From raucous gigs to rare moments of respite, manager Danny Fields shares exclusive photographs of the pioneers of punk from their heyday
By 2014 all of the original members of The Ramones had died, but it’s safe to say their spirit still remains: haunting old music venues that are now luxury flats, and making sure drainpipe jeans literally never go out of fashion. Their time on earth was spent endlessly touring, shouting “one, two, three, four” and practising hilarious stunts like (supposedly) pissing in the Sex Pistols’ beer and watching them drink it. Among punk rock classics and short explosions of sound lie songs that betray their understanding of the frustration of being a horny teenager who wants nothing more than to smoke fags, drink beer and get really, really sweaty. But really the band were true, true artists, and with it they were unflinchingly and consistently cool.
Watching them career around the world and slowly become pillars of the punk movement was their manager Danny Fields. Fortunately enough for us, while Fields was touring with The Ramones and hanging out in New York in the late 1970s, he carried a camera, and recorded the capers happening all around him, managing to snap some now iconic group shots of famous faces of the time and, most importantly, The Ramones themselves. “All groups are nervous about group photographs, because it's so rare that one person out of four isn't fucking up the shot,” he explains. “And you don't want to be that one person, and the Ramones wanted whatever they did to be perfect. They made it as easy as possible for photographers to get good results, because then photographers would like them, and take more pictures, and they would become, as you say, one of the most photogenic groups ever.”
The world at The Ramones’ peak was a strange place, and they were a pretty odd group. In Field's words they “reinvented what a guitar did in a band.” Their popularity climaxed but eventually the four never made it into the big time. “They had fabulous songs, I never understood why they didn't break out, and they fired me after five years because their music was not commercial. And yet it should have been, but it wasn't my fault, and it wasn't the record company's fault, it was the fault of the world. It was pretty stupid, that's never going to change. But the Ramones were very, very smart, maybe too smart – those four guys. I'll never know why they didn't break out.”
Early next year, an edited collection of Fields' captivating photographs will take the form of a book: MY RAMONES – Danny Fields. Here, he showcases some of his favourite shots from the archive.
Dee Dee and Jordan
"Jordan was a great celebrity in London in the summer of 1976, and she and Dee Dee had an intuitive style moment. I doubt he really knew that she was an important player in that scene, but he picked up on it, as stars do, and hung back with no expression on his face, and let her dominate, as she clearly wanted to do. People have always liked that shot. Of course, the swastika is mischievous, as are her eyes, and Dee Dee is wearing his Marilyn shirt so elegantly. How perfect was his jawline?"
Linda Clark, Lee Black Childers, Nancy Spungen, Sid Vicious, shoulder, Dee Dee Ramone
"There seems to be a hidden person between Dee Dee and Syd – you can just make out a black leather shoulder. I would LOVE someone, after all these years, to say, 'That was ME!'"
Johnny and Dee Dee
"The picture of Dee Dee reading and Johnny turning around in his seat to look at me, totally unbidden to do so, is one of my all-time favourites. It was on a bus the Ramones shared with their opening act, the Talking Heads, going from Marseille to Geneva, via the valley of the Rhone. Neither is interested in scenery, they never were, and some day I'll figure out what trashy book Dee Dee is reading. But Johnny is so wonderful, and that picture always tells me why I loved him so much – I had taken out my camera to shoot Dee Dee, but Johnny heard me take it out of the bag I was carrying it in, and turned around to see what was happening. He always had to know everything that was happening. I thought I wasn't making a sound, and could get an ambush shot of Dee Dee, but there was no ambushing Johnny – I can almost feel his look asking, 'What?' None of us said a word to any other person on that whole trip. It would have been so uncool to talk to another person on a long bus ride, on any long ride, it still is."
Joey on the Steps of the Roundhouse
"Joey on the steps of the Roundhouse is another pic that's become famous for all the right reasons. The brickwork is wonderful, as is the signage, it all tells you so simply what it is. Joey and I didn't have a lot to say to each other, we cherished our silent senses of humour, and we communicated quite well enough without talking very much, I think. The proof is pictures like this; Joey saw me with a camera, and he's just 'given' me a great shot. I can't imagine saying, 'Oh Joey, just stand there, how perfect!' We both knew it was perfect, and he just stood there.
"Look how he provides such a perfect vertical element in the composition; when he was with other people, he'd stoop a little to make himself not so tall, which doesn't ever work. Tall is tall, and when he was able to be un-self-conscious about his height, he just let himself be, as I said, vertical, flexible, beautiful, like a tree."