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.
THE STOOGES were a primal, feral outfit out of DETROIT that by all accounts imploded and failed. except they didnt. calling them arguably the greatest ROCK AND ROLL is not hyperbole, they are the truth. luckily i got to see them back in the early 2000s at JONES BEACH when IGGY POP reunited with the ASHETON BROTHERS (and MIKE WATT filled in for the deceased DAVE ALEXANDER). they sounded ferocious and i still consider that night a gift.
the JIM JARMUSCH-directed documentary GIMME DANGER (MAGNOLIA PICURES, 2016) attempts to harness and present what made this lightning-in-a-bottle group of misfits so special, complete with rare footage and interviews with various members, both living and deceased (RIP RON & SCOTT ASHTON, STEVE MACKAY & DAVE ALEXANDER). what is so interesting about their career is that their three albums were all commercial failures and by the time RAW POWER (COLUMBIA, 1973) was released the members had largely fallen back into obscurity, exception obviously being IGGY.
what JARMUSCH does a great job through his editing is present a narrative that is largely focused on the main members and not just IGGY. there are several clever animations that drive home their humble MICHIGAN roots and the lengths at which they foot to exist.
watching this i cant help but think back to discussions we had at DEER GOD when our recording studio was up and running about the nature of great records. my feeling was that it was all about the listener, how they completed a cycle initiated by the artist. that feel, intention and some weird alchemy has to happen that transcends sound quality and production values. THE STOOGES are prime examples of such. RAW POWER is famous for its horrible mix but the songs transcend because they make you feel something.
i'm happy to report that this documentary provides some contest on the members but ultimately showcases their ability to produce music live that connects and elevates their audience to a higher plane. and i can't put my finger on how, it just is. if it was a formula with a checklist, believe me some studio rat wouldve figured it out by now. would've been a plugin for that by now.
the stooges are the real deal and i couldn't recommend this documentary even more strongly.
gotta hand it to NOISEY on this one, GUITAR MOVES along with PREMIER GUITAR's RIG RUNDOWN series are arguably the two earliest (and most consistent in terms of quality) guitar-centric YOUTUBE series i was made aware of a few years ago. while RIG RUNDOWN follows guitar nerds asking gear questions to touring musicians and their guitar techs, GUITAR MOVES follows INDIE ROCK guitarist / producer / super-fan MATT SWEENEY of SKUNK & CHAVEZ as he interviews notable guitarists about specific "moves" they do that are unique to them.
as a guitarist myself (a very poor one at that), it is often the little recognizable quirks and idiosyncrasies of musicians you admire that make them stand out. its a very cool concept for a series and for the most part SWEENEY's contagious unbridled enthusiasm and knowledge of their catalogue disarms them into opening up about their approach and philosophy regarding creating music on guitar.
highlights include the JAMES WILLIAMSON and ACE FREHLEY episodes where SWEENEY is beside himself and you can see him returning to his 12 year-old self in awe of his idols as they teach and play classics like "SEARCH AND DESTROY" and "SHOCK ME" with him. for their sake, many of these songs have been incorrectly transcribed, so this allows them to educate the masses on how to play their songs correctly.
i'd also have to point out the JOSH HOMME episode as being notable as he talks about how childhood POLKA lessons influenced his approach to the guitar and how a well chosen sharp note on a scale can transform the feel and tone of a solo. just super practical stuff.
all in all there is mention of techniques such NASHVILLE TUNING (JAMES WILLIAMSON), OPEN G TUNING (KEITH RICHARDS), TAPPING (JOSH HOMME) among others.
if you play guitar, this series (which sadly has been discontinued) is well worth exploring. for his part, SWEENEY has gone on to interview musicians for other video series with bigger brands, but essentially this is the one that is worth (repeatedly) checking out.
the documentary AMERICAN VALHALLA (EAGLE ROCK, 2017) takes its name from a song off of IGGY POP's late-career album POST POP DEPRESSION (LOMA VISTA, 2016), which was a collaboration between the iconic STOOGES frontman and musician JOSH HOMME of QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE/KYUSS fame. this documentary follows their collaboration throughout the songwriting and recording process with interviews of both conducted by ANTHONY BOURDAIN (RIP).
i guess it should be stated that while IGGY and HOMME come from celebrated bands, both are actually quite unconventional musicians. lots of bands pay lip service to expanding their sound on subsequent releases, but if you track the career trajectory of both you will see that is actually the case. when IGGY reached out to HOMME, both took it as an opportunity to experiment and see what new creations could be manifested from their respective provided elements. it was interesting that in navigating this new relationship they based much on instinct and cooked the songs quickly in short order to not overthink it. just move forward.
i think this film at its core is about the nature of collaboration, especially when you have a history or legacy. it is about dismantling those expectations, both external and, more importantly, internal.
i remember when i was teaching i never slept particularly well because i was constantly questioning my plans. its not that they were inferior, i knew they were sound, but the opportunity cost of it all drove me nuts. there were so many options and how could i choose the right course of action that would best serve my students. i think that drive in part is what broke my heart about the profession, the fact that so many of my peers phoned it in. taught the same thing in the same order as years before, altering nothing. i saw the classroom as a dynamic venue for exploring ideas and challenging them against new technologies and world events. opening up the curriculum to show how these classroom concepts affect our understanding of both the world and ourselves. the fact that i did this in foreign countries, never on my home court made it that much more invigorating and scary at the same time. more colors to play with. i was willing to fail and being unable to settle down completely at night was the price i was willing to pay. risk nothing you get nothing.
what i am trying to say is that im well aware of this fear HOMME had in the film. how do i collaborate with an icon? make it worth his time and my time? and most frightening of all: the opportunity cost of all the other possible music i could write, that i could present to him. how do you conquer that fear?
you just do it by doing it. being truly in the moment. their collaboration was all instinct, mutually respecting and sharing that creative moment. in the moment. right now.
i loved that tightrope dance. i miss it.
note: but i wouldnt return to teaching. dealing with administrations that didn't have the students interests at front of mind cut my heart out. repeatedly. a bad one-sided collaboration rooted in politics.
great film. intriguing documentary on the nature of collaboration and cost required to make it a fruitful and meaningful endeavor.