Danny Fields may not have been a rock star, musically speaking, but he lived the life. He ran after it so fast, the industry was chasing him by the time he’d caught up with it – and it didn’t take him long either. He’s a fanatic, an obsessive. As a result, Fields signed, managed and worked with the likes of The Doors, The Velvet Underground, Iggy Pop and The Stooges, Nico and the Ramones (Fields’ CV also boasts publishing that John Lennon interview where the Beatle suggested that The Fab Four were now “more popular than Jesus” – cue hysteria from the Bible belt).
While managing the Ramones, Fields took photographs (about 3,600, to be exact) of these four radical youths. Now, forty years since the emergence of punk and the release of the Ramones’ self-titled debut album, Danny Fields’ releases his photo book, My Ramones, featuring photographs of the band at work, on tour and behind the scenes – now his intimately captured pictures are intimately yours.
We caught up with Fields to reminisce about the good old days with Joey, Dee Dee, Johnny, Tommy and a few special guests along the way.
Cecilia Dinwoodie: What are your favourite images in the book?
Danny Fields: You know, mainly I like any of the pictures when they’re meeting fans, because the happiness of both parties involved comes through; the happiness of the fans that are meeting an idol, or a rock ‘n’ roll band – everybody likes that – and how pleased the guys in the band are to see their fans, which was always extremely important to them.More important than anything was to not leave a venue until everybody waiting outside got helloed or waved at or got a hug or an autograph. But, you know, guess what, this was before selfies, so I was the selfie photographer.
CD: And are there any particular images that stand out for you?
DF: Well, there’s Dee Dee. As a picture story, he finds a piece of shit (I guess it was a dog turd) on the steps of the capital of the United States of America. He carefully picks it up and walks it over, puts it on a balustrade with a perfect view of the Washington Monument, and steps back and admires it. Because, you know, he was an artist as well as a great song writer and performer and teen idol and all that, so I like that as a story. It’s like a little movie, you know – Dee Dee spots a turd, he picks it up, he walks it over, puts it down and points to it to say, ‘Here’s my art.’
CD: How many photos are there in total in My Ramones?
DF: In the book, there are about two hundred.
CD: And so you filtered that down from how many?
DF: Oh, thousands. I’d say there were probably one hundred rolls of film, and those were the days of chemical film, don’t forget. A roll of film had 36 frames on it.
CD: Being the band’s manager must have allowed you intimate access with the guys. When would you get your best shots?
DF: When everything has been done before we get to the show (the hotel room is booked and the instruments are tuned and all that), I’d take out my camera and start taking photographs. Because I was there, because I was their manager, because I knew how to use a camera and because they knew that if the pictures were terrible, I wouldn’t send them anywhere, I could stand two feet from them when they were alone in the dressing room. During a private moment, I could be there with them when most people would not be particularly welcome. You click the shutter and perhaps get a good character study, a good portrait, a good candid or semi-candid, or ambush photograph. They know you’re there, it’s not a big secret, but they should know how to be ambushed, because they’re public – they’re celebrities.
CD: So you were training them up for the public eye!
DF: Exactly. I think I actually say in the book, posing for photographs is work too. They’re not known as that – they’re known as musicians who perform and make records and write songs – but, I would say to them, “Learning to be comfortable in front of the camera, just learning how to react and relate to a photographer, that’s work too. It may not be work, but it’s part of your job. Just be aware that you exist as a public person, as well as the individual you are. And don’t forget it.”
CD: While, on the other hand, your other your images feel like family snapshots. It’s a lovely contrast.
DF: Yeah, I want them to be themselves. On the other hand, I don’t want them to be picking their nose… [laughs]. But I’m there and I’m family and everything becomes funny, because I’m pointing a camera at them. They know I’m pointing a camera at them, they know I’m their manager, and that whole situation is kinda funny to begin with. But everything is kind of funny, because everything they did was funny – they’re funny guys.
CD: Now, verging slightly off topic, what’s the real story behind [Ramones’ track] 53rd and 3rd?
DF: Well, 53rd and 3rd was the primary corner in the ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s before the internet, before people could pick people up with an app [laughs]. So, you had to physically go and get yourself picked up. If you were hustling or just looking for a pick up, the corner was 53rd and 3rd.
As the song says, Dee Dee overheard some guy in a bar say, ‘I was a Green Beret in Vietnam/No more of your fairy stories/‘Cause I got my other worries/Fifty-third and third standing on the street Fifty-third and third/I’m tryin’ to turn a trick’. It’s one of those things. It may not be a real story, or maybe it is possible that he, like many young men who were in need of a buck sold their charms for a few dollars… and, well yeah, I’d be surprised if it weren’t true!
