danny-says

I recently had a phone interview with Brendan Toller who is the director of the newly released documentary Danny Says. The film, reviewed on this site, is a biography of Danny Fields, a publicist, manager, and record executive who had a decisive impact on rock, particularly punk rock. Fields was instrumental in propelling such groups as The Ramones, The Stooges, and The Doors to fame.

Danny Says is the second film which Toller has directed. The first, released in 2008 when Toller was all of 22, was I Need That Record! The Death (or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store. The film dealt with the collapse of local record outlets.

As we began our conversation, Toller mentioned that music has always meant a great deal to him since he was a kid. Therefore it is not surprising that the first two movies which he has directed have had music as their subject.

Toller said that he met Fields while working on I Need That Record! Although the interview footage that was shot of Fields was not used, a relationship was struck which led to the making of Danny Says. (The footage of Fields apparently was left on the proverbial cutting room floor because as a major figure in the music industry, Fields was routinely given records and apparently had little need for music stores).

We discussed how Fields was something of an intellectual prodigy, graduating sixth in his class at Penn State at the age of 19 and dropping out of Harvard Law School in his early twenties. Toller said that Fields drifted back and forth between the counterculture scene in Boston and Manhattan, in the process coming into the orbits of Edie Sedgwick and Andy Warhol. Sedgwick and Warhol were among the first of two famous names that would intersect with Fields’ life.

In the mid-1960’s, Fields appointed himself to be Jim Morrison’s and The Doors’ press agent when they were largely unknown. Toller said that Fields was instrumental in publicizing the bare chested photograph of Morrison which of course obtained iconic status. Toller said that Morrison was unhappy about that type of promotion, feeling that it detracted from his image as a serious musician.

We also discussed Judy Collins’ appearance in Danny Says. I said that I thought that it was surprising that Collins appeared in a film that largely dealt with the development of punk rock. Toller said that Danny’s involvement with Collins’ career in the 60’s demonstrated that Fields could be somewhat eclectic in his musical tastes. Toller also stated that Collins was actually instrumental in the completion of Danny Says as she personally guaranteed that the production would reach its Kickstarter goal.

I also asked Toller about the New York Times quote that, “You could make a convincing case that without Danny Fields, punk rock would not have happened.” Toller indicated that although he thought that Fields’ influence was decisive, the punk rock music scene probably would have developed anyway though perhaps in a somewhat different direction. We also discussed how Fields basically discovered The Ramones in the 1970’s in New York and was instrumental in the promotion of the band.

In talking with Toller I sensed that there was something of a social conscience that he wished to present in his films that reminded me of Michael Moore’s work. I have yet to see I Need That Record!, but the film apparently uses the disappearance of local record stores to raise larger social and economic issues. No less than Noam Chomsky appears in I Need That Record!

In response to a question about his future projects, Toller mentioned that he was working on a film about the band Miracle Legion.

The interview was scheduled for 15 minutes and lasted for 30. I felt that we could have spoken at least for another hour about the multi-faceted impact that Fields has had on popular music and really not come close to exhausting the subject. Those interested in other aspects of Fields’ career such as his time at Elektra Records, his relationship to Iggy Pop and The Stooges, MC5, and The Beatles will simply have to see the film.

Danny Says opened September 30 at the Sundance Sunset Cinemas in West Hollywood and is also available on Amazon Video, VOD and iTunes.