I have met a lot of famous people. I hate being asked, ‘Who is the biggest celebrity you know?’ Fame means nothing to me. Being a cool, rad, passionate person- I don't care what it is you are into- the ocean, guacamole, roller skating, music- is everything. Devoting your life to something that is meaningful not just to yourself but that helps or inspires other people? A rare and probably one of the most beautiful traits a person can have, in my humble opinion.
So when you actually come across someone who has contributed so hugely to culture and history in a completely behind the scenes, low key, passion driven way, it is as rare as a chupacabra in England (they don’t know what those are here). Especially when you think about how much their selflessness has transformed the lives of so many people they will never know.
I can think of few people who fall into this elite category. There is one I am lucky enough to now call a friend, a confidante, and, dare I say, an inspiration for me to be a better person. His name is Danny Fields.
As a devotee of books, punk rock and rock and roll, I have known who Danny was for a long, long time. He was one of those mythical people who seemed to always be at the right place at the right time, that proverbial finger on the pulse dude, where the pulse was always beating a hundred miles a minute and cutting huge swaths away and beyond conformity, brashly marching into the abyss of originality. How could one person have worked with the Doors, discovered the Stooges and managed the Ramones? He knew Edie, Nico and pretty much ever icon who mattered in the 1960s and 1970s. Andy Warhol himself even wrote that he would love to film Danny’s life story. I can easily see why.
I first spoke to Danny on Skype. I was interviewing him for a book I was contributing to on Iggy Pop. How do you talk to someone like this, someone who is cooler than anyone else probably alive, just by his taste alone, not to mention his heavy hand in making so many important and magical pop moments happen? I quickly found out. Danny is magnetic in that way that people always strive to be, but can only come by organically, possessing that rare X factor that few really have. You want to hear what he says, what he thinks. Nothing is ever mediocre or status quo. It is awesome or awful. And he means it. No apologies. I left the call being totally humbled that he would take the time to speak to me. More importantly, he reminded me of the humanity behind the legends. He himself had always seemed larger than life, but there I was, debating if it is sacrilege or fantastic that 13 year old kids are buying Ramones T-shirts from Primark without a clue as to who they were or what they stood for. His passion is for the people and the art, not the fame and the notoriety. This I found hugely appealing and admirable. Danny is the bridge between the actual and the ascended. He knew the people behind the idealized icon, while at the same time being such an admirable figure himself.
Sometimes, a lot of the time, I look at pictures of people I idolize who have been gone for more years than I have been alive. And they don’t seem human. They are ‘real’ like Big Bird or a cartoon character you have grown up with. The same with rock history- I am too young to remember punk, not born for the hippie movement or Motown or many of the musical moments that inspire me (yes, Linda McCartney took the snap below of Danny and Nico. And he is so low key about it all, I would not know unless I researched and stalked him).
However, a weird thing has happened lately. My life has become history. I have students that I teach writing about ‘Generation X,’ Kurt Cobain, the Seattle scene, the 90s. What I lived through, what I worked in, what I BELIEVED IN, has become another narrative, mostly not accurate, cut up into sound bites and sellable images. People like Kurt or Layne or Elliot, all people I met or worked with, are the same cardboard cut-out to others that Nico, Edie and Jim are to me. And it is weird. In this way, I am the bridge.
Danny is in London at the moment. Yesterday he asked me to meet him at the National Portrait Gallery. As I got off the tube, I realized that I never go to the museums anymore. I am too busy, too rushed, too many other ‘important’ things. When I used to visit London, I would always, always go to Trafalgar Square and the National Portrait Gallery. Yes, they are hugely touristy. But they are beautiful. I was once again awestruck by the architecture as I emerged from underground. Wow. I live here. I was struck by how breathtaking the very place I live in is. The very place I so often rush by is just such a glorious monument to living. Yet, even when I run by it on my way to another 'urgent' meeting, I don't see it. I was immediately thankful to Danny for suggesting this rendezvous spot.
As we walked through the various rooms, Danny pointed out random paintings of long lost courtiers and duchesses and socialites. He got so excited about the stories that were attached to some of the pictures. His passion made me stop, made me read. He was just being Danny, but his attention to the detail, to the little things that made for a snap shot of what was surely a bigger, better story encapsulated in a short blurb and some old artwork was such a gift.
I could see how this man had made so many things happen, why so many people, from singers to writers to random strangers he chatted to throughout the day, wanted to know him. His generosity of spirit, ideas and verve is contagious. He is the guy that connects people, that wants things to happen because it is the right thing, not because he is going to make money, or make him cool (he probably could not be any cooler, anyhow) or be (more) famous. His profusion of ideas, thoughts and inspirations seems limitless, as is his ease with sharing them with those around him.
Soon, Danny is going home to New York. I hope that I can keep a little part of him with me, that flame of excitement, of adventure, and of appreciating and admiring the every day. It is here that we find inspiration. Thank you, Danny, for being in my life, for being my friend, and reminding me of all of the good things that happen if we follow what we love wholeheartedly and unabashedly.
PS If you are a Ramones fan or just want to see some glorious images, check out Danny's fabulous book, My Ramones. Its all his snaps from his time with the band. And even though Warhol did not live to make a movie about Danny, Brenden Toller, that lucky sod, did. Click here to find out more about Danny Says.