Like most collaborative art forms, music is a medium that focuses on stars at the expense of the lesser known figures who help those stars get to where they are. Sometimes behind-the-scenes figures become larger than life themselves (Phil Spector and Suge Knight are two examples who likely immediately come to mind for the wrong reasons) but for the most part, the lesser known supporting players stay that way, often because they purposefully avoid the limelight anyway. But the new documentary Danny Says stands out as an especially heartfelt and passionate attempt to bring one of rock’s most important behind the scene players to the forefront.
A cleverly executed and uniquely styled documentary on music biz legend Danny Fields, Danny Says may seem in description like yet another self-congratulatory documentary on the music industry, but it goes far beyond that, offering a peek behind the curtain at the underacknowledged lifers who inspire the stars, bringing heart to a medium that is so often heartless. Combining interviews, archival footage, and animated segments, Danny Says is an attempt to fairly summarize a brilliantly messy life without ruining the chaotic charm of that life. Stretching from ‘50s gay culture in New York and Boston to the rise of Andy Warhol’s Factory to the LA rock scene to the ascent of punk, this is an expansive work that somehow never feels bloated or overly navel gazy.
Fields is a music figure who doesn’t fit neatly into industry jargon but the term he preferred for a time was “company freak,” i.e. a hippie on the payroll of a record label whose job is to comfort other hippies and translate for the suits. But Fields also served as one of rock’s first “press agents,” helping bands market themselves to the media world he came out of and keeping them out of too much trouble. That latter end of his occupation was especially useful during his stints as a kind of manager for The Stooges and The Ramones, two groups prone to trouble and mischief.
To Fields’ industry friends, though, he’s a “fuel line,” an energetic connector who knows everyone worth knowing and is always hip to where culture is heading. Danny Says excels at revealing this element of Fields’ persona, capturing great anecdotes while simultaneously displaying the clear affection industry figures still have for Fields. Even more striking are the interview segments where Fields opens up about his frustrations with his lot in life and his belief that all of his “beautiful” days are long gone.
As Alice Cooper of all people put it, Fields is one of those people who is blowing around in the wind, making unseen contributions to an artist’s development, contributions that are secretly the most important elements of a career. Diehard music fans have likely seen a lot of backwards looking documentaries on legendary careers but I can say without hesitation that Danny Says is one of the finest because it is so willing to let its subject open up about his disappointments and missed opportunities. Its biggest flaw is that it ends abruptly, with essentially no discussion of what Fields has done in the time since The Ramones voted him out as their manager. I guess we’ll have to wait for a sequel.
This review ran in a different form as part of Loser City’s SXSW 2015 coverage. Danny Says is currently available, please check the film’s site for information on where to view it, including iTunes and VOD.
Morgan Davis sells bootleg queso on the streets of Austin in order to fund Loser City. When he isn’t doing that, he gets complimented and/or threatened by Austin’s musical community for stuff he writes at Ovrld, which he is the Managing Editor of.