Danny Feinberg was just another “little faggot from Long Island” when he came of age just after World War II. He went to college and was admitted to Harvard Law School while still in his teens because he was fairly brilliant, although he would eventually drop out. No wonder; he preferred to smoke dope and hang out with the other outsiders and faggots and generally serve as handmaiden to the shakers in the underground art movement in Greenwich Village that would really set the tone for the second half of the 20th century.
He remembers seeing Nina Simone for the first time and being wowed. He knew instantly that Edie Sedgwick was a transformative presence. He was responsible for circulating John Lennon’s claim that the Beatles were “bigger than Jesus.” And he knew Lennon was right.
By the mid-1960s, Feinberg — now known as Danny Fields — was himself what today we might call an “influencer.” He was a talent manager for Elektra Records just as that label was leading the way for the psychedelic rock era. There are some that say punk rock wouldn’t have existed without Fields… probably among them, Fields himself.
He burned bridges, spoke truth to power, coddled infants terribles like Jim Morrison and had a hand steering careers from the Ramones to Iggy Pop to Alice Cooper. He led, in short, an amazing life.
And he’s still living it, in more retrospective form (he’s 77) in the documentary Danny Says (which plays Saturday at the Texas Theatre at 7 p.m. with filmmaker Brendan Toller in attendance). Danny Says — it takes its title from a song Joey Ramone wrote about Fields — premiered at SXSW in 2015, and is finally getting a theatrical release, and thank heavens. It’s a fascinating and exhausting film, as much a piece of pop art itself as the people it’s about. The director pieces together interviews with Fields, John Cameron Mitchell, Cooper, Pop and countless execs and friends who lived this amazing roller coaster of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. Toller comes close to overdoing it, though, with a degree of sensory overload: Conversations, photos, subtitled and a required working knowledge of pop culture that taxes the memory of even a professional writer of pop culture. But the payoff is a nearly orgasmic expiation of the alt-rock-art scene.
It’s an exhilarating exploration of journalism, sexuality, art and the counterculture from the framework of a smart-mouthed cynic whose arrogance is undercut by his incomparable instincts and insights. Fields refers to 1965–66 as “the year that everything wonderful happened,” and snarkily observes that “everything good starts by being hated by the New York Times.” This is a history lesson like the world might not be able to tell anymore. We’re culturally obsessed with Kim Kardashian’s ass and Brangelina divorcing; Fields & Co. were surviving, then thriving. The photo collages alone are amazing, especially compared to the soulless eyes of Instagram selfies and self-indulgent Snapchats and brain-dead Trump supporters. Danny Says reminds us that once, long ago, art mattered.