Tag Archive: Danny Fields

Loved By Iggy Pop, Hated By Jim Morrison: The Life and Times of Danny Fields
By Michael Alan Goldberg

Originally posted on the Village Voice Blogs, Mon., Nov. 12 2012 at 3:30 AM

Photo Credit: linda Eastman McCartney

Photo Credit: Linda Eastman McCartney

From pulling needles full of dope out of Iggy Pop’s arm just before showtime and helping turn Jim Morrison into a sex symbol (becoming Morrison’s sworn enemy in the process), to unleashing the Ramones upon the world and later becoming one of the globe’s leading music journalists, NYC’s own Danny Fields has been a pivotal figure in nearly five decades of rock ‘n roll history, albeit mostly behind-the-scenes. But filmmaker Brendan Toller aims to give the 70-year-old Fields his due with a behemoth of a new project — the documentary Danny Says.

Along with writer Justin Skrakowski, Toller’s in the middle of crafting the most detailed look to date at Fields’ fascinating life and times — tight pal of Andy Warhol and regular at the Factory; publicist for the Doors; able assistant to Cream and the Velvet Underground; manager of the Ramones, the Stooges, and Lou Reed; discoverer of the MC5, Allman Brothers, Modern Lovers, Nico, Loudon Wainwright and myriad others; close friend, collaborator and biographer of Linda McCartney; and more.

“I would say he’s definitely aware of his influence and what his taste has done for the culture at large, but in terms of taking credit for it, I don’t think he was ever one to pride himself on the backs of artists,” says Toller. “But he’s a giant, and he’s just this great character, so I think it’s a story worth telling.

A 26-year-old graduate of Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, Toller’s a “tot” — as Fields likes to call him, Toller laughs — but he’s already got one documentary under his belt: 2008’s I Need That Record!, about the decline of independent record stores around the U.S., which featured Ian MacKaye, Thurston Moore, Noam Chomsky, and others (made on a budget of about $10,000, it was his senior thesis project; you can peep it on Netflix Instant). Toller met and interviewed Fields during the making of that film — introductions were made by the grandmother of his then-girlfriend, photographer Ariel Rosenbloom — though Fields’ clips ended up on the cutting room floor.

“But I was fascinated with him and we talked about so much stuff,” Toller recalls, “and afterwards I kept hearing from mutual friends that ‘Danny’s kind of upset that you haven’t been in touch….’ I was like, what? So I emailed him and we developed this friendship where every time I would travel from Western Mass to New York, I’d hang out with him. Then I moved to Brooklyn and I said to him, ‘If you ever need any help with a memoir or, God forbid, a documentary, I’d love to just help,’ and he said ‘Yeah, let’s get started.’ It’s something people have been trying to get him to do for 30 years, so it’s pretty incredible.”

Fields opened his impressive Rolodex to Toller and hooked him up with the 60-plus people who’ve sat in front of the camera over the past three years–a group that includes Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper, Tommy Ramone, Judy Collins, Jonathan Richman, and Loudon and Rufus Wainwright.

But Fields has otherwise been entirely hands-off, says Toller. “He was always worried that he was gonna be really impossible to work with, but he hasn’t. He’s not at all peeking over my shoulder in the editing room. He wants people to speak truthfully about him. He’s told people this. People have called him [prior to Toller’s on-camera interviews] and asked him, ‘What can I mention?’ And he says, ‘Tell them everything, I’m not watching any of this, I’m not editing it, that’s their job, I wanna be out of this.”

Toller’s so far gotten over 250 hours of footage from his interviews with Fields and others — in addition to digitizing exclusive photos and video from Fields’ own archives — and says it’s been a fun, surreal experience. Collins told him about talking Fields down from one of his first acid trips while hanging out at a hotel with Leonard Cohen, and both Iggy and Stooges drummer Scott Asheton recalled how Fields quit on them after Asheton drove a 14-foot U-Haul truck under a 13-foot underpass, shearing the top off the vehicle and ruining yet another drug-addled tour.

And just the act of talking with some of his own heroes has been a thrill. “It was crazy for me to be able to go to Iggy’s office-abode in Miami,” says Toller. “I asked him right before the interview, ‘I have to go to the bathroom, where do I go?’ and he goes, ‘Ehh, just pee in the bushes.’ I was like, wow, I peed in Iggy’s bushes! He was really, really gracious and open, and you could tell that Danny really helped his entrance into New York and, for lack of a better word, show business. He says that the Stooges owe a lot to Danny.”

“Early in my friendship [with Danny] I was nervous to ask him, like, ‘Let me hear your crazy Iggy stories’ or ‘I heard you and Jim [Morrison] hated each other?’ But he’s totally open to it,” Toller continues.

