In Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain’s essential book on New York’s Seventies subcultural scene, the authors dedicate their work to Danny Fields, “forever the coolest guy in the room.” He may not be a household name, but as a manager, publicist, label exec and journalist, Fields was always at the center of every important rock movement for two decades – the six-degrees-of-separation connection between the Beatles and “Beat on the Brat.”
Danny Says, a new doc on the music-industry multi-hyphenate currently in theaters, explores Fields’ role as manager of the Stooges and Ramones, the magazine editor behind John Lennon’s infamous “more popular than Jesus quote” and behind-the-scenes impresario engineering the careers of your favorite rock and punk groups. Among the treasure trove of decadent stories, here are 10 things we learned.
1. He Earned the Beatles Death Threats
In 1966, Fields was managing editor of teen mag Datebook when he republished John Lennon’s quote to the London Evening Standard that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus now.” The quote caused a firestorm in the U.S., with radio DJs banning the group and death threats now being hurled at the band. “I didn’t love them that much, but I certainly loved them more than Jesus,” Fields said. “They’re more important to me than Jesus. What did Jesus ever fucking do to me? It’s about time more people got in trouble for saying the right thing.”
2. The Doors’ Publicist Bluffed His Way to the Top
Fields saw the Doors play for two dozen people in their nascent stages, lured by the promise of a “cute lead singer.” After Jim Morrison mesmerized him, he told Steve Harris, the vice president of Elektra Records, that he was the group’s “New York press agent.” “He said, ‘How wonderful, a press agent. We’ve never had a press agent,'” Fields recalls. “Who decided that you were the press agent for the Doors?” an interviewer asks Fields. His reply: “I did.”
3. Jim Morrison + Nico: The Ill-Fated Romance
It was the legendary oddball musician hookup that would never be. As Fields was positioning Morrison as a sex object, he became worried that “dirty” girls with “dopey glazed looks” would tarnish his reputation. His plan: set Morrison up with Fields’ friend Nico. “He would fall in love with Nico and see the error of his ways in letting all these slimy little groupies [in],” Fields says. After the pair locked eyes, they both stared at the floor, completely silent, for over an hour before retreating. His brilliant plan was suddenly not so brilliant.
4. Fields’ Mom Helped Bankroll the Ramones
Fields knew he loved the Ramones a mere 15 seconds into seeing them for the first time and asked to manage the band after the set. They agreed on one condition: come up with $3,000 for a new drum kit. Fields visited his mom in Florida to ask for the money. “I just discovered this band I really love,” he told her. “They’re going to sign a long contract with me and they’re going to make me rich. But I need $3,000.” She promptly wrote him a check.
5. MC5’s “Motherfucker” Battle With Elektra
Saying the word “Motherfucker” on record in 1969 was borderline heretical for a major label, but Elektra head Jac Holzman urged its inclusion on MC5’s “Fuck you” anthem “Kick Out the Jams.” “We told them [to] let the [censored] single go up the charts before you release the album,” MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer said. “‘Cause the album’s going to have the real version [with “Motherfucker”] but they won’t be able to stop us then ’cause we’ll have a hit record.”
Record store employees were arrested for selling the album and the group took out an ad stating “Fuck Hudson’s,” a reference to the retail chain that refused to sell the album. When Hudson’s pulled all Elektra records from their stores, Holzman subsequently dropped the group.
6. Alice Cooper: Teen Pop Idol
In the mid-1970s, Fields had a stint as editor of 16 magazine, the best-selling teen celebrity mag at the time. With Fields at the helm, artists like Alice Cooper and the Stooges became as much fixtures as saccharine pop stars Donny Osmond and David Cassidy. “Danny made Alice into sort of a teen idol,” said co-editor Randi Reisfeld. “I said, ‘There’s so many Peter Pans,'” Cooper added. “Where’s Captain Hook?” In one memorable issue, Fields transposed Cooper and Osmond’s faces onto each others’ bodies. “We couldn’t have been further apart,” Cooper said. “Danny liked that juxtaposition.”
7. He Was at the Epicenter of Iggy Pop’s Descent
“Danny let me try something called cocaine,” Iggy Pop said, laughing. “And I tried it and I thought, ‘I don’t feel anything!’ Three days later, I found myself crawling in through his bathroom window taking all of his stash. That was the sort of buddy I was.” Fields was at the center of Pop’s highs and lows, as the singer jovially recalls delaying the start of a show to have bathroom sex with a groupie and, more somberly, his introduction to heroin.
8. The Stooges Destroy Both a U-Haul and Their Relationship With Fields
Fields eventually quit the Stooges after the group incurred a tremendous bill from the city of Ann Arbor after their 12-foot U-Haul truck failed to clear a 10-foot overpass. The accident, which the band was liable for, destroyed both the truck and all their instruments inside. “This is a sign,” Fields said. Fields subsequently “gladly handed” Pop and “his antics” over to David Bowie. Pop remains amused at the incident. “The top of the U-Haul peeled back exactly like Popeye’s can of spinach,” he said.
9. Patti Smith, Shit-Talking About Iggy Pop
Before Patti Smith became friends with Pop – the two performed David Bowie’s “Jean Genie” together at this year’s Tibet House Benefit Concert – the New York punk linchpin was less than enthusiastic about Pop’s wild onstage antics. “He sings a little bit like a baby Mick Jagger,” Smith says in the film in audio recorded in the 1970s. “I don’t really dig him because … he jumps into the audience and puts meat on his body. I don’t like people inflicting their shit on me if I’m in the audience.”
10. Jonathan Richman’s Disastrous Stooges Meeting
“We would talk about the Stooges a lot,” Modern Lovers frontman Jonathan Richman said. The first meeting between Richman and the group, however, did not go well. When Fields introduced the singer to the Stooges after a show, Richman showed the band various drawings he created. Their response: “Give up, man.” After fanboying to Pop about everything he wanted to ask him, Pop dismissively told him, “I have an idea: I’ll talk to you from the stage” and promptly disappeared.