KROQ DJ Rodney Bingenheimer has had more hot-groupie sex in his lifetime than most rock stars, according to Mayor of the Sunset Strip. But this has nothing to do with his conversational skills. In fact, his small talk is lousy. His big talk aint too keen, either. You get a lot of wandering yeahs and one-sentence answers, delivered in his signature singsong style. Look, some people are talkers, and some people are listeners and Rodneys a listener. In fact, hes probably the best listener L.A. has ever known.
And despite his legendary reputation as a lech, Rodney is no scheming Svengali unlike his pals Phil Spector and Kim Fowley.... and hairdresser
Im too shy, Bingenheimer says, sitting on a couch in his two-bedroom Hollywood apartment, which isnt nearly as fucked-up and depressing as it looks in the movie. Besides a kitchen table buried under a mound of papers and bills, its a tidy and well-kept museum of rock & roll paraphernalia (were parked beneath a wall of gold records by artists ranging from Nick Gilder to Elastica). If I see a strange girl I want to meet, I can never meet her, because I cant go up to a strange girl and start a conversation. Someone has to either introduce me or she has to make a motion. I cant go up to strangers. I would probably faint or something.
... and groupies It sounds like such a line except that you know its true. In some ways, Rodney has never really grown up. And like a lot of the 70s survivors in his movie (Cher, Pamela Des Barres, Mackenzie Phillips), Rodney has a peculiar agelessness. People snicker about how old he looks, but thats not precise enough: Its more that Rodney seems to be all ages at once. He lives in different eras at once, too. Hes just as excited about Ronnie Spector as he is about the Raveonettes. And though KROQ has mutated around him from creative hothouse to corporate juggernaut, Rodney has not changed. His programming ethics are identical to what they were 20 years ago. In fact, the only thing that changes about Rodney is the name of his newest fave rave.
...and alone Mayor of the Sunset Strip (Bingenheimers unofficial title in the glam-rock days) tells the story of his life from early childhood through his heyday as KROQs punk pied piper to his eventual ghettoization on Sunday nights (midnight to 3 a.m.) on KROQ. It follows his early days as a rock & roll groupie, living with Sonny and Cher; his job as Davy Jones stand-in on The Monkees; his record-label jobs; and his nightclub.
The parade of celebrities he befriends and takes snaps with is bizarre, including just about everyone from Elvis to Gwen Stefani. (Hes truly the Wheres Waldo of rock.) And though the film never gives a proper list, its obvious hes broken more bands than anyone at KROQ and maybe anyone in L.A. radio history. Some early KROQ DJs might quibble, but the official story is that Rodney was the first to break the Sex Pistols, Ramones, the Runaways, Generation X, the Go-Gos, X, the Clash, Black Flag, Blur, Nirvana on and on and on, right through to Coldplay and the Strokes. At a station that made its name taking risks, Rodney took the most.
...and Andy But the film is not just a biography. It also describes the cultural moment that produced Bingenheimer: that chaotic window between the late 60s and early 80s when rock culture, and rock radio, were being reinvented first by hippies, then punk rockers (who werent too different philosophically, it turned out). The film features old footage of kids hanging out on the Strip back when broke teens could still live in West Hollywood as non-hookers. Its amazing: In these shots, young people are actually walking down Sunset during the day, waiting for the bus, talking, whatever. The light has a golden quality. The storefronts look humble, the clothes inexpensive. Everyones smiling. Its a glimpse of Hollywood street life and rock & roll culture before money took over.
The vibe is reminiscent of Almost Famous, except that its real. In fact, the mantra of that films groupie heroine, Penny Lane, was stolen from Rodney. Its All Happening! was the name of Rodneys nightlife column in Go magazine (its now the name of his Web site). Cameron Crowe used to go to my club, Rodney says a little proudly, referring to his short-lived glam-rock hangout, Rodney Bingenheimers English Disco. He took a lot of lines from me for Almost Famous, and he admitted it.