“Danny sort of summed up the Morrison thing on film — you know the famous picture that Joel Brodksy took, the one where [Morrison’s] shirtless with the necklace? Danny was there at the shoot and he says, ‘That picture sort of entrapped him because how can anyone look that great ever again?’ Jim wanted to be known as a poet and for his performances, and Danny’s whole thing with the Doors was promoting the image of Jim as this wild new sex symbol that the world had never seen, so that was reason to not get along. There were other escapades, too, like Danny taking Jim’s car keys away because he was too stoned or drunk. They did not like one another, and Danny swears that when he went to go console Morrison’s widow, Pamela, that there was a dog jumping on Danny and Pamela said, ‘The dog! It’s got something to say! It’s Jim [reincarnated]!’ and then the dog puked all over Danny’s lap. So he was like, ‘Yep, it’s Jim.'”

Fields being so hands-off the project includes the financial end, as well. So Toller — like so many other creatives these days — has turned to Kickstarter to generate $20,000 to put together a 20-minute sample cut to shop around for finishing funds. “I hate this part of the job, asking people for money,” says Toller, noting that the Kickstarter cash will go to hiring an additional editor and people to do motion graphics and animation “to give you a break from all the talking heads.” He figures the final budget for Danny Says might extend into six figures, with a big chunk of that going toward licensing fees for all the music in the film.

He also thinks the film could turn out to be significantly longer than your average 90-minute feature. “There’s just so much stuff there. You can’t really tell Danny’s story without telling the story of, say, the MC5. To understand where Danny was coming from with some of those bands, you have to understand certain details and certain stories why they didn’t make it big or why he quit as manager.”

“I also don’t want it to be a Gone With the Wind, that’s like five hours,” he laughs. “So we’ll have to see what it ends up as.”

However it turns out, he’s still not sure Fields himself will ever watch it. “He was originally telling everyone that this film wouldn’t come out until he was dead, that was the stipulation,” Toller says. “Now he’s receptive to the idea that it’ll come out when he’s still with us, but he was like, ‘I think I’m just gonna stand across the street and watch people come out of the theater. Maybe I’ll see it someday.'”

Brendan Toller is a US-based independent filmmaker, animator and musician. HorizonVU Music first got to know Brendan by way of his first feature documentary “I Need That Record” featuring Thurston Moore, Mike Wyatt, Ian Mackaye and Noam Chomsky.

With his focus on the fusion of non-fiction filmmaking, Brendan has worked on several short projects with Meat Puppets, Built to Spill and Danny Fields. His work has been featured in Wire Magazine, Pitchfork, Paste, and The Onion.

Brendan holds a BFA in documentary filmmaking and music industry studies from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Brendan, it’s great to catch up with you once again! Let’s turn back the clock a bit to “I Need That Record”. We had the privilege of introducing the film to French audiences at The Independent Music Event, 2009 in Paris. Briefly for our readers “I Need That Record! The Death (Or Possible Survival) Of The Independent Record Store” tells the story of the death of over 3000 independent record stores in the U.S.

Brenan Toller

Brenan Toller

Reflecting for a minute, what are your thoughts on that feature today? Thinking about the film in terms its influence on your work today – where is Brendan?

BT: I Need That Record! has done extremely well for what was admittedly my thesis project at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. It played at over 60 film festivals and events all over the world and has over 55,000 views on Netflix instant (a big video on demand streaming service in the States), which is more than a lot of documentaries can say. That’s all the numerical measurements of success. I’m most proud of the people it’s touched and the entire collective experience of it all which I marvel at sometimes. It beat out Jimmy Page’s It Might Get Loud for the Audience Award at Melbourne International Film Festival. Hopping around with my Les Paul at age 15 I never thought I beat Jimmy Page at anything. I also got a very very nice letter from Robert Pollard, and a sweet postcard from Ian MacKaye. It certainly influenced me to take on Danny Says because I proved to myself I could make a movie in the 21st century.

Recognizing that in addition to your feature work you have a very impressive list of short projects which can be viewed at http://www.brendantoller.com, do you have a particular project that you consider to be a milepost along your professional timeline – both with respect to intellectual growth and technical achievement?

BT: After I Need That Record! was “finished” I was busy plotting my first film festival run. I learned a lot, and sort of found a deep network of people who are into rock ‘n’ roll films. Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace! Headquarters was literally a ten-minute walk down the street from me. So one day I poked my head in there and asked if they needed any help. That’s how the 2008 Election Series came to be- me trouping around All Tomorrow’s Parties in upstate New York getting lectured by Curt Kirkwood. Matt Krefting is an incredible performer, vox-shredder and one damned fine arbiter of taste. I just wanted to help his record out any way I could. I did a few other video projects there and went through a lot of Magik Markers footage that I hope one day gets sculpted into some sort of document or documentary- some really amazing stuff there. In terms of mileposts I can only compare anything to I Need That Record! that’s the heavyweight of the Brendan Toller catalog thus far, after all its my first movie and I’m only 26.

