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Yale's Beinecke Library acquires New York rock legend Danny Fields' papers

Calling Danny Fields’ West Village apartment a rock ‘n’ roll treasure trove is accurate, but doesn’t really do it justice.

Danny Fields, in his apartment.
Jim Bessman

The hallways and rooms are packed floor-to-ceiling with books, recordings, photos, videos, artwork and memorabilia collected in a career extending back to the early 1960s--and impactful on American and especially New York culture to such an extent that Fields is now busy cataloging it all for transport to Yale University’s Beinecke Library.

“I’m truly excited that Danny’s papers are coming to the Beinecke Library,” says Timothy Young, curator of modern books and manuscripts at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library—to use the facility's proper name.

“I work with a group of curators here who are expanding our collections to encompass a wider definition of the creative act,” explains Young. “Danny’s papers are a good example of those new paths for collecting and research. While we still have a strong focus on literature and history--including a great deal of material relating to Modernist movements of the early-to-mid 20th century--we have been bringing in archives of more recent vintage.”

These include the library’s recent acquisition of the papers of PUNK magazine founding publisher John Holmstrom; those of Australian author Richard Neville, who started the counterculture magazine Oz; and those of the artist/sound poet Henri Chopin.

Young points to the 2009 exhibition The Postwar Avant-Garde and the Culture of Protest, 1945 to 1968 and Beyond as the starting point for “this new direction in collecting.”

“We started with literature, but then branched into music, politics, fashion, students protests--and a whole lot of other subjects,” says Young. “We find that many researchers today are looking at the creative act very broadly--and writing on the creation of culture as a multidisciplinary act.”

Where Fields comes in, he notes, “is as an expert arbiter of culture--music being his main focus. But we have to keep in mind that he has been writing all of his life. His articles for 16 Magazine deserve a close reading for how they promoted and shaped youth culture in the 1960s and 1970s. His several books detailing the lives of his friends--Linda McCartney, [Andy Warhol's Bad star] Cyrinda Foxe--were the result of an amazing amount of research. His role in creating, promoting, and managing the public personas of the Ramones--one of the most influential rock groups of the 20th century--is a case study in how music culture operates.”

The Beinecke Library has already received some 17 boxes of papers from Fields’ archives.

“We’ll be getting over 1,000 hours of audiotapes from his collection as well--most of them original interviews with musicians,” says Young. “And of course, his photographs serve as a timeline of the rock/punk/pop world of the late 20th century.”

Young also oversees the Beinecke’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) collections, which include the papers of novelist/essayist Edmund White, playwright Larry Kramer and photographer Robert Giard, and the Laura Bailey Collection of Gender and Transgender Materials.

“We also have archives of writers who happen to be gay, but whose creative work is focused on the act of writing in broad terms--such as the papers of Gertrude Stein, and those of Thornton Wilder, whose gay sensibility appears in their work in more indirect ways. I don’t think it is unfair to characterize Danny’s archives by saying that they document the work and influence of an out gay man in the world of rock and punk music, although he wasn’t aiming to make ‘gay’ music per se. His life was--and is--involved with a wide range of creative acts.”

Indeed, Fields, a true Renaissance man, has been associated with rock legends ranging from The Beatles (he published John Lennon’s infamous “We’re more popular than Jesus” quote in the August, 1966 issue of Datebook) to The Ramones (he was their co-manager). He was a prominent part of Andy Warhol’s Factory, and wrote the liner notes for the Velvet Underground’s Live At Max's Kansas City and lived with Warhol superstar Edie Sedgwick.

“It’s odd to go from Shakespeare folios and 18th Century prayer books to posters of Dee Dee Ramone!” says Fields, pulling out said Ramone posters out of one of numerous file cabinets. “Hopefully they’ll have an oral walking tour with videos to go along with it.”

First, however, the Ramone posters, made from Fields photographs of The Ramones' late bassist/songwriter wearing “a ridiculous bathing suit when he was a hustler,” will be used in August at New York’s Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art as part of its Sex! Art! Music! exhibit showing the “queer influence on the ‘70s and ‘80s underground music and art scenes.” It was part of Fields’ first shipment to Yale in January, also including papers from his stint as editor of 16 Magazine, material on the McCartneys (he’s written books on both 16 and his friend Linda McCartney—whom he met when she was a photographer for Datebook) and The Ramones.

“There’s no way of quantifying it all,” says Fields. “There’s thousands of pieces, and another two shipments. And I’m digitizing tens of thousands of photos I took—a Ramones show in Berlin, for example, and pictures of boys I took walking down the streets of Paris that are very beautiful.”

Not to mention Fields’ “gay Polaroid collection of thousands of hustlers in the ‘70s." Or for that matter, the countless gay porn tapes he directed.

Music fans, however, may be more interested in a stroll through the hallway where the wall not used for shelving is lined with photos of a young Bob Dylan, Jonathan Richman, Divine, the MC5 (Fields was instrumental in the band’s signing to Elektra when he worked at the label) and Janis Joplin at Newport.

In the living room, with corner windows overlooking the Hudson River on one side and appropriately enough, the landmark Archive Building on the other, Fields is pouring through bound volumes, loose magazines and boxes bursting with photos and clippings.

“These are all the Country Rhythms,” he says, opening the bound volume of country music magazines that he edited in the 1980s. “I didn’t know anything about country music when I started!”

He pulls out a late ‘70s issue of High Times, and finds his “Hitler in Rock” editorial, where he contended that the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” and Nazi references in their songs were in no way to be taken as pro-Hitler.

A May, 1967 issue of Hullabaloo featured his story on the Mamas and the Papas and Cass Elliot’s trip to Warhol’s Factory; the cover of a Soho Weekly News from 1974 notes his interview with Leonard Cohen—the tape from which Fields also has. They’re just two pages from tons of magazines that he either edited or wrote for and are now encased in protective cellophane.

He sifts through scrapbooks and files of miscellaneous ephemera: Republican posters from Florida’s 2000 vote count; an ad for Phil Spector’s Philles Records; a July, 1976 calendar from London’s famous Dingwalls club, where The Ramones’ show launched the English punk rock movement; printouts of his old IRC (Internet Relay Chat) computer chats; a map from his informative but short-lived New York rock ‘n’ roll bus tour.

Fields’ next shipment of material is scheduled for July and will include audio. Then he’ll take a year to put together the third and final shipment.

Meanwhile, the much-anticipated Fields documentary Danny Says is nearing completion.

“He teaches me something every time we meet, and I am glad to have his papers here at Beinecke with those of Stein, Wilder, Giard, Neville, Ezra Pound and other talents who reshaped the way we see, read, and hear the world,” concludes Young.

[The Examiner wrote for Fields at Country Rhythms and Rock Video magazines, and thanked him in his book Ramones—An American Band.]

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