Perfect Sound Forever

Danny Fields

A few benefactors of Mr. Fields

interview by Tim Broun, Part II

PSF: At the same time, there was still the generation gap. Were your parents kind of threatened by this music?

DF: I don't know that they were threatened. They didn't approve of it, that's all. They watched Ed Sullivan to see Senor Wences, and now they're showing this nonsense. My father would say, "I play guitar better than that guy does," and he's probably be right. There was the delivery, and the Ed Sullivan Show was one part of the delivery, and radio too.

Now, Ed Sullivan, you didn't turn the dial. You ate at 8:00 on Sunday night, and you watched Ed Sullivan, so it was up to him what you were exposed to. That was the means of delivery, and it could be preceeded by something spectacular like a number one record. He made up the menu. Important - extremely important, any show like that, because television then was in its early adolescence, and had enormous power like the power of the Internet today. I can only compare it to very few things in life, universal things, the emerging power of women is one, and television.

Ed Sullivan was in black and white, and I remember the dancers and the theme, and everyone would sit around, so did every family in America. And if they showed you the Doors, and it became a newspaper controversy because sang "higher" - the DRUG LINE - it made a lot of news and it was very good. Everything he did in '68 was very good for him.

That was a strike! I think it should happen on more than one level at once. The Monkees - the advent of the Monkees preceeded, very strategically, to strike on television as a record, and on the covers of the fan magazines, at once! That's how well coordinated that was. And you know what? It wasn't so bad. When you think about all the people who became bands because they were 6 years old and they saw the Monkees and the Patridge Family having a good time.

I trace it to that, and their parents dropping them off at a Kiss concert. One mother would be the victim of having 6 eight year olds at a Kiss concert. They all started a band. They don't all love Kiss but it was so exciting and glamorous for them. They struck on that level. I don't know if they had a single that had a life of it's own, but they had other things that had a life of their own. Their image had a life of its own.

PSF: Their live show?

DF: I never saw (their) live show, I don't want to. I could imagine. I've seen enough of them on television. For kids, it was like watching an animated movie, and it was rock and roll. You could go home, put white facepaint on, and you could get mommy to buy you that guitar for Christmas, and the set of drums in the basement, and become a little band. So, the Kiss babies struck.

Now if anything is striking like that today, it may be in the worlds of other races and cultures. My original thing was that first, it's upper middle class kids for whom it was acceptable... it was all kids who were supposed to become the professional takeover of the next generation, but went into rock and roll. They somehow found, as I did, that it was sexy.

That it was your own people that were in the band. There were people like me at the record companies. You made friends, and we understood the unspoken manners and language and gestures of the upper middle class. This was very unique because my father was a doctor and my mother was a teacher, and now I'm in rock and roll, and they are going "Oy!" My father was a doctor, my uncle was a dentist. I couldn't remember. Every uncle was a doctor or a dentist, or else they were in my grandfathers business. It was not preordained - they didn't come 100 years ago from the schtuddles to see me take up with this bunch of rowdy, long haired, they probably have smelly feet kids.

None the less, the elite of Manhattan went to schools like Fieldston and Horace Mann where they concentrated on sitting 'round the campfire and communism - that was the genesis of folk which became folk rock. Joni Mitchell fell into that, and Judy Collins came here, and Paul Butterfield. Jewish upper middle class kids. Or not Jewish like the McGuinns or Grace Slick, but upper middle class. And before that, rock and roll or music, that was white and popular had been hillbilly or Italian or immigrant - you know, second generation, like the crooners. People like Eddie Fisher who had to sing like an Italian crooner.

Those were the days of that and then came a chance for the doo wop kids, or the black kids. We didn't... we were looking for something, "Michael Row the Boat Ashore" or something. I can only speak for myself. I kind of see it as a generational thing.

On my first trips to California in the early sixties, and in the Factory in New York, you would meet people who came from parents who said, "What the fuck are you doing in New York with someone called Andy Warhol with a white wig?" Or "What the fuck are you doing playing drums when we sent you to the best schools, and when we gave you everything?" That's what happened worldwide.

Even when Paul (McCartney) spoke to me once at his house about their (the Beatles) early days, he said "You know John was considerably upper class from us. He was up the hill, and we were what you would call upper lower class, but John was definitely middle class." So they recognized that. And I'm sure the Stones recognized that Mick Jagger had gone to London School of Economics, and he was much more middle class that the trash in London. The Cliff Richards types. They sort of felt evolved. And along came acid and an entire generation changed its place in the time-space continuum thing.

