art, or simply watching, and everyone fucking everyone. Danny Says is a fascinating look not only at 1960s and 70s lunatic fringe pop culture, but at how singularly important a driven someone can be in the back rooms and business offices, helping, out of love for art and music and exceptional, sometimes fucked-up geniuses, to do the heavy lifting of managing, promoting, publicizing, and knocking on doors to make dreams reality. All while having a blast doing it. Fields has been visited by no small amount of luck in his life with timing and good cheer, but he's also lost quite a bit—friends, acquaintances, bands—yet never, it seems, the twinkle in his eyes.

Fields, left, with Iggy Pop and David Bowie

Late in the film, Fields discusses the Ramones, and his comments on their appeal, vexed career, and legacy are sharp and moving, revealing indirectly the lasting mark that the band made on him: "The Ramones were disaffected teenagers for whom, in fact, there was, when they were in high school, no future," he remarks. 

But through their work, they gave themselves a very long future. They left a legacy of No Future people: "Maybe we have a future. We thought we had no future. Look at them, they can't play. They're terrible. But look, this is exciting. They're big, they're famous, they can get laid. Let's start a band!" What more can you do? You're pied pipers out there. You can't pay the rent with that, and a lot of these bands are going to go on and be U2 and Pearl Jam and outsell you by the zillion....

A bit later, he waxes philosophical about the ephemeral nature of success and failure in life, and the standards we use to measure them. In a way it's his epitaph:

Oh yeah, stick with me, forty years from now you'll be a star! You'll be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! That's the worst case, but, you know, life isn't long enough to see everything that happens that we saw beginning or continuing, or we thought was ending. It takes more time than that when it comes to things that will endure. 

Indeed. Danny Says is currently airing on YouTube TV.

Photo of Fields, Pop, and Bowie via Magnolia Pictures

No comments: