The Jewish impresario behind the Ramones, the Doors and other rock legends

If you’re a rock fan, no matter your age, you’ve probably heard of bands like the Doors, the Ramones and the Stooges.

But chances are you haven’t heard of Danny Fields.

Fields, a Jewish guy from Forest Hills, Queens, deftly made the punk scene happen. He helped sign now-iconic groups to record labels, get them on magazine covers and, ultimately, etch them into the rock 'n' roll lexicon.

Born Daniel Henry Feinberg, Fields rose to prominence as the ultimate jack-of-all-trades. He was never a top executive, but with his myriad roles in the music business — publicist, artist liaison and manager, among them — Fields pressed all the right buttons. Many of the musicians he mentored took decades to “make it,” yet his forward-thinking taste is the stuff of legend among industry insiders.

“Danny is like the Zelig of punk — he’s everywhere and he’s so important with so many things,” Steven Lee Beeber, author of “The Heebie Jeebies at CBGB’s: A Secret History of Jewish Punk,” told JTA, referring to the chameleonic Woody Allen character. “We kind of live in Danny’s world today … [No one else had] his sensibility or the pulse of what was really coming.”

Now this unsung hero is having his own moment in the spotlight. “Danny Says,” a documentary out Sept. 30 — named for a song about him written by the Ramones — may be short on personal details but is full of the sex, drugs and music that Fields navigated during rock’s golden age.

Fields graduated from high school at 15 and earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania. He enrolled in Harvard Law School, but left after a year, embedding himself in New York City’s hip Greenwich Village scene in the early 1960s.

Over the course of that decade and the next, he befriended Andy Warhol and Lou Reed, publicized bands like the Doors and Cream, introduced Jim Morrison to the singer-model Nico, discovered MC5 as well as Iggy Pop and the Stooges, and managed the Ramones.

Fields intuitively understood something about buzz. Before working in the music business, he was an editor of the teen magazine Datebook. There he was the first to publish John Lennon’s quote about the Beatles being “more popular than Jesus,” which spawned a massive backlash and discouraged the group from touring again in the United States.

The film details all this and, perhaps surprisingly, also offers a glimpse into how Fields’ Jewish identity shaped his view of the world and its music scenes.

Danny Fields, center, without black jacket, with the members of the Ramones. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Fields grew up in a somewhat observant Jewish household and had a witty sense of humor about it. Among the several Jewish moments in the film, footage shows Fields watching a video from his bar mitzvah party and remarking, “Isn’t this mortifying?” An image of his Harvard yearbook shows that he drew blue Stars of David next to photos of his Jewish classmates.

While he may have embraced his Jewish identity, one of his biggest discoveries came from something Fields saw as the opposite. In September 1968, he traveled to Detroit to check out a new band called the Stooges and was knocked out by their visceral, heavy and, in his opinion, non-Jewish sound.

“Detroit is the most goyishe hub of civilization … That’s why I loved it so much,” Fields says in Beeber’s book. “[The guys here] were tall and big and butch, not like New York Jews.”

Fields, who is gay, called them “macho men.”

“I just thought the virility of it was something,” he said. “I mean, virility is not, shall we say, a characteristic of the Jewish community.”

Fields worked with the Stooges until the group's first breakup in the early '70s. A few years later he discovered the Ramones — a black-clad group of scruffy, fellow Forest Hills natives that Fields found more heimish.

“They were like the MC5 and the Stooges except that they were funny and ironic,” Fields says in the book. “And, like Jews, they were steeped in the showbiz tradition.”

Singer Joey Ramone (who was born Jeffrey Hyman) and drummer Tommy Ramone (born Thomas Erdelyi to Hungarian Holocaust survivors) were both Jewish. As Michael Croland, author of “Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk,” points out, the band also consciously toyed with Nazi themes and imagery, as evidenced in songs like “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “Commando.”

“While he laments this lack of virility and toughness, he also loves the braininess,” Beeber said.

The author said that what Fields loved about the Ramones when he saw them “is that they were like the MC5 and the Stooges, and yet they were also like a self-conscious joke about those kind of bands.”

“Danny Says” follows Fields' exploits, from doing drugs with Morrison, the Doors lead singer, to nearly getting punched in the face by a co-worker at Elektra. Legends like Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper and Patti Smith's Jewish guitarist Lenny Kaye offer amusing personal anecdotes.

However, the film omits Fields' post-Ramones life. He eventually fell from the industry’s inner circles and returned to journalism. Now 77 and still living in New York, Fields earlier this year released a book of Ramones photographs. He had vowed never to watch the final cut of the film about him, but wound up viewing a DVD that director Brendan Toller left him.

Though his peak years in the industry have passed, praise is still heaped on Fields. One could “make a convincing case that without Danny Fields, punk rock would not have happened,” The New York Times wrote in 2014. The dedication of rock journalist Legs McNeil’s 1996 book “Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk” reads: “this book is dedicated to Danny Fields, forever the coolest guy in the room.”

As Beeber puts it, Fields remains “forever at heart a nice Jewish boy who embodied punk’s simultaneous reaction against yet embrace of New York Jewishness.” Not a bad reputation to have.

Proud to be a baby boomer

Being a baby boomer is more than a statistic, it’s a state of mind. Boomers rock and everyone knows it. And by everyone I mean the baby boomers. We baby boomers tend to have a high opinion of ourselves, and there is plenty of evidence that supports that notion.