Let’s turn to your most recent project “Danny Says”. For our readers that might not know of Danny Fields, he is best known to many of us as an American journalist and writers; He was a music industry executive from the 1960s through the 1980s and perhaps best known for managing Iggy and the Stooges and the Ramones. He also had parts to play in the stories of Jim Morrison, the MC5, and the Velvet Underground. The film, we should note, is fiscally sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts and Artspire.

BT: Danny Fields not only has had one of the best vantage points for rock ‘n’ roll, art and culture of the late 20th century, but he’s the smartest guy I know and many of his friends have said the same—including Jon Landau (MC5 manager & Bruce Springsteen manager/guru/visionary). I think a documentary would be worthy for the guy that published John Lennon’s “more popular than Jesus” quote in the U.S. alone- never mind, that Danny was at almost every watershed moment from ’68 on: Velvet Underground, The Doors, Judy Collins, Tim Buckley, David Peel, Nico, MC5, Stooges, Modern Lovers, Patti Smith, Ramones, Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright and more. He also kidnapped Jim Morrison, took a swig out of Janis Joplin’s last bottle and was the first male to be censored on public access television for pretending to stick a light bulb up someone’s ass. His taste and mark on the culture is reverberating today louder than ever. In his time, a lot of the bands Danny supported and championed were dismissed. As Danny says “Stick with me, and in 40 years you’ll be a star.” Danny really is a philosopher and we don’t have too many around these days at least here in the States. The film is fiscally sponsored by New York Foundation for the Arts who are assisting us in grant development and research. Documentaries are not cheap- especially ones with music.

So, in your words, tell us about “Danny Says”. Up close and personal – what is the background of the project and how is it progressing? “I Need That Record!” has a clearly defined message. What is the message your sending us with “Danny Says”?

BT: Danny Says currently has a Kickstarter campaign rolling. We’re looking to raise $20,000 which will help us with initial post-production costs. It’s a lot of money, but in terms of documentary money (somewhere around $ XXX,XXX) it’s pretty small. I made I Need That Record! on next to nothing though so I can stretch a dollar. If we reach our goal we’ll begin editing the first film of the Danny Says series, which will most likely focus on Danny’s early life to his time with The Doors. All subject to change once we enter the editing room. At the very least, Danny Says will be a look at one’s deep influence continuing on. Danny sums it up pretty well in the first line of our Kickstarter video. But Danny Says will touch on so much its hard to define the themes and messages just yet.

Does your work on “Danny Says” pose any new challenges, or what are the key challenges facing you in making the film? Let take a look at a clip “Justin Vivian Bond, Danny Fields and the Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat”.

BT: The key challenges of Danny Says in the director role here are fundraising enough finishing funds and being able to achieve the visual look I envision for the film. Danny’s stories are very vivid and descriptive. I’d like to accompany them with strong visuals pulling from a lot of archival photographs, film and audio. We’d also like to use 2D animation and motion graphics. Danny Says will also allow me to further my aesthetics and approach as a filmmaker. If I Need That Record! was extremely focused and driven by narration Danny Says will be more meditative.

Perhaps a bit out of context, but having talked about your work to-date, can you tell us about your film and music influences? Have your influences changed over time? How so?

Brendan Toller on Collin McEnroe Show (WNPR) Photo Credit: Chion Wolf

Brendan Toller on Collin McEnroe Show (WNPR) Photo Credit: Chion Wolf

BT: That’s also part of the work: inspiration. You have to constantly keep looking, listening and thinking about new works. films that have been influencing me in a haunting way over the years are Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell by Matt Wolf, any films by Abraham Ravett who I studied with at Hampshire College, Silverlake Life: The View From Here by Tom Joslin, Filth and the Fury by Julien Temple, Benjamin Smoke by Jem Cohen. As for music I’ve been listening to mostly stuff before 1980 these days: John Martyn, early Cramps, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Swampdogg, The Move, Incredible Casuals, and a lot of early rock ‘n’ roll shows on WFMU (David the Spazz, Fool’s Paradise). I don’t think my influences have changed so much as I have changed. It seems to take me a shorter time to find things that will impact me in a fruitful way. I suppose that comes with age. I tend to like things now that initially I’m puzzled or don’t like much at first, then bam two days later it cripples you.

Looking out to the horizon, what’s Brendan’s plan for Brendan?

BT: Danny Says! Its all I can think about aside from my personal life.

So, to wrap up, what are your target dates as concerns the project and how can our followers get involved? Are there opportunities to sponsor or contribute to your efforts?

BT: We hope to have the Danny Says series ready by November 2014. You can get involved by heading over to the dannysaysfilm.com website where you can make a donation anytime through Artspire and New York Foundation for the Arts after our initial Kickstarter campaign. So excited for you all to check Danny Says out.

Brendan, thanks so much for joining us. You know we follow your work with considerable interest and I have no doubt that we’ll be in touch going forward. All the very best.

Visit Brendan Toller and Danny Says at http://www.brendantoller.com and http://www.dannysaysfilm.com

Find the Danny Says Kickstarter campaign at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/654487791/danny-says-a-documentary-series-on-danny-fields

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