Brendan Toller’s documentary “Danny Says” to be released September 30

A year or so ago, as you may recall, I interviewed filmmaker Brendan Toller about Danny Says, a documentary that he’d been working on concerning the life, adventures and cultural impact of Danny Fields, the man who, among other things, got the Stooges signed to Elektra in 1968, and later went on to become the co-manager of the Ramones in 1975. Well, this past January, the film, which has been attracting good press in the wake of its South By Southwest debut, was picked up by Magnolia Pictures, and it looks like it’ll be hitting theaters, iTunes and Amazon Video on September 30. Here’s the trailer for the film, which Magnolia released earlier today.

And, here, in hopes that it might encourage you to see the film if it should happen to come through your town, is a brief excerpt from my interview with Toller, which you should really just read in its entirety. [The following clip came just after a discussion involving an encounter between Fields and Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein.]

MARK: Speaking of the Beatles, Danny claims to have been at least partially responsible for their breakup, given that it was his decision, as editor of the teen magazine Datebook, to play up John Lennon’s “(We’re) more popular than Jesus” quote in 1966, bringing it to the attention of folks in the Bible belt. Danny feels as though this act of his led to the protests and death threats against the Beatles, which ultimately led to their decision to stop touring, and their decision to break-up. Is that, in your opinion, the story of a life-long PR man looking to insert himself into rock and roll history, or do you think he really feels as though he brought about the downfall of the Beatles?

BRENDAN: To say Danny broke up the Beatles is, as Danny says, “to sell a candybar in twenty words or less.” He got the ball rolling, he got the conversation started. By ‘66, people in the public eye were starting to get in trouble for saying the right things. The 60s, as we now know them, were starting to emerge through the expression of artists like Bob Dylan and Lenny Bruce – provocateurs in a sense. Danny was publishing front-page headlines like, “It’s a country where anyone black is a dirty nigger” [Paul McCartney on the United States], or “Message songs are a drag” [Bob Dylan], to stoke the fire. Unfortunately, it was too much too soon, and, as with most situations in his life, Danny was way ahead of his time. Politically-revealing headlines are rarely seen on the newsstands, nevermind on the covers of a magazine geared toward 11-year-old girls in the 1960s. Danny’s spent his life defining a platform for the fringe. In ‘66, the Beatles were the biggest band in the world, but what about the Who? The Kinks? The Byrds? The Velvet Underground? Danny has always shined a light on the outre and obscure.

MARK: Regardless of his culpability in the breakup of the Beatles, it makes for a great story that the man who gave us the Ramones and Stooges also killed the Beatles… And, who knows, maybe we wouldn’t have had the Ramones or the Stooges had the Beatles kept making records. Maybe one thing had to happen to make room for the other.

BRENDAN: Danny always encouraged those that he admired and gave artists authority to tip the mainstream in an immensely influential way. The Beatles influenced a wave of kids to pick up guitars, but now it seems the Stooges, Ramones and Velvets are the template for contemporary music – a second wave.

MARK: Danny, by all accounts, was a brilliant young man. Assuming the historical record is correct, he was already at Harvard Law at 20, when he decided to drop out and return to New York. (Some sources give the year of birth his as ‘39, while others give it as ‘41.) Assuming you asked him, I’m curious as to why he dropped out and moved back to New York when he did. What was happening at that time, around 1960, that pulled him back? As he’s often credited with being one of the first publicly gay men in the music business, my guess is that it had something to do with the acceptability homosexuality within the New York arts scene, but I suspect there may have been other factors.

BRENDAN: Boys. Greenwich Village. Fabulous people versus monotonous work that would ultimately lead to a lucrative, but rather dull existence in all likelihood. As for Danny being out, he was never in. Sexuality never defined him as it defines so many today… The sooner we can get away from phrases like, “Oh, meet my friend Charlie, he’s gay,” the better. Independent thought, defiance, humor and (even on the shallow end) physical features are more interesting than sexual preference. There was a secret camaraderie amongst people who gravitated towards members of the same sex in New York for sure, but let’s also not forget it was illegal. People were arrested.

MARK: Is it upon returning to New York that he changed his name from Daniel Feinberg to Danny Fields? Did he talk with you at all about why he decided to make that change?

BRENDAN: Danny started work for a theater PR man and decided he was beginning a life in show biz. Gracie Fields. W.C. Fields. It was that, and to signify a break from the values of his parents, their morals and expectations. He was leaving the ivy life.

MARK: I’m not trying to make a comparison between the two, as Danny was clearly operating a much different level, but I recently watched the documentary Mayor of Sunset Strip about LA radio personality Rodney Bingenheimer, who seems to have had a knack for being at the right place at the right time and facilitating connections between people in the indusry, and I was wondering if there might be some commonality between the two men. Bingenheimer, as I suspect you know, was obsessed by celebrity, and was drawn to the music industry because, although he wasn’t a musician, he was compelled to be a part of it… And I’m just curious if there’s any of that motivating Danny. And, by saying that, I’m not suggesting that he was just a glorified groupie. He clearly wasn’t. But my sense has always been that that he was more a fan than just an industry guy who saw an opportunity to make money off of these people. Would I be wrong about that?

BRENDAN: “Mayor of the Sunset Strip” is a great doc! I think Danny was motivated to be in approximation of fabulous people that surprised and stunned with their talent or beauty. He has a knack for seeing someone’s potential. His medium is people really. There are many in his orbit who never blossom, but those who have, with his prodding and confidence, have made miracles. Iggy is a miracle a hundred times over.

MARK: What would have happened with Iggy, do you think, if not for Danny?

BRENDAN: I think he may have been the “forgotten boy.” I mean, literally Search and Destroy, one of the great rock ‘n’ roll songs of all time, would not exist if Danny had not insisted that Iggy meet Bowie.

MARK: I wasn’t aware that it was Danny that made that introduction.

BRENDAN: Paraphrasing the film… Iggy was watching Mr. Smith Goes to Washington at Danny’s apartment. Iggy was in town specifically to make career moves as the Stooges had been denied a recording option by Elektra records. The Stooges were sort of imploding. Danny was out, probably at Max’s, and called Ig three times. “David Bowie is here, he wants to meet you, you could do yourself some good.” The rest, as they say, is history…

As Magnolia has a pretty good track record, bringing films like The Wolfpack and Blackfish to broad audiences over the past few years, I’m hopeful that they can do the same thing for Danny Says. I know that Toller has invested years of his life in this, and I’d love for people to see it… Speaking of Magnolia, it’s probably also worth nothing that they’ve signed a deal to distribute Gimme Danger, the Jim Jarmusch documentary about Iggy and the Stooges, which also promises to be incredible.

Here’s the poster that Magnolia put out a little while ago, which is especially awesome if you know that Fields got his start in the industry as editor of the teen magazine Datebook.

DannySaysPoster

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3 Comments

  1. Bob
    Posted August 12, 2016 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    It’s a great film. One of the best music docs I’ve seen in recent years. But it’s more than that. It’s really about the power of free thinking and individuality. Qualities that are in short supply these days.

  2. Rat
    Posted August 12, 2016 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    I am going to try to live long enough to see this. Fingers crossed.

  3. Anonymous
    Posted August 12, 2016 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Finding a distributor isn’t a trivial task, especially one with a track record like Magnolia. Good work, BT.

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