Danny Fields, the legendary band's first manager, gives us the dish on new photo book 'My Ramones,' the band's real leanings, and punk turning 40.
"When the shooting began, the four Ramones wore their leather jackets; Tommy was the first to shed his, then after a Ramones-style 8-second intermission, Dee Dee and then Johnny got into T-shirt mode for the final four songs—Joey kept his jacket on the whole time."
Danny says the song wasn't really written about him. "It originally was 'Tommy Says,'" the Ramones first manager tells me, "because he was their de facto manager in the early days, and they changed it to 'Danny Says,' but I never booked them in Idaho." This is the kind of history lesson I get during the course of our two-and-a-half hour vodka date in the West Village: I suggest something I think I know about my all-time favorite band, and then I get the real story. "Irony is the subtitle of that band and everything in it," he does say. So I listen twice as carefully.
Perhaps the most punk thing Danny Fields wants to do is set the record straight—though Fields himself would tell you he's always hated the word "punk," and in fact, very little of the story's straight. But there is some truth in objecthood: I'll always have my Ramones albums (especially now that they're on mp3), and Fields has his photographs, a collection of which now sees new light in My Ramones, Fields upcoming photo book. Out in May from First Third Books, it contains primary source records of the band's first tour, the one where Fields wasn't sending anyone to the Gem State.
"It's a wonderful song," Fields admits of "Danny Says," somewhere into drink two. "It should have been a hit—it's a Phil Spector production, it's the title of of the movie... It has a life of its own.
"Another irony: I didn't make a penny."
But least of all is Fields bitter. He speaks fondly of the original fourpiece and their adventures together, from London to California, pausing only to correct my research-based inaccuracies. (And my grammar; Fields was a Harvard man, after all.) Everything I swear I know about the Ramones, it seems, is only partially true. I mention Johnny Ramone's conservatism and get a groan, one that seems to have augmented over years of answering the same question: the late guitar player—and band leader—was an American second, and a thorn in your foot first. Next.
The Ramones as punk originators in the United States? "London can own them. Ramones came, but it took Joe Strummer and the Pistols [...] all those bands. If it weren't for this, it would have just stagnated along, but now it blew up, and there was punk."
It's especially relevant today—though Fields would disagree—being that it's the year of Punk London, a very mainstream celebration of a counterculture as we know it turning 40. On July 4, Fields will speak at the British Library about the Ramones' first visit, the show said to have ignited whatever the anarchist word is for "movement."
"It’s good timing ‘cause eyes that never were on them are on them now. All the eyes and ears one would have wanted to have been on the Ramones back then, are now, because of the 4-0 big deal thing. Why not before? Who cared before?" Fields says of My Ramones coincidence with the launch. "And a bunch of the pictures sort of got famous in their own right, they were used when the occasion was right, or when a newspaper needed a picture, or something like that. So yeah, that’s why now."
Though, due to poor album sales, Fields was eventually ousted in 1980, his time with the band, as documented in My Ramones, is paramount in the annals of music history, punk and beyond. A Ramones poster Fields is particularly proud of, which you can find below, sums it up best: "Ramones Get Noticed," reads its title. What follows is an assemblage of both encouragement and vitriol from those who wanted to see the Ramones succeed and those who'd have seen them pack up and go back to Queens. Over the years, many of their detractors have asked Fields to remove their negative comments, a phenomenon he finds as fascinating as it is amusing. "I can’t change history," he annuls. "I can just change the take on it, or emphasis on the irony, because people think it means something else, like Brooklyn T-shirt irony. Not that kind of irony."
Though all four original members are deceased, and what lives on does so on actual Brooklyn bodies and in stadium-sized chants of "Hey ho, let's go," perhaps that's where Johnny, Joey, Tommy, and Dee Dee were most at home, that place where Fields is eternally their manager: somewhere simultaneously always and at once in between and completely removed from whatever it is you think.
Check out a selection of images from My Ramones, and their accompanying stories, below:
Click here to pre-order Danny Fields' My Ramones, shipping out May 9, 2016 from First Third Books.