“It’s just pictures. The pictures were taken in 1976-77 and the words were written in the last two years.”
Danny Fields is looking back through the photographs he took of the Ramones, which have been compiled in a new, wonderful book (My Ramones) which also contains letters, notes and witty, touching anecdotes about his time with the band. And it’s not just the band members, you also stumble across interactions between them and other significant figures from that same scene: Debbie Harry, Sid Vicious, The Damned...
He hardly needs any introduction himself, but as a recap: Danny Fields, without whom punk rock might not have happened in the US, was a legendary manager, writer, publicist; who managed not only The Ramones but was also a key figure for bands such as the Doors, Iggy Pop, the Stooges and the MC5. Please Kill Me – the essential, definitive oral history of punk – is dedicated to him: “Forever the coolest guy in the room.”
Fields became the Ramones manager after seeing them at CBGBs in New York, falling in love with them from the first note that played out on the guitar: “I was just their manager, who took pictures,” he shrugs. “Most of them are candid. He knows I’m there,” he adds, pointing to a photo of Joey Ramone in a dressing room.
“And this one, I’m very proud of this – this was an advert that was done for the second album, and these were all reviews of the first album, with a lot of them saying how many they hated it.”
The reviews call The Ramones “the next big trash band” and proclaim: ‘These boys will never make it.”
There’s another on the next page that shows the band, sulking, after a gig at CBGBs in New York, because they’ve been made to pose with a bunch of suits: “Record company people,” Fields says chuckling, “and the poor band who’d just finished a show… they were not happy. Those guys were so wonderfully nerdy.”
Fields took the photo used on the Ramones’ third album, Rocket to Russia, which harked back to their debut, showing the band slouched and surly against a brick wall.
“It’s a record of a moment,” Fields says. ”Showing the doorway and the posters. I hate that picture on the second album – that’s the reason I did the third album cover. People liked it, and then the second one got all trendy and we hated that.”
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“I’m showing them.. this is the way you have to pose,” he says of some of the photos. ”But most of the time they’d just do it – Dee Dee climbs on the highest step because he’s the shortest… But I didn’t tell them what to do with their hands or anything. Here’s a great background because it’s so silly – the capital of the United States...”
“We had a letter, because this picture was in the Guardian as one of my favourite pictures,” he continues, ”and I had a letter from the Supreme Court Archivist, and they want a print to put in their gallery. It’s incredible because there are no tourists around or anything. It was November ’76, they were waiting for Jimmy Carter to be inaugurated as president.”
“That’s Phil Spector with Joey, there,” he says suddenly, pointing to another photo. ”I think that must be blood in the sink. On his arm, there, you found it. Where did he get a cut on his arm? That’s definitely candid.”
There are a few of Linda Ramone, who was going out with Joey then, and got married to Johnny after, (“and they never spoke, after that”). Field’s five years with the band was up around the time that was simmering. (”If you want to read a great book, Cynthia Whitney wrote Too Tough To Love, and that’s her story because she was the girlfriend before Linda. She’s tough,” he says.)
“At the time that was taken, Linda was going out with someone in another band, and this is on Sunset Boulevard when they were playing in Los Angeles, she wasn’t going out with either of them at this point... These are two groupie boys, I made up this story that they were two guys called Poncho and Pablo, and they needed a picture for their mom...” he laughs again.
It was the drummer, Tommy, who contacted Fields first, saying “come see our band”.
“He stayed for It’s Alive which was recorded at The Rainbow around ’77, and then he was replaced by Marky Ramone,” Fields remembers. ”That’s why it’s called My Ramones, it’s these four original ones and then others came in.”
There’s a condolence letter written to Fields after the death of Tommy, which happened around the time the book was being put together, in 2014. It mentions how the boys are in heaven now, together. “It makes you a bit teary,” Fields admits.
As you go deeper into the book you start to notice how each band member deferred to one particular pose – Joey, in particular, always seems stooped, with his hair covering most of his face.
“He was self-conscious about being so tall… that’s his brother, we were allowed to bring one person on this trip, so you know… what are you gonna do?” Fields says, noticing another picture. “That’s a girl’s magazine he’s reading, I think.”
Then another page: “This is Dingwalls in Camden, is it still the same?”
Pretty much: the same strange, low ceilings, black paint, sticky floors. He does a double take at the mention of a band who played there recently.
“I love False Heads, how do you know them? I sent Iggy their record!” he says, smiling. ”I love that band, and I hadn’t loved a band in a long time. I saw them at the Black Heart in Camden, there was no one there, and I loved them right away.”
“Oh, and this is lovely. When Joey was dying, SPIN put him on the cover and we sent it to him at the hospital. He was 49 – it was 2001, when he died. I think he was about 25 in the cover they used for the picture.
“I’m not much on live shots, but often I was the only photographer on the stage.”
He smiles at another of a girl, mucking around in front of Tommy and Joey. “Often fans ended up being the stars of the pictures, and the band were just around them.”
We reach a picture of Tommy outside the Roundhouse, then another: “What is that, candid? I’m the only one in the dressing room with them. No photographer would have been allowed. But I could be there.” He looks at the photo again and decides: ”Somewhere between candid and ambush, I think.”
My Ramones – photographs by Danny Fields, is out now
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