CD: I wonder if it has anything to do with the rumours that Dee Dee worked as a hustler in order to pay his heroin habit…
DF: Oh, the heroin habit! He was on and off heroin. Again, like so many people, what a terrible, horrible, stupid drug that is… And he was off it and then he was on it, and he died from it – like many hundreds of people I know. He wasn’t always and ever and nothing but a heroin addict, because many heroin addicts are – they’re nothing but. I wouldn’t say it was at that level, but he had heroin problems from time-to-time, as did many other musicians. And it’s extremely unfortunate, as sooner or later you accidentally die from it. It’s risky, you know? It’s like walking on the wings of an airplane. I mean, what the fuck – yeah, that’s very cool that you did that and I bet it felt good, but sooner or later, you won’t get away with it. But, do you have to make a list of how many wonderful people died from heroin overdoses? It’s no great secret… It’s a horrible, terrible, disgusting, stupid, evil drug. I’m not on a crusade against drugs, but I will say that one, there’s nothing good to be said for it.
“It’s people going, “Ewww,” that always interests me. Because I’ve heard that said about everybody I’ve ever really loved or ever really wanted to work with. “Ewww, what do you like about them or him or her? Oh, God – that’s not music.” Whenever I hear that, I go, “Hmm, probably worth checking out!””
CD: The media has branded you the founding father of punk in the past. What do you say to that?
DF: I’m not the founding father of punk! I was there when a bunch of musicians were there trying to do something different, so I was in the scene. I was around – that’s all I was. I’m just good at mixing and matching and meeting and being a fan, and telling other people – sharing my enthusiasm. I just introduced a few people to each other, because we were all from the same crowd. I mean, if you said Iggy was that or Lou Reed was that – well, I worked with both of them, I helped. But I’m not the founding father of punk [laughs].
CD: Do you think punk still exists to this day?
DF: Yes! Oh, absolutely. There’s something about the idea of it that young people like that makes them feel free and rebellious and creative, and they want to be thought of that way, and so the word punk kind of satisfies that.
CD: Do you think the punk music around now will ever have as much importance to people as the Ramones did?
DF: Yes, but for different reasons. We had resistance to radio and there’re no such thing as radio now – or, if there is, what [radio stations] do is different. But I mean, if you’re really good, you’re gonna have resistance, and that should be a sign of being really good. It’s people going, “Ewww,” that always interests me. Because I’ve heard that said about everybody I’ve ever really loved or ever really wanted to work with. “Ewww, what do you like about them or him or her? Oh, God – that’s not music.” Whenever I hear that, I go, “Hmm, probably worth checking out!”
CD: What’s your fondest memory of being in the music industry?
DF: My fondest memory is that it allowed me to be in it [laughs]. There’s not one memory – that’s the good thing. But one of my fondest memories is maybe the first rock ‘n’ roll show I ever went to when I got into that world. I saw Martha and The Vandellas on stage at the Brooklyn Fox and I thought, ‘Ahh, this is rock ‘n’ roll – let me in! I wanna be where that’s happening, where there’s that kind of energy and joy.’ That’s really one of the first memories I have as an audience member – as well as when I was around the Andy Warhol factory, so I would have heard The Velvet Underground and Nico playing. But that’s as a friend – just sitting around.
CD: What about when you worked with Jim Morrison?
DF: Well, we didn’t get along, but not many people got along with him. But, he’s a big part of my life. You know, it’s good to have stories about him because he’s so famous and amazing, and I like being on a panel, saying, “He’s not really dead, you know?” And everybody just goes, “Uggh!” And then I have to explain, there are many different ways of being dead – and he may be anatomically dead, but he’s not really dead. But you know, existential matters…
CD: How did you first meet Andy Warhol?
DF: Well, we were all part of the same crowd. We hung out at the same bar in Greenwich Village, and we had the same friends. I mean, sure it happens in every city that has an alternative culture going on. Some of [your friends] will become extremely famous, some of them you will love very much, some of them will die before they should, some of them will keep being a pain in the ass for the rest of your life, but there you go. It’s like Middlemarch, you know – it’s just the whole universe there in one town.
CD: As the stories go, you bonded over an attempted suicide… which sounds fiery. Do you think Warhol really wanted Ivy Nicholson to jump?
DF: Oh, Ivy Nicholson. She was jumping out the window, I went to pull her back in and Andy Warhol said it wasn’t cool – I should have let her jump. But you know, he didn’t really mean that. I just think, when you see someone jumping, maybe they don’t know any better, she probably wouldn’t have jumped, and it just makes a good story. She was being spoiled, and you learn to see what people do, you know? “Look at me, look at me, I’m gonna jump outside the window…” and you just go, “Yeah, sit down, have a drink, shut up,” you know?” And I think that’s what she was doing.
CD: Why do you think there was so much creativity during that time, in the ‘60s and ‘70s?
DF: It’s New York! There always has been, I don’t know of any time that there hasn’t been, and that’s what a great city is supposed to do – is be a centre for creative people. For me, when you’re twenty, this is when it starts, so people are younger and braver. That’s why everyone was here in the first place. They’re here because the city itself was a magnet for people who lived in smaller cities, or couldn’t find people that appreciated what they did or people to be friends with – there are all these things going on… It’s New York!
All photos from ‘My Ramones – Danny Fields’ – Limited Edition photo book, available to order only from First Third Books: www.firstthirdbooks.com
Follow Cecilia Dinwoodie on Twitter @hiyawoody