Ramones: ‘They were outcasts who had contempt for those who rejected them’

From 1975 to 1980, Danny Fields managed the Ramones, and photographed them constantly. He shares those photos from his new book My Ramones and remembers his time with the New York punks

The first time I saw the Ramones was at CBGB in 1975. I was the co-editor in chief of 16 magazine, and I had a weekly column in the Soho Weekly News, which they gave away at Maxs Kansas City on a Thursday night. The Ramones wanted to know: Why arent we in Dannys column? Tommy would call and he was so nice and so humble: We know what you like, you would love us! The writer Lisa Robinson had been barraged with similar requests, and she said shed go and see Ramones one night, and I should go and see some other band, then wed compare notes. The next day she said: Youll love this band. Theyre cute and loud and their songs are short. So I went to see them. I loved the first lyric, the first song, the first sound. That first song was I Dont Wanna Go Down to the Basement. Afterwards I met them outside CBGB and Tommy said: Will you write something about us? I said, I want to manage you. They knew who I was, because they met through loving the Stooges and I had signed the Stooges to Elektra. They said: A lot of people want to be our manager, so if you give us $3,000 for equipment it could be you.

CBGB was the venue the Ramones would be forever associated with. From left: Dee Dee, Tommy, Joey and Johnny. Photograph: Danny Fields

That first night I saw them, I sat alone at a table at the front, and there were maybe five or six people there. It would have been unseemly to react by jumping up on the stage it was a cool venue. There were no people coming to see the Ramones for a long time, and then there were a lot we had to build an audience; that was the No 1 job. You go out on the road and you make friends and make fans. I drew spirals on a map: downtown New York, and then the cities within 100 miles, so you can go back and forth the same day. Boston was the promised land, because it was all college kids. When we first went to Boston, the Harvard Crimson came to interview the Ramones this cool, savvy paper. Johnny asked if they came to the show a show where there were 17 people there. They said, Yeah, but we stood at the back. Why? Were much better if youre at the front. Because we heard you vomit on the audience. And thats because of the fucking Sex Pistols. Johnny gave me a look that said: We are never going to get played on the radio. Because vomit precedes music. So the curse of the Sex Pistols was the curse of the Ramones. We knew right away our future was not radio, because even the Harvard Crimson thought that was true. And so when we played out of New York we played anywhere we could. We played basements of office buildings where someone knew the janitor that happened in Toronto. We played a bowling alley in Buffalo. Because who wants this band?


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Joey Ramone goes record shopping at Free Being Records in New York. Photograph: Danny Fields

They were all compulsive music lovers. Theyd see records and say: We want one of these! We dont care whos on it! Its just so big and important looking! And we want to see what other people are doing and what their covers look like! Thats how I had discovered David Bowie: What a pretty drag queen! Thats how you discovered things. But the Domingo album (pictured above) has a point, because Joey really did go to a vocal coach. I had worked with too many musicians who had polyps or vocal problems. Its your instrument and you learn how to treat it well. Theres a lesson there for young singers: if Joey Ramone could go to a voice coach, so can you.


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The Ramones with graffiti on the arch in Washington Square Park. Photograph: Danny Fields

The Ramones comic book politics came from a comic book sensibility ironic and literate, but not educated. Tommy knew a lot about the art scene. Joey knew about AM radio and hit records. Dee Dee knew about getting laid and getting high. Johnny was figuring out how to make enough money to retire. But they were some of the smartest people I ever knew. I always get asked: Why was Johnny one step to the left of Goebbels? He wasnt. He was patriotic, but much of it was to rile people up, to play with their heads, because thats what the Ramones liked to do. They were outcasts, they were smart, but Johnny was not ruled by his politics. They were outsiders so they found their way by making fun of and having contempt for those who rejected them. They laughed at the idea of yippies or Jesus freaks or communists, but there was no passion in their politics.


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Playing the Phase V club in New Jersey in April 1976, one of their first ventures outside New York City. Photograph: Danny Fields

It took the Ramones a while to become the band they wanted to sound like. All the throwing down guitars and walking off in those early shows was frustration at not getting where they wanted to go fast enough. But they learned because they watched the audience they saw what worked and what didnt. Looking back on the early years, its like remembering your beautiful son or daughter who used to be a baby and how they threw the rattle down. And so they would have their tantrums, but they never ever did that outside New York City. As soon as they put Joey on vocals and made that four-point thing on stage, they figured it out: dont leave those positions; dont become a polygon; make sure its a quadrilateral, maintain the corners. That was figured out. Arturo Vega, their art director and friend, and Tommy figured out the onstage formation as an effective thing. That onstage architecture was a guiding thing in everything they wanted to do.

