the lasting impact of cultural maven DANNY FIELDS is interesting to contemplate. not a musician, producer or a record executive, FIELDS instead worked at times as a press agent, record scout, manager and general facilitator. known for his time as part of the ANDY WARHOL FACTORY crowd as well as his work with legendary artists like THE VELVET UNDERGROUND, THE DOORS, MC5, THE STOOGES and THE RAMONES, where FIELDS excelled was in his vision of seeing and appreciating what others couldnt. at least not yet.
born in BROOKLYN, FIELDS was an excellent student who entered the UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA at 15 and attended HARVARD LAW SCHOOL thereafter. maybe due to his exceeding intelligence and/or his membership in two minority groups being a JEW and a HOMOSEXUAL, FIELDS developed a sense of empathy as well as aesthetic interest in avant-garde, outsider art. this led him to GREENWICH VILLAGE and the WARHOL scene, and later to counterculture musicians once the 1960s hit. he worked as an artists liaison with ELEKTRA RECORDS and was of use to the machine in that he was a tastemaker of sorts, able to witness an emerging artist in their infancy and communicate their greatness to a wider public. in a sense the man had taste and was willing to stake his reputation on such, even facilitating countless meetings between artists (BOWIE and IGGY POP, PATTI SMITH and her band, etc.) that paid fruit down the line even after his personal involvement had ceased.
it is this role as a facilitator (and sometimes agitator) that i ultimately found made the recent documentary DANNY SAYS (MAGNOLIA PICTURES, 2015) so compelling. here is a guy that gave underground artists an opportunity yet he is largely and unknown, with his worth celebrated internally within the industry by key executives and artists alike. his name isnt highlighted in liner notes or mentioned in interviews, yet his influence is unmistakeable. the bands he directly worked with set the foundation for all modern rock music whereby intention trumps virtuosity. to be a musician didnt mean one had to be a master at their instrument, instead it meant communicating a feeling in the most direct and efficient manner possible. those were the bands he facilitated, managed and garnered press attention for. and we are all the better for it.
makes you consider how many other unknown key industry players there are out there who invisible hand we have all been touched by in our musical tastes and cultural obsessions. the closest thing to this film i have witnessed is the RODNEY BINGENHEIMER documentary (review linked HERE) entitled MAYOR OF THE SUNSET STRIP (2003) about the influential AMERICAN DJ or any number of BBC television documentaries over the years celebrating the ENGLISH DJ JOHN PEEL. whats interesting about the BINGENHEIMER documentary as it relates to DANNY SAYS is how both showcase a life servicing others and getting lost in the shuffle. the idea of making deep connections with talented friends who you help push to artistic and cultural peaks of achievement. but such heights are ultimately not your own and you are left contemplating your own needs and desires. both documentaries showcase two seemingly exceedingly lonely people. both are figures that are very interesting to contemplate.
i feel DANNY SAYS is a must-watch for anyone interesting in modern music history or the nature of the music business, especially as it relates to marketing and the influential yet opaque machinations that take place behind closed doors.
thank god for AMEOBA RECORDS.
no doubt this series was meant as a way to garner interest in the sheer sea of available for purchase records, tapes, cds, dvds, posters, books, zines and various merchandise at their flagship stores in HOLLYWOOD, SAN FRANCISCO and BERKELEY, but man is it still cool to see what cultural artifacts jazz up influential musicians.
i only went to AMEOBA in HOLLYWOOD once when visiting a childhood friend of mine in nearby ORANGE COUNTY (where i grew up pre-NIGERIA). AMEOBA for me was like visiting MECCA. it was a sacred place, they literally had everything. i remember i got an out-print (at the time) copy of PRINCE's SIGN 'O' THE TIMES (PAISLEY PARK FILMS, 1987) concert film for cheap. really too bad the place closed doors so some asshole could put up some condominiums. just what the world needs. regardless, id put AMEOBA up there with the greatest stores ive ever walked into, which come to think of it, the only one that comes close at the top of my head is the FNAC CHAMPS ELYSEE in PARIS.
anyway, its always cool to hear musicians talk about music, so below are the episodes with SUNN O))), GARBAGE, THE MELVINS, WAYNE KRAMER, DELTRON 3030 (DAN THE AUTOMATOR & DEL THE FUNKY HOMOSAPIEN), JOHNNY MARR, MASTODON, CHUCK D, BILLY BRAGG and HIGH ON FIRE among many many other notable musicians, past and present.
PUNK: ATTITUDE (3DD PRODUCTIONS, 2005) by legendary DJ / MUSICIAN / DIRECTOR and original PUNK ROCK scenester DON LETTS is probably the most comprehensive documentary about the beginnings and evolution of PUNK ROCK, both stateside and in ENGLAND. it includes an exhaustive yet entirely impressive cast of participants, many now deceased, whose insights provide an appreciation for the wide array of interests and backgrounds that led to the formation of the genre. this includes, but not limited to, musicians such as JOHN CALE (THE VELVET UNDERGROUND), JELLO BIAFRA (THE DEAD KENNEDYS), MARTIN REV (SUICIDE), CHRISSIE HYNDE (THE PRETENDERS), DAVID JOHANSEN, SYLVAIN SYLVAIN & ARTHUR KANE (THE NEW YORK DOLLS), MICK JONES & PAUL SIMON (THE CLASH), DARYL JENIFER (BAD BRAINS), POLY STYRENE (X-RAY SPEX), HENRY ROLLINS (BLACK FLAG), WAYNE KRAMER (MC5), PAT SMEAR (THE GERMS), SIOUXSIE SIOUX (SIOUXSIE SIOUX & THE BANSHEES), TOMMY RAMONE (THE RAMONES), CAPTAIN SENSIBLE (THE DAMNED), ARI UP (THE SLITS), STEVE JONES & GLEN MATLOCK (THE SEX PISTOLS), THURSTON MOORE (SONIC YOUTH), K.K. BARRETT (THE SCREAMERS), RAY CAPO (YOUTH OF TODAY), GLENN BRANCA (THEORETICAL GIRLS), KEITH MORRIS (BLACK FLAG / CIRCLE JERKS), ROGER MIRET (AGNOSTIC FRONT), PETE SHELLEY & HOWARD DEVOTO (THE BUZZCOCKS), DEE POP (THE BUSH TETRAS), ALICE BAG (THE BAGS), RICHARD MANITOBA (THE DICTATORS), JAMES CHANCE (JAMES CHANCE & THE CONTORTIONS) and film director JIM JARMUSCH, CBGBs owner HILLY KRISTAL and various managers, writers, artists and photographers.
