The new rock doc Danny Says, directed by Brendan Toller, follows the life and career of music industry legend Danny Fields. One of punk rock’s early catalysts, Fields hung out with Warhol, was a press agent for the Doors, signed the Stooges, and managed the Ramones. (The film’s title comes from a 1980 Ramones song referencing Fields.) Toller, a 30-year-old filmmaker, introduced to Fields by his college girlfriend, believes the manager’s magic touch comes from his incredible intelligence.
“He used his intelligence to put desperate elements together,” Toller says. “That is why he was the house hippie or company freak [at Elektra Records]. He could dictate why an artist was of worth, and really make a case for someone.”
Born in Queens, Fields enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania at the age of 15, and graduated at 19. He went on to attend Harvard Law School, but endlessly curious, he was quickly bored by his staid, career-focused classmates. He dropped out after a year, and immersed himself in Boston’s gay scene. He eventually moved to New York, where he sought out Warhol’s Factory crowd, and befriended Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgwick, Nico, and Lou Reed.
“He was interested in artists who were ‘primitive evolved,’ ” Toller says. “Two steps forward and one step back. These were not technical virtuosos. But they were practicing art and expression at its basic form, and taking culture and performance a step further.”
The documentary plays like an epic afternoon hanging out with Fields, and reliving his greatest misadventures. Like pissing off Jim Morrison by not letting him drive when he was on acid, or having to fire the Stooges after they crashed a U-Haul into a highway overpass. In addition to long interviews with Fields, the film includes recorded conversations from the era — like Lou Reed gushing with excitement in 1975 after hearing the Ramones. (At the time Fields had an artist friend, Brigid Berlin, who was into instantaneous documentation, and they recorded everything.)
These days, Fields’ life is simple. He still lives in the same West Village apartment he’s been in since 1977. He still hits the downtown New York art scene, and still spends a lot of time in London, Paris, and Berlin. Unlike other managers, he never wrote himself into the contracts of the artists he managed, and it's unclear if he made any money off his artists — he often moved on before the bands became profitable.
“That is his quest for life — to fall in love over and over again — whether an artist or waiter,” says Toller.
And with this film, it's clear Fields is still dedicated to encouraging young artists. The manager had been approached over the years for books, documentaries, but he gave Toller his apartment keys on their first day of shooting, and unfettered access from then on.
“I don’t know if it was just the right time,” Toller said. “Or like most of his career he just wanted to give a young kid a chance.”
Danny Says opens September 30 in select cities and on demand.