PSF: Do you think acid evened the playing field?

DF: No, I think it raised the playing field. I think it went from here to here, but who knows how high you can raise it? But the world sure was different once you had taken acid. I don't mean as a teenager substituting it for a six-pack and rioting in the streets of MacDougal, but for the middle class dopers who tried acid, their lives were never the same. And still aren't.

I don't know about the Wilson family - the lunatic fascists from southern California. They might as well be part of that too. Their father sold cars or something? They were anything but Jewish upple middle class with aspirations towards dentistry, but they too, especially Brian... little freak show in northern California - perfect breeding ground. It was the place where the better families in America would send unwanted younger children who seemed to have a problem finishing their law school doctorates. What's the furthest, how far can you get from here? Well, there's this little peninsula in California in Marin County. Send them to Marin County. It's the farthest you can get. It fills up and spills over into San Francisco. So you get this community of completely gorgeous kids who are smart and cool, and had the best educations, and just didn't want to go onto the treadmill. So they became the Grateful Dead and Big Brother and everything. That was from Marin, down into San Francisco.

It was more than a musical thing, and it was more than a picture cutie cartoon thing. It really was the basis of the new music of what became the music that dominated the last third of the last century, which is what you are interested in now. Whatever is happening now is a either a remnant of it or an augur of what is to come next, about which I would like to hear your opinion.

PSF: One of the things I think about is the generation of the '60's, because so many of the of the people who are parents now grew up listening to all of this music... so I don't think rock and roll or that lifestyle is necessarily as shocking as it used to be, and doesn't have the same effect, so I don't think it's as interesting...

DF: Well it has an effect costume-wise - what make up is she he wearing tonight? You're going out like that? But that's not essential. That's just you have to do something to irritate your parents. You might as well put on lipstick.

PSF: I don't think there's that generation gap that there was.

DF: It wasn't just generation gap- it was a universal gap - it was a world being born.

PSF: The counterculture that you are talking about the early days of - the folk rock into the rock and rock and long hair - when it was still shocking for young men to have hair over their ears all of that...

DF: Can you imagine driving into any truck stop in Oklahoma with that long hair in 1967?

PSF: No.

DF: And can you imagine driving in now and NOT having that long hair?

PSF: Right, and all of that including into the punk rock days, the Ramones and the Sex Pistols and all that stuff that was still very shocking then and scared "society." It's all been co-opted because of the the speed of the media, and the method of delivery nowadays. It's all been coopted into society.

DF: What do you mean 'co-opted'? That implies some sinister motive. Why don't you say integrated?

PSF: Integrated, OK, but also co-opted.

DF: 'Co-opted' implies swindled, which I agree with you when I see Justin Timberlake. What is there about him?

PSF: He's a pop star. He's Donny Osmond.

DF: "Coming next season - an evening with Justin Timberlake!" What's he done to be a star?

PSF: When I say 'co-opted,' I mean it's how quickly things get sucked up into use as advertising. New up & coming bands can't get played on the radio any longer. They look to be used in movies and on TV commercials.

DF: The reason Iggy Pop is a millionaire is because of "Lust For Life" on a Carribean cruise lines commercial, and I always knew that, and it applies to the Ramones too. It's one of the reasons I love them. But carried out to an extreme is that "Hey ho, let's go" is a universal cheer in football stadiums in Alabama, and everyone thinks "I Wanna Be Sedated" was a number one hit. They just do. But it didn't even get on the charts, but now it's like an anthem. They never did have airplay in terms of a 2 minute 47 second single.

A lot of that had to do with fear on the part of the broadcasters that this punk rock represented. I was talking about this to my hero on this panel last night. My hero who I never met before last night. There are very few people I stagger back from when I meet. You have to guess who he is... ask me twenty questions. You know the one they threw out of the band and replaced with Sid Vicious?

PSF: Glen Matlock.

DF: Yeah, Glen Matlock. I asked him to say his name again, and he said his name, and I said, "Oh my God!" and I started to tremble!

PSF: He's the unsung hero of the Sex Pistols.

DF: I said, "You are, and I know it - I don't know it from being there but I know it from knowing people who know it, that that first album is one of the greatest albums in the history of the world is you." And then he started being the usual modest "No, it wasn't. There were people who did this and did that..."

