Mayor of the Sunset Strip
Bingenheimer is a legend in Los Angeles rock circles. He has invented
himself and reinvented himself over and over in a lifetime on the fringes
and the front lines of music.
Rodney was a
small boy, an outcast who retreated into a world of movie magazines.
His mother was an autograph hound and she taught Rodney his deep love of
celebrity and memorabilia. When he moved to Hollywood, Rodney became a
focal point of the hippie counter-culture movement. Because of his
size and his obvious good-hearted desire to make people happy, he was
adapted by the guys and mothered by the girls in the Sunset Strip scene.
Soon he had become gopher to pop stars Sonny & Cher and Davy Jones' stand-in
on The Monkees. However, Rodney's true calling was as an
arbiter of tastes. Bingenheimer championed obscure glam rock acts like
David Bowie, Alice Cooper and Sweet. He became so entranced with the
scene that he opened one of the seminal clubs of the era, Rodney
Bingenheimer's English Disco. In the disco, normal folks hung out with
English Disco closed down, Bingenheimer just picked up shop and took his
passion to a tiny station called KROQ. In a way that would be
impossible in today's radio world that is focus grouped to the max, Rodney
just played what he liked and became a star for doing it. He was the
first (in some cases only) DJ in the States to play acts like the Sex
Pistols, the Ramones and Blondie. Sometimes the movie gives him more
credit than may be deserved (no matter what the movie says, Rodney's
discovery Dramarama was never more than a cult band with very sluggish
sales.) However, if influence was currency, Rodney on the 'ROQ would
be a rich man.
He isn't, of course.
lives in a cluttered LA apartment, but he still keeps his late mother's home
in the Valley as an immaculate shrine. He drives around Hollywood driving
vintage (read: old and decrepit) cars. He still wears his hair in a
circa-'74 shag complete with bangs.
wears British Invasion jackets and goofy t-shirts and Beatles boots.
obviously in love with his best female friend, but she is just as obviously
determined it is platonic. There is a surprisingly poignant scene where
Rodney sits on his mother's bed with her and pussyfoots around the fact that
he cares for her and that she is the type of woman that he has always felt
he could spend his life with. She looks uncomfortable through the whole
thing and then announces she
"sort of" has a boyfriend and she considers
Rodney to be just a friend. Though he is probably deeply stung by the
comment, Rodney just sits there silent. It leaves the audience wondering if
he is just completely unable to express his deeper feelings, or if he just
somehow considered this outcome to be inevitable.
His father and mother-in-law
seem to understand Bingenheimer no more than anyone else. Rodney
obviously still worships his late mother, despite the fact that she
abandoned him at fourteen.
best friend seems to be Kim Fowley, an aging singer, producer and renowned
music biz sleaze ball. Fowley is every bit as bitter and angry
as Bingenheimer is shy and quiet.
other close friend is Ronald Vaughn, a fiftyish rock-star wannabe who still
clings to dreams of making it in the music biz long after any chance he may
have ever had has evaporated. Rodney sees him as a kindred spirit,
though, and helps him whenever possible, either monetarily or setting up the
opportunity for Vaughn to record his musical tribute to actress "Jennifer
Love Hewitt." The song is in equal parts kind of cool musically
and cringingly disturbing lyrically, in sort of a stalker way. However,
Rodney humors his friend's fantasies, probably because he realizes that had
life been different, this
could easily be have been his fate.
Undoubtedly the reason that the celebs enjoy Rodney so much is that his
personality is something of a blank slate. They can project whatever they
want or need upon him. The problem is that chameleonic ability makes him a
tricky subject for a documentary. Bingenheimer several times tells director
George Hickenlooper that he would not feel comfortable answering his
questions, and when he does answer queries, he often seems guarded. Only
twice in the film does Rodney allow himself to lose control on camera; the
first time is when he spreads his mother's ashes over the English channel
and later he reacts angrily when he finds that friend Chris Carter of
the band Dramarama
Rodney championed in the 80s)
been hired by a rival radio station to do a show similar to his.
Bingenheimer's shyness, Hickenlooper tends to make the film about the cult
has met and seen nearly everyone. People want to be near Rodney
because at any given moment he is likely to be with Elvis or the Beatles or
the Stones. In a moment of clear self-reflection he refers to himself
as the designated driver between the famous and the not famous.
this is certainly interesting stuff, I tend to find the dichotomy between
the public and private face of Rodney on the 'ROQ more intriguing.
Particularly in the present day, where the music business seems to be
leaving him behind. More recent acts like Gwen Stefani of No Doubt and
Chris Martin of Coldplay do pledge allegiance to Rodney for giving them
their first airplay. At the same time, Rodney is down to one shift on-air a
week, exiled to Sunday mornings
from midnight to three A.M. A fellow KROQ DJ acknowledges that Rodney has
very little in common with their 18-to-25-year-old demographic and he would
have most likely been let go if he were not such a legend in local radio.
In the end, you can't quite decide if Rodney is really a part of
the world he
or if he's just the king of the music
I guess it is a bit of both. Rodney is the wet dream of every geek who ever
waited at a stage door hoping to channel some of the magic of being a
able to get
the status, he got the stories, he even sometimes got the groupies.
Everyone loves him but no one really knows him. At the same time, beyond
just being a scenester, he
has been able
create something tangible. He has influenced alt culture and music for
almost forty years.
The true visionaries often get left behind, and in the
corporate music world a genuine individual will almost always be trampled by
the bottom line.
The film ends with Rodney leaving a glam rock boot in the window of a karate
studio that is now on the site of his old English Disco. Then he walks
out and trudges up a Sunset Strip which has moved on. More than
anything else, this understanding of the unpredictable ephemerality of fame makes
The Mayor of the Sunset Strip a beguiling movie.
Copyright ©2004 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: April 8, 2008.