Film Review: ‘Danny Says’ spotlights the dazzle and dirt of an electric career in music
Danny Fields, the manager, wingman, and journalist to watch in the ’60s and ’70s, sniffed out talent with one motto: “Smart is sexy.” Considering his career’s yield of rock and art giants, we believe him. The quip is the opening line in Danny Says, a rockumentary on the one man who connected umpteen social circles of bands, artists, and who’s-whos in one of music’s most pivotal eras.
Fields was praised as the “pulse of the underground” by Alice Cooper, and this film, which screens tonight at the Luna Theatre in Lowell, shines a light on the music mogul’s coveted achievements that often go without credit; namely, assigning himself to be the press agent of the Doors and discovering the Ramones. Highlighting the Beatles’ infamous “bigger than Jesus” remark in Datebook Magazine — and in turn, enraging Christian America — comes across as a more neutral, albeit notable blip in rock and roll history.
In his early days of socialite mixing, Fields spends his evenings rubbing elbows with Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgewick, then graduates to writing for teenie-bopper pop culture magazine Datebook. His largest move was to Elektra Records, making himself the much-needed middle-man between big name bands and record company execs.
The films traces back to Fields’ roots in New York City, from footage of his 1950s’ bar mitzvah (pomaded hair included), to his more rigorous college days at University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Law School and frequenting Boston’s gay clubs. But the majority of the film lays out and digs into Fields’ time in New York City’s sprawling culture hub, and the line he draw that strewed so many artists together and in the right direction.
The film poster plasters the names of the artistic giants of the era — Lou Reed, Nico, The Stooges, Iggy Pop, MC5 — and delivers with individual accounts of Field’s connections and intertwining with each of them. Patti Smith and the Winter Brothers make cameos in old photographs and concert footage.
Tales of the bizarre private lives of the singers and visionaries Fields dealt with abound from the picture. In his earlier days with Datebook, he missed the boat for a private press party put on by the Rolling Stones. He was deemed uncool when he stopped a Warhol partygoer from climbing out of the window to her death of the high-rise apartment. He hid Jim Morrison’s car keys under the driver’s seat mat when Morrison was too drugged-up to drive, much to the displeasure of the Lizard King. The entirety of his life unwinds like the millionth rockstar memoir to date, but instead of Fields being the creator himself, he’s pushing and pursuing them.
Unlike many documentaries that honor late music greats, Danny Says has the privilege of retelling every quirky account straight from Fields’ still-breathing lips, which seldom hold back the juicy details of drugs trips, gossip, and off-kilter parties. Fields’ wry sense of humor — “What I always wanted to do was to fuck at Harvard” — illumines his character effortlessly.
The film successfully fleshes out 10-plus years of music magic, adding in extra tidbits of information about the lives of the celebrities for hard rock diehards, and stringing together music history for the noobs. That being said, there’s a niche market for the flick that consists solely of music nerds and people who desperately want to be music nerds. All of the old pros watching will be eager to graze new juicy insider tidbits from Fields, and even gain an appreciation for all the networking coerced by one man, but for anyone disinterested in music that’s more than 20 years old, the flick does little to ignite any new passion. Luckily, Fields’ keen sense of humor and natural knack for recounting the madness of the rock-god days keep even those disinterested in the genre wholly entertained.
DANNY SAYS :: Tuesday, November 29 at the Luna Theater, 250 Jackson St. in Lowell, MA :: 7:35 p.m., $8 to $9.75, all ages :: Advance tickets :: Event page :: Featured photo by Brigid Berlin, courtesy of Magnolia Pictures