I said, "You'll never convince me... that's one of the five albums I'd take to a desert island." And he was standing next to a Buzzcock! And Alan Vega - it was a great panel - it was part of Howl (Festival). There I was sitting with Arturo of the Ramones, CJ Ramone, a Sex Pistol (Matlock), a Buzzcock who I don't know by name and Alan Vega. The only girl I knew was a Lunachick, Elda Stilletto, who was in Blondies first band.

I felt like saying "this is so elitist." Look at this crowd! The Ramones, the Sex Pistols, the Buzzcocks, Suicide, on one little stage passing a microphone back and forth. I was thinking this was historically amazing. I was thinking "what an elitist fucking bunch of punks we are." Those bands are pretty echelon-esque, and it was. There you go again. The old thing's come back. The rankings of society come around again - dukes, barons, viscounts. The whole world separates itself out.

Where it's going now in terms of electronic delivery, I don't know! I can't imagine. There are people walking around with these these things in their ears. There are the ones yapping on the phone and I find them revolting. It's not like "I'm sorry, I'm going to be late can you just wait." I mean the ones that are just strolling along, yapping away. I mean, holy smoke! What did these people think before? Did they think, did they look, did they think of people passing by? Where were they putting whatever output they had, where were they putting it out? Don't you wonder? It's not that long ago.

PSF: I do...

DF: What were they doing?

PSF: I don't know (laughter). Which to answer your question about where is it going next, meaning music I guess...

DF: I don't mean music. I mean what we call that part of our lives that maybe doesn't have a name just yet. Maybe it's called 'leisure activity' or podcasting or post-broadcasting or all in one...

PSF: When you asked me that before I thought it was pertaining to music... we're really covering a lot of big picture stuff here.

DF: That's what I try to get people to do who are as serious about it and as intelligent as you are and as culturally aware.

What's going to stamp itself on our consciousness? I don't know. If I had 20 year old, 30 year old children... I don't know. I think they would be finding a lot of things to do that I think their world would be opening if they used the computer for other than downloading dirty movies in torrents which I've been doing... (laughter)... or something. Making friends, or watch good television shows... it's going to be that. Unless it's big brother. You remember every apartment had a speaker in it and told you what to do and what time it was and where you were expected. Unless you are talking about a reversion to a parental society, I think it's just going to open up more and more.

Probably the last and most disasterous place it will open will be politically and religiously. I use 'religiously' in quotes. I think it's all so foolish, but it's not, obviously. Nothing foolish could build that many beautiful buildings. I mean there's something there in a gothic cathedral or a Taj Mahal or the Palace of La Hassa. There's something so beautiful that it's spiritual. I'm unable to go into it, but that's a bigger picture. As much as I despise religion in its organized, catachizing, tendentious way, I realize that it's the mini-fraction of some iceberg that's on the surface of what this is all about. When you're really old and you've taken a lot of acid and Special-K, what else is there to wonder about? Except look at that flower... look at the puddle of oil. You remember that... but also it's been accompanied, for me anyhow, by such extraordinary experiences that I don't believe could have happened without the acid, but I could be wrong.

PSF: I've had similar experiences... I always remember this trip to Mexico. Sitting on a kayac in a bay with this beautiful clear blue water, and just having one of those moments of real clarity. Completely awe-inspired and speechless with the beauty of the world.

DF: Were you peyote loading?

PSF: No, completely sober!

DF: That goes away... (laughter) and you start dividing it up.

PSF: It comes and goes.

DF: That's the future of everything... it comes and goes. I mean look at YouTube. A friend of mine interviewed me for YouTube, and I did it as a favor. And when it was finished, they phoned back and said "We have to admit it's not good. You don't have a good relationship. You're confrontational."

I said, "I know about interviews. I know about being interviewed. I know about being the one who does it. I've been on both sides of the table. I know about a conversation. I know about a panel." If I was confrontational... and he was asking questions like "When did you stop beating your wife?" or the equivalent thereof.

So I said "When you interview people, sometimes you're stuck with people whose work you don't like." And he said, "And then you hate it." I said, "No! I love it! The best interviews are with people whose work I hate, or have contempt for." Because I go looking for something else, you know? As an interview, as a human being. The best interview I think I ever had was Tony Orlando.

