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GQ - Photography

Danny Fields on photographing the Ramones and kidnapping Jim Morrison

You may not necessarily have heard of Danny Fields, but you’ll know everyone he has ever worked with. As the New York Times wrote, “You could make a convincing case that, without Danny Fields, punk rock would not have happened.” As a journalist, publisher, music manager and author, he worked with The Doors, discovered Iggy Pop and The Stooges, hung out with Warhol and signed the Ramones within 15 minutes of first hearing them on stage. His personal photographs of Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy Ramone have become a book, My Ramones, and we meet to chat through his memories of the four men, highlights of his time with them and why everything about them is “totally ironic”.

Can you tell me a little bit about the experience of writing this book?

I worked so hard – not taking the pictures, because that was the easy bit and I did that over 40 years ago, but it was the writing that took so much time. A picture may be worth a thousand words but, without a caption to give it context, something to put it into perspective, it doesn’t mean a lot. I went through hundreds of rolls of film, picking these for the book, and I went through them thinking about the fact that all four of these guys are now dead. The pictures are candid and the access I had as their manager was unrivalled. They were as intuitive of how to present themselves to the lens as they were about what they wore; it was very choreographed. They were four extraordinary intelligences. They were really smart, though very different, and they didn’t always get on.

You always read about the conflict between Johnny and Joey but was there more?

Was there more? Are you kidding? Joey’s girlfriend left him to marry Johnny, which was when I left the band, too, and I’m glad because they then continued to tour for years but wouldn’t speak, even being in the same vehicle for all those hours. Tommy was short, he had bad skin and his hair was kind of... not very great. And so they made fun of him, but I can never give him enough credit. You see kids today wearing Ramones T-shirts who probably don’t even know who they are, but they had great style and it’s a look, isn’t it? When Joey was dying they tried to get Johnny to at least call him, but he refused. When they were inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, Tommy spoke and what he said was very touching. He said that “people may read that we fought and hated each other, but we loved each other all that time”. Remember, Tommy was brutalised by them, but he still said it. Johnny cried and Johnny did not cry. He made you cry.

Did you get on with any of them particularly well?

I got along with all of them, but Joey scared me a little because he was the least sociable. They watched how other people did things and they were aware of show business and the importance of presentation. Their plan was to get rich and retire, but it didn’t happen. They didn’t sell any records then. But you think now about the royalties from Hey Ho! Let's Go! and the merchandising, and those kids had no idea it would get that big. Their music ended up selling before Spotify and MTV, but there was no way to predict four notes in one song would end up generating millions of dollars.

Have you any favourite pictures in the book?

That’s like asking a mum to name a favourite child, but I love the ones showing everyone doing their geeky dancing, with everyone dancing right at their feet. And look at their hair! How did that happen? I love the fact that these photos are very real, and yet they are aware of me shooting them at the same time. Every picture has something in it.

Tell me about that first moment you saw them live on stage. What did it feel like and what made you decide to manage them that quickly?

Well, I was a reluctant audience member, to be honest, but it was New York in 1975. I had a music column in a weekly newspaper and Tommy would call me. He was the booking agent and the drummer and the businessperson. He kept telling me, “I know you’re going to really like us,” and I was like, “Who gave you a crystal ball!?” He told me they were big fans of The Stooges so I agreed to see them. My best friend then was the journalist Lisa Robinson and she told me I should check them out. I respected her so I went along. They started playing with this “we don’t give a shit but we do” attitude and they just crashed into the first song and it was like when a plane takes off and the engine roars and then you lift. Their music had that same roar. They thought they weren’t ready but they were. And it was music I wanted to hear. Joey was singing, “I don’t want to go down to the basement” and I thought, “This is a song? Those are the words? This is hilarious!” Those guys were really funny, which no one talked about but they were. Everything about them was ironic.

What are the questions you get asked most about the Ramones?

People ask me if Johnny really was a conservative right-winger but, compared to people today, he was like Bernie Sanders. He was patriotic and he really believed as a patriotic American. People ask me if they resented that they ever sold records? Yes! Big time. They ask what were their biggest hits. They had no hits – radio hated them. It was the curse of Johnny Rotten that made people in the US not like punk because all they knew of it was the early Sex Pistols. The Ramones had great songs but they were ahead of their time.

Who do you listen to today and what would be your advice to bands now?

Is it true you didn’t get on with Jim Morrison?

God, we hated each other. I was The Doors’ first press agent in New York and, well, I kidnapped him once. We were at a house in the Hollywood Hills and I fixed him up with Nico. I drove up there and he followed me in his car and he got so stoned and drunk and consumed so much of everything and I was worried he would get in his car and kill himself and I’d be fired. So I went to his car and took the keys out of the ignition. He hated me from then on, because I restricted him. He asked the president of the record company to fire me. They said no but I was fired anyway, mainly because I brought them Iggy and that was not music as far as they were concerned.


06 May, 2018 Cass Chapman