Danny Fields' best photograph: the Ramones prowl round the US supreme court
‘Hey, it’s Washington! Let’s run around!’
I became the Ramones’ manager after seeing them at CBGB in New York. From the opening downstroke of the guitar, I loved them. When I met them afterwards, they asked if I would write about them. I said: “More than that, I want to manage you.” I started taking photos of them when they were making their first album. If the manager has done a good job there’s nothing to do once the band gets to the studio except let her bang, so I took a camera along, thinking I could record moments that might be considered candid. They realised that even if I took pictures of them drooling, I wasn’t going to use them – as their manager, I wasn’t going to do anything to damage their career.
What made them good to photograph was the same thing that made them good on stage: presentation. They were intuitive. The first time I saw them live, the presentation was perfect – the clothes, the hair, the architecture of the set. They knew how to do it and they’d figured it out themselves. They weren’t puppets. When rock’n’roll wants to come out, it comes out of every pore, and they had that.
This was taken in November 1976. Jimmy Carter had been elected president, Gerald Ford had lost. The Ramones had a show at the Cellar Door club in Washington and we had a free afternoon. I said: “Let’s walk around and take some pictures.” There are good backgrounds in Washington and I shot four rolls of film. This was taken in front of the United States supreme court. There was no one there, though. This was pre-bag search. I imagine now it would be swarming with police.
They went up the steps and came down towards me, as I walked backwards to get the building in. The word irony is overused, but you can’t overuse it with the Ramones because everything with them is ironic. And the irony here is these four leather-clad kids – who have come from a particular kind of rock’n’roll known as punk rock – strolling around the supreme court, which is inviolate.
This is kind of a behind-the-scenes picture: what do you do on an afternoon – between waking up and doing the soundcheck – in a place you’ve never played? Hey, it’s Washington, it’s a hilarious-looking place – let’s run around! The picture on the inner sleeve of Leave Home, the band’s second album, shows them outside the White House. That was taken on the same day.
When I shot them I liked to surround them with things, otherwise it’s the same four people over and over. After a while, it became about getting them in a crowd, or in front of a building. This day was grey and overcast, so there was no horrible sunshine. There are photographers who can do miracles with sunlight on a dappled field, but it’s not good for people.