I was going to interview Tony Orlando - I was aquiver. How was I going to relate to this person on a human level? Well, he's a big star. And well, he knows how to relate to people on a personal level. As revolting as I think what he does is, or what he looks like is, you don't get to be that (way) unless you've got something cooking, and he really had something cooking. And we really hit it off. It was great, and I hated when it was over. I wanted to be his friend, he wanted to be mine. We had a great time. Tony Orlando! (Laughter.) I'm waiting for my chance to interview Marcel Proust and they gave me Tony Orlando! You make the best of it. That's what it's all about, is making fun with what you've got. So It's up to people to decide what they've got and they've got so much.

They say books are doing badly, but I walk into a book shop and gasp at the range and specificity and wonderfulness of books. Or I read the New York Review of Books and I see there are eight ads from Princeton Press. There are these dozen things that you feel like "I've got to know all about the Inca - I want to know all about civilization before Machu Picchu! Gee, I should mark that down." Then you go "Maybe I should go to the gym and stretch out a little." (Laughter) And thats sort of what it comes to for me.

Of course, it's a function of age, but when I was young I wasn't like a basketball player. I was the opposite, I was a sissy. I had no athletic activity until I started to do probably yoga and it was fun. Pushing your body for a while. At first it's hard, and then it takes over, and it becomes, as any runner will tell you, it becomes a thing of itself. I do it for the joy. I do it to be at my personal best like when I'm singing or anything. Last night, I asked for a final wrap up. I said "I want to know what each of you is looking forward to, or tell me what you think is going to happen for you, or tell me something good that you hope for."

Someone said, "I still want to be a big rock and roll star... blah blah blah." And I know that to be a rock and roll star, you have to work hard, and put up with a lot of bullshit, and just do your best.

And I said, "Same about being a nurse or a shoemaker." Yes, OK, now where do we go? So they didn't know. They were just giving me these cliches like the Sunday morning sermon. "You too can be your best if you put yourself into it." Yes, I know that. Give me a pill that will do that for me. But no, it's work. That's the whole point.

(The phone rings - a friend calls to let Danny know that Jonathan Richman saw the Stooges in Japan, and will be calling to talk to him about it.)

DF: He can't wait to tell me about it - how it changed his life. Now this is Jonathan Richman whom I've known since he was 16. Who was a worshipper of Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. And because he's such a special person, has developed a world wide audience of adoring, with a capital A, fans. Do you need much more than that? He was in There's Something about Mary, he wrote all the music for it. I'm sure he's not starving, but do you need to be Eddie Van Halen? Famous for how many things you can do with your fingers in the same second? There's different ways of being famous. You can be a lot of things. You take your choice, and what you are good for you will end up as.

It could be Dolly Parton. She could only have been Dolly Parton, god bless her. I love Dolly Parton. When I got into country music I thought, "Oy... this will really be...!" and I asked someone who are the ones in Nashville I should ever never say anything bad about? It was Steve Forbert. He gave me a list. Patsy Cline was at the head of that one. Waylon Jennings. Then he said George Jones. And I didn't know his music. This is the early '80's. And I made myself familiar with enough of George Jones to know that he is one of greatest male singers who have ever lived. It just doesn't take you long to figure that out. It's right there. He opens his mouth and you know it's there. Physically, I find him as unattractive as one can be, although he takes good care of himself from time to time. The famous legendary George Jones turned out to be, appropriately, legendary, and rightfully so.

Then I went to see Walon Jennings, and the curtain went up, and there was this magic. Willie Nelson... Once the spotlight went on at Radio City in front of 5 or 6000 people and then he starts to sing and he tears you apart! It's not a category. It's not an anything. There's no difference. If you want me to say that rock and roll destroyed what came before, I can't say that. It took off in a different direction.

When I heard the Stooges for the first time on a Sunday afternoon in 1968 in Ann Arbor at a student union at the university... and people ask me what it was like when I first saw Iggy... I say the first thing that happened to me when I walked into that gymnasium was that I heard something that just stopped me dead in my tracks. It was the music I had been wanting to hear all my life, but I had never heard. You can't imagine it...

PSF: It went right through you...

DF: Yeah, you'll know it when you see it. It was just like, "...this is the synthesis of everything that's wonderful." Then going along with it was this lunatic on stage, and I signed them that night. The next morning we were on the phone to Jac Holzman - the manager of the MC5, the manager of the Stooges and me. I told him I had seen two great bands.