i think one strong suit of this documentary is its ability to elucidate the long line of influence that followed one band to another over time. how bands like THE DOORS influenced THE STOOGES who influenced THE SEX PISTOLS and BLACK FLAG and NIRVANA and so on. in essence you see how bands such as THE VELVET UNDERGROUND, SUICIDE, THE DEAD KENNEDYS, PATTI SMITH, THE DAMNED and THE RAMONES (among many others) are all linked and part of a greater movement towards challenging, complicating, questioning and, in turn, revitalizing the form of ROCK AND ROLL.
examples provided included the concurrent POST PUNK and NO WAVE that came about after the first wave of PUNK ROCK. both took the ethos of originality and freedom and applied such to the music, creating new takes on song structures and experimented with expanded palette of instruments.
the HARDCORE scene of the 1980s was the opposite of such in that songs got condensed and sped up even faster. scenes that began with first wave PUNK adherents more interested in art and originality were taken over by HARDCORE bands that were largely aggressive and violent. part of that anger was political at the REAGAN administration as well as a feeling that their lives were set to be disrupted by economic uncertainty. that scene begat the ALTERNATIVE ROCK scene of the 1990s, or as JELLO BIAFRA puts it "punk inspired rock bands." as the 1990s dragged on you get bands like KORN and LIMP BIZKIT with their dumbed down break down sections and shocking lack of social consciousness.
there was nothing revelatory about this documentary, but it serves as a welcome definitive statement about a genre for anyone new or interested in the place of PUNK ROCK in music history. it really gets at the core idea of the genre in spite of its many permutations: that being the value being an individual. finding your voice, whatever that may be, and speaking your truth vociferously with an almost disregard for the opposition. thats a healthy sentiment for anyone to learn.
my only gripe with this film is that they spends way too much time talking about THE CLASH and JOE STRUMMER, but that is my own personal bias making itself apparent. i still find that band, despite their influence, to be full of themselves. just my opinion.
photo & text by nacrowe
the MC5 was an explosive, powerhouse DETROIT rock outfit that both infused revolutionary politics with an unbridled, kinetic energy that made good on the promise of the recent BRITISH INVASION. if anything, their sound was the answer to how AMERICA does BLUES-based ROCK AND ROLL and paved the way for THE STOOGES, NEW YORK DOLLS and PUNK ROCK in general. kick out the jams, indeed!
and essentially that is the starting point for legendary guitarist WAYNE KRAMER's stellar memoir THE HARD STUFF (DA CAPO, 2018). while this book does dive deep into his career and cultural influence, its focus is far more concerned on how his experiences in federal prison in the 70s on drug charges informed his politics surrounding social justice and drug policy.
first off i want to say that this memoir is remarkably well-written. cogent, thoughtful and very direct. in particular, his description of the lost promise and debasement of DETROIT from its post-WWII peak as an economic and industrial juggernaut to its steady fall from grace and how such affected long-simmering race relations (due to racist labor practices and union self-dealing) was artfully written. KRAMER expertly provides a vivid firsthand eyewitness account at the DETROIT riots of 1967 and how they were fueled by race resentment fear and resulted in a further distancing of the races by the subsequent WHITE FLIGHT to the suburbs, leaving the urban center destitute and long-suffering. you really get a sense of how destabilizing and demoralizing such was in the psyche of a young idealist. it basically set up DETROIT as a political metaphor for the 60s idealism and the frustrating limits of the AMERICAN DREAM, the very chaotic backdrop by which the revolutionary politics of the MC5 were born.
the mismanagement of the MC5 and their inability to make good on their promise, for a variety of factors both external and internal, resulted in a career that flat-lined, which saw KRAMER fall into the seedy drug underworld of DETROIT that had shifted markedly from the late 60s into the 70s. if anything it became more corporate and opiates had taken over. his decent into a series of bad choices involving relationships, drugs and money resulted in KRAMER going to federal prison in KENTUCKY for a period in the mid 70s.
a central argument from this book is the nature of recovery and rehabilitation and how such is seeded in hope. from his vantage point incarceration should be a place of providing opportunities and hope for inmates largely not equipped to function on the outside within the usual guardrails. they need assistance and providing them fear and discouragement only fuels their unsuccessful reintroduction to mainstream society upon gaining back their freedom.
its hard not to see the WAR ON DRUGS as a colossal failure. this testimonial only one more drop in that ever-growing bucket. i just don't see MIDDLE AMERICA ever waking up from their slumber and seeming existential fear of the other.
we need empathy and that is basically his realization. he caused damage from his choices and all he can do now is help others in this moment when possible. not in the future. now.
this centering of the locus of control in his mind from longstanding macro structural failures of the AMERICAN political and economic apparatus (that the MC5 fought against) to making good personal decisions in the moment is quite the narrative arc.
excellent read that i would recommend to anyone interested in the 1960s counterculture, PUNK ROCK, free jazz, revolutionary politics or rehabilitation.