Film Review: Danny Says

One of those colorful non-famous characters whom “everyone” knows gets his due in this lively doc celebrating both him and the music scene in which he thrived.
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Danny Fields is a name I’ve been hearing about in some capacity or other ever since moving to New York in 1975, a name spoken with a mixture of awed reverence and a more cynical roll of the eyes. This insider’s insider of everything that was hip for decades in the New York music scene, kind of a rock-music Zelig, began as a journalist for teenybopper magazines in the 1960s, went on to become press agent for The Doors and eventually landed a job with the prestigious record label Elektra. In his time, he managed some of the hottest bands (Ramones, New York Dolls) and also rejected some of the hottest as well (Johnny and Edgar Winter, Aerosmith), his self-described “effete” taste always overruling any commercial concerns.

Obviously a huge labor of love for director Brendan Toller, this documentary portrait of an echt-Noo Yawk character brings alive the heady days of a heady period in rock ’n’ roll, when invention and creativity were key, such a far cry from what passes as the music scene today. (What happened to albums?) Fields, nee Daniel Henry Feinberg, was born in Brooklyn in 1939, and after Harvard Law School, this gay self-dubbed “hippie yenta” segued easily into the Warhol world largely housed in the club Max’s Kansas City, where he rubbed elbows and more with the likes of Edie Sedgwick and Nico. It was he who broke the then-scandalous story which had The Beatles declaring themselves more popular than Jesus. (Incidentally, he was never a fan of the Fab Four.)

For someone who obviously lived and partied very hard (starting with amphetamines at age ten), Fields seems in wonderful shape today and has amazing recall. The film is a flood of juicy anecdotes delivered by him in his trademark ultimate-Manhattanite, ultra-jaded style: how he rescued a drug-addled female from jumping out the window at a party, to the dismay of Warhol & Co., who wanted to witness a suicide; how he himself was talked down during an acid trip by a benevolent Judy Collins; the hilarious meeting of bizarre duo Jim Morrison and Nico, etc. Fields’ reminiscences of a pre-Stonewall gay life hold particular interest and are quite instructional to a later generation that’s never really known what it’s like to suffer for one’s sexual identity.

Entertaining interviews with Iggy Pop (still chortling over his bad-boy behavior with his band, The Stooges), Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner, Judy Collins, John Cameron Mitchell, Justin Bond, Tommy Ramone and an eerily unchanged Alice Cooper vibrantly dot Danny Says. The film seems to come to a rather abrupt halt after Fields gets summarily fired by the Ramones, whom he discovered, and while one would like to hear more about what he’s been doing since then and, indeed, about his personal life in general, the film is a smoothly done trove of nostalgia featuring a pre-malled NYC, in that wonderful, storied time when tourists were actually afraid to visit.

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