They never understood the Stooges. That's the great irony. They hated them. I had been fired, but I was still a de facto manager. We went to the basement in Stooge Manor, and they played their new songs for the album that was going to come after Fun House. I was sort of beaming thinking they had done some good work. We get back to the hotel, and Bill tells me he didn't hear anything. So they dropped them. Bill was from Elektra who reluctantly acquiesced to the signing. Nothing was expected of the first two records at the label because the singles were too fierce. Now it's a television commercial! That's where we were going... that everything was too long. Life is too short.

When I heard the Ramones for the first time finally, after they were begging and pleading, "Please come and see us!" I look at them and I say [first impression] "Good." Good look. The first words out of Joey's mouth were "I don't wanna go down to the basement." I thought, "Thats a song?!" It was over, end of song, and I thought, "That's it, that's the future." Songs were too long, but this was it. That very night I told them I wanted to be their manager.

PSF: That was '75?

DF: That was '75, yeah. I just knew it. They told me they needed $3000 dollars to buy drums. I said OK, I would do it. I'd ask my mother, I don't know. My parents they said "You usually have good taste so..." My mother was the mother of punk rock! She got the Ramones started. It was really my fathers money because she didn't make money. He's probably rolling in his grave at this moment.

Although, when he was a doctor, he was a GP. I was very friendly with Linda (Eastman) and she disappeared. Then she reappeared married to Paul (McCartney), and she was headlines. He was very proud to say to all his patients.

We had fights. We threw things. He once hit me because I told him he had the world's worst taste. That's when he hit me. I actually called him on his mediocre middle class taste.

I was one of a bunch... I was maybe a little earlier... I think my other friends my age were more interested in playing chess or bridge or learning the latest dance steps. We liked top songs and that. But I guess it's not until you've experienced it, you know, sitting in front of the Jackson Pollock (painting) - the big one at the Modern? (One: Number 31, 1950) In my lunch hour, I would go and just stand there and stare at it. Then someone maybe writes that Jackson Pollock may be overrated. And I'd think, "Fuck you, art critic! Not in my life he's not."

What's going to unite them? It will be something on television. It'll be American Idol. Who's lost, who's found. Some reality gaga. The foreseeable future will be dominated by this trash, these women who are always being arrested for driving into trees. They are considered the most beautiful and magazine cover worthy representatives of their generation. I think that's bullshit. There are so many more interesting people who are in movies that aren't usually hyped, even some that are.

Although I heard an interview with Paris Hilton, and she wasn't so bad. She was sweet. She reminded me of Edie (Sedgwick) - she was much sweeter than she looked. I thought she was a monster with that crooked smile, and that "come and get me boys." But I heard her talk and she sounded OK. Like she knew what was happening. Basically like a sweet person which I got from Edie too.

PSF: Once you can hear them speak, it goes beyond the pictures.

DF: Yes, it goes beyond the pictures, the antics, the marriages, the pregnancies, and the who can keep track and who cares. She's OK. I can't really hate her. I can't think of anyone I do, you know? That's their gig. Someone likes it somewhere. That's good enough for me. I'm the first to say "I love so and so..."

But this Rufus Wainwright experience, which was ghastly, and the Paleface experience which was ghastly... These talented, beautiful poets, who on the side are lunatics, send up red flags for me now. Maybe it's because I'm old and one foot in the grave anyhow. I'm not about to risk it all on one person who turns out to be a speedfreak, and I never knew it. No. I don't want to take that on. I'm not taking on anything.

People tell me to write my memoirs. I think that's old fashioned... sort of dated and vain. It's like having your own website. People ask me if I have my own website. No! What would I put on it?

PSF: I was going to ask you about a book.

DF: Believe me, other people have thought about it for me, but it's never happened. (Phone rings.) This may be Jonathan Richman... it's too bad you can't record the call. (Laughter.)

(Jonathan & Danny discuss the Stooges and the Ramones. Danny is kind enough to let me listen in. Jonathan's strong New England accent surprises me, and it's sort of thrilling to hear him describe seeing the Stooges as a fan. Danny hangs up...)

DF: Wasn't that wonderful?

PSF: He had the same reaction I did! I watched a Stooges show online streaming on the BBC website. A recent one from England. I sat there and watched the stream online, and they fucking blew my mind. I had the same reaction! They did the same thing with the crowd on the stage (that Jonathan described). I got goosebumps from them. It completely surprised me how incredibly powerful they were. That (listening to the phone call) was neat though... Nice to hear that Massachusetts accent.

DF: I know, I know. I so appreciate him saying "You heard them, you saw them."

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