If you’ve listened to music in the last 50 years, you’ve probably heard (and liked) something touched by Danny Fields. While it’s nigh impossible to classify what exactly Field’s various jobs in the music industry entailed, Danny Says details them all through its subject’s unique perspective.
Brendan Toller’s documentary follows Fields (born Daniel Feinberg to an upper-middle-class Jewish family in Queens) as he transitions from adolescent outcast to collegiate superstar at Penn, and then Harvard Law dropout … and that’s when things start to get interesting. Openly homosexual from an early age, Feinberg (anglicized to Fields) drifted to pre-Stonewall-era Greenwich Village, where he fell in with Warhol’s Factory set before transitioning into a brief tenure covering pop music for teen magazines … and that’s when things get REALLY interesting. Fields talked his way into a job with Elektra Records handling publicity for The Doors as the “company freak” before becoming inextricably linked with New York’s burgeoning punk rock scene, going on to discover such pivotal bands as MC5, the Stooges and the Ramones. In short, the guy has had an undeniably interesting life.
Danny Says is a fitting counterpoint to Ron Howard’s recent Beatles doc, as that film touches on the “bigger than Jesus” story that plagued the Fab Four with death threats and KKK boycotts, while Danny introduces you to the man responsible for running it in the first place. Where Toller’s documentary really succeeds is in its ability to seamlessly juggle memoir-based interviews with Fields (culled from over 250 hours of footage) alongside countless hours of audio and video recordings of the famed personages whose lives intersected his, all while still managing to deliver a coherent narrative. If you’re intrigued by the prospect of hearing stories about Fields trying his luck as a drug-fueled matchmaker between Jim Morrison and Nico or borrowing money from his mom to buy a drum kit so he could secure his gig managing the Ramones, then this is probably a film you need to see. Watching Iggy Pop tell the story of how Fields introduced him to cocaine or listening to Lou Reed’s gushing enthusiasm as Fields plays him a Ramones album for the first time are worth the price of admission alone — and the name-dropping could go on and on.
Toller’s film is obviously a labor of love, crowdfunded on Kickstarter before being picked up for distribution on the festival circuit by Magnolia Pictures. The filmmaker’s affinity for his subject can be both a blessing and curse as he occasionally allows Fields to dwell too long on some topics and never really presses on any of the contextual questions that might’ve helped to put Fields’ life and legacy into clearer focus. The story ends somewhat abruptly after Fields was replaced as the Ramones’ manager, leaving the audience to wonder what he’s been up to for the last 30 years or so, but these quibbles don’t diminish the fact that Danny Fields is a man whose personality and tastes have influenced popular culture to an extent disproportionate with his relatively limited notoriety.
The title of this film is taken from a Ramones song written about Fields, and that alone should give you some indication of his prominence in music history. If the man himself still remains something of a mystery, Toller’s documentary has nevertheless shed some light on a significant figure whose role in shaping American culture has been overlooked for far too long. Not Rated.
Opens Friday at Grail Moviehouse