The band shoot their first video in early 1976. Photograph: Danny Fields

There wasnt a lot of filming of bands in the mid-70s, but videos of performances could be used in place of you visiting somewhere else. Richard Robinson who along with Lisa Robinson and Lenny Kaye ran Rock Scene thought there was future for music video and television. This is on YouTube, but they have the wrong year and it was not filmed at Arturos loft. Arturo had the logo and he came up with the sheet to paint it on. He was great. He maintained the fanbase over the years and was in constant touch with fans all over the world. His contribution to the Ramones was inestimable: the visuals and the style, the lighting. Rocknroll lighting for him was an art. And he was a gorgeous looking boy.

Ramones at The Club in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in May 1976. Photograph: Danny Fields

People used to dance to the Ramones they werent really supposed to, but you should dance to everything. If you look at the kind of dancing theyre doing in this picture from The Club, theyve signed it as We are losers. When you watched the early dance shows on TV, people would say about a song: I didnt know much about it, but I could dance to it. If you can dance to it, its working. It was better doing those shows as a headline band, even when there were hardly any people there, than supporting they were the worlds worst opening act. Good for them, good bands should be lousy opening acts.

Joey Ramone by the pool of the Sunset Marquis in Los Angeles, February 1977. Photograph: Danny Fields

Joey was clearly a geek. Anybody could look at him and know this kid must have had a rough time. Theres sentiment for him, that this loser-looking person could be a rock star. Also he was the lead singer, and the lead singer is the one who talks to you. I was astonished at the love there was for this person who had spent 90% of his life being extremely unloved. We never spoke very much it was easy to speak to the other three, but it was hard to speak to Joey, because he was wary of actualising his new-found celebrity into a reflection of the lifetime of contempt he had suffered. But when I got out the camera, he danced for me. I took more wonderful individual pictures of him than any other member of the band. Im so glad he became what he did, when truck drivers going through New York would wind down their windows and shout Hey! Joey Ramone! It was like watching something hatch this was not a kid with a silver spoon and long, straight, blond hair and a powerful handshake. It was like watching some little bird trying to peck its way out of its shell, and your heart was with him.


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Dee Dee Ramone with Jordan, one of the original English punks of the Bromley Contingent, in London, July 1976. Photograph: Danny Fields

We had not a word, not a clue, that they would be feted when they came to London in July 1976. How did this happen? We cant get to Pittsburgh, but they want us in London? That happened because Seymour and Linda Stein who ran Sire Records, the Ramones label, had great connections in London and they were part-time Londoners. People say: What did you know about the London scene before you came? Nothing. Then I get asked: Do you know what happened in the wake of your leaving? No, we were back in New York. But it was wonderful to meet fans, and it was wonderful there were so many musicians there. It was wonderful that Johnny Rotten asked Arturo if it was safe to go into the dressing room or would they beat him up? No, theyre not going to beat up someone from another country in another city. We had to go through a great deal of being asked: What are you going to do to change the world? How are you going to get rid of capitalism. But the Ramones were: Youve got a heatwave, why havent you get air conditioning? Why cant I get ice cubes? That was we were worried about, ice cubes.


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Dee Dee Ramone with Keith Levene and Paul Simonon of the Clash, outside the Roundhouse in London, July 1976. Photograph: Danny Fields

The Ramones were wary of the Clash because they thought they were the only competition the only band in the same league but Johnny and Joe Strummer were friends for life. A good band is always looking over its shoulder they knew what was happening to everyone else. They came to love some UK punk bands. They knew the first Sex Pistols album was great. They also loved the Buzzcocks and the Clash for the right reasons: England was meant to be making great rocknroll and at last England had come to its senses. Americans expected each London band to do its duty.


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The Ramones play the Rainbow theatre in London on 31 December 1977 the show that was recorded for the album Its Alive. Photograph: Danny Fields

I was never a photographer of bands in action unless it was at CBGB and they were friends of mine. Look where I am there in the wings, not a photographers position. I was there because Arturo wanted me to keep snapping gigs, so he could look at the lighting. This was a year and half after their first appearance in London, and theyre headlining the Rainbow on New Years Eve 1977 they had to leave America to get the multi-thousand audiences. Its Alive, the album recorded that night, has no downtime, no gaps between songs, no tuning. Dont give them any time to think; no time to do anything but be in that moment.


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The Ramones in Cambridge, Massachusetts Photograph: Danny Fields

During the time I worked with them, Tommy quit in 1978 and they were no longer my Ramones. They were the Ramones with substitutes. There exist another few years of photographs I took, but they were no longer my Ramones. I was fired as their manager in 1980, and until they started dying in 2001, I didnt start reconnecting with them. Then I began to see them as people. I loved them, I always loved them. I never did anything creative for the band, so this was my one and only chance to show these pictures and write some words.



  • My Ramones is published on 27 April by First Third Books. To order a copy, <a href=”http://www.firstthirdbooks.com” data-link-name=”in” body link” data-component=”in-body-link” class=”u-underline”>click here.
  • Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/apr/25/ramones-danny-fields-manager-photographs

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