We are the majority in America — at least it feels like it — and in a democracy the majority rules. It doesn’t take a Mr. Wizard to tell you that of all the generations currently on Earth, the boomers have been the luckiest of all. Our parents, who are often referred to as the “Greatest Generation,” were born into a massive economic depression and grew up during a devastating world war. Bummer.

Boomers, on the other hand, were born into an era of great American prosperity and simplicity. A country where many families lived in the suburban splendor of two-car garages, manicured lawns and a swing set in the backyard. (And although swing set took on a whole different meaning in the ’70s, it was usually kept out of the backyard.) It was a time when people could park their cars in their driveways with the keys in the ignition and leave their front doors unlocked with nothing more to fear than having their nosy neighbor Gladys drop in at dinnertime. 

Yes, it’s quite clear as we look back on the early life and times of the baby boomers, that we are the lucky ones. One of the driving ambitions of our parents was to make the world a better place for their kids and give them everything that they didn’t have when they were children. And we, the kids, were the beneficiaries. If we wanted ice cream and candy, we got both. 

The Beatles

When our birthdays or Christmas rolled around we made long lists of toys that we saw advertised on TV during after-school or Saturday morning programming. Some of us did additional shopping from store catalogs that came in the mail from Sears, Roebuck and Co. or Montgomery Ward. Since our parents didn’t want to disappoint us they usually bought us everything we asked for even if they couldn’t afford it. Is it any wonder we developed into the “Me” generation? 

While every generation has a fondness for the pop culture of their times, there’s no arguing with a boomer that ours is the greatest. And we continue to hold on to that legacy tighter than a G.I. Joe with kung fu grip. Remember that we were the first generation to grow up with both television and rock ’n’ roll, which had a profound affect on our formative years.

Rock ’n’ roll is the official music of the baby boomers. Rooted in rhythm and blues and country music, rock ’n’ roll’s liberating joy and rebellious tone helped define our generation like no other music could. By the time each boomer was old enough to fill their teenage dance shoes, rock ’n’ roll was there to give them something to twist and shout about. 

From the early days of Elvis and Chuck Berry to the British invasion to the psychedelic daze of purple haze on through to the sound of heavy metal thunder and alt-rock, the genre has supplied the soundtrack to baby boomers’ lives. Who else but us can lay claim to growing up on the immortal sounds of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and the Beach Boys. Or more “high”-minded musicians like the Doors, Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead and, for many, the Bee Gees (who were more high-pitched than minded). 

Many of us were raised on television at a time when there were only three networks and a couple of local stations, yet you could always find something good to watch. It was a time when reality TV was known as the nightly news and the stars of the show were respected journalists like Walter Cronkite, Harry Reasoner, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. They all had an avuncular quality that projected an image of trustworthiness. Plus, they only subjected us to the harsh reality of the news for 30 minutes. 

Wilt Chamberlain

What other generation would so fanatically embrace TV shows about talking horses, suburban housewife witches or flying nuns? Those shows tickled our imaginations and instilled in us a more frivolous attitude towards life than our parents had — like maybe when we grew up all of our problems could be solved with the twitch of a nose or a blinking genie wearing a midriff. 

As for our sports heroes — think Mickey Mantle, Wilt Chamberlain and Johnny Unitas — they became legends based solely on their athletic abilities with no additional “chemical enhancements” other than Wheaties or Yoo-Hoo. They were the real thing, and it didn’t cost our fathers a week’s pay to take us to see them play.

But it wasn’t just the simplicity of the times or the quality of the entertainment and sports figures that make being a boomer great. We pride ourselves on bringing about change. During the ’60s and ’70s, many boomers joined the protest generation. They marched, chanted and carried signs railing against war, prejudice and injustice and fought for peace, love and equality for all. The boomers embraced their parents’ dream of giving their children a better world and they ran with it, even if it meant rebelling against them to do so. Whether they were burning their draft cards or their bras, they put themselves on the line for what they believed in. 

Walter Cronkite

No matter how fondly we flash back on those happy days through our rose-colored granny glasses, growing up a boomer was not one big Fluffernutter and Fizzies party. There was the dark side of the boom. 

The ’60s were buckshot with political assassinations, an escalating war in Vietnam and a divisive battle between the generations. The ’70s became a breeding ground for excessive drug abuse, a presidential resignation and — perhaps worst of all — leisure suits. And for the later boomers, the ’80s morphed into the ’70s-on-steroids decade, only with bigger hair and less streaking.

Somehow we survived it all and are now comfortably entrenched in the 21st century, striving to remain a vital force in the world and vigorously continuing down the winding road on our long, strange trip.

In retrospect, on the surface the boomers appear to be a frivolous lot living in a perpetual state of prolonged adolescence clinging to the things that connected them to their youth, like their classic rock music, silly television shows and weird fads. Perhaps our fixation with the past is what keeps us young at heart and inspires us to defy time and age so we can, as we used to say, “Keep on Truckin’.” 

Sure, sometimes our actions were misguided, and we often lost our way taking dark roads of excess that lead to pain, ruin and some monstrously horrible fashions. But for a time, we stood together as one and discovered the power of unity — and for better or worse, changed the status quo. 

And while some may argue with our generation’s grandiose view of itself, others will join us in saluting our cherished legacy with our ostentatious cry, “Say it loud: I’m a boomer and I’m proud!

Pat Sierchio is a freelance writer and co-writer/co-producer of the stage comedy “Boomermania: The Musical About the Baby Boomers.”