By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Blame it on parking, on cruising laws, or on the corporatization of rock, but Rodney’s world just isn’t as much fun as it used to be. The glitter girls grew up and got married (like his ex, who ran off with Bowie’s manager). Rock & Roll Denny’s shut down. Bands no longer drop in at tiny clubs to hang out with the kids, and they couldn’t get into KROQ to drop off a demo if they tried. Rodney’s mournful of a lost era, and doubtful it could ever return.
“It’s just different now. It’s not the same. I don’t know what happened. I can remember when kids used to cruise up and down the Sunset Strip to their favorite songs, and they had their own tambourines, hitting the tambourines to the radio.”
Maybe the saddest change is in his stature at the station he helped to build. As far as The World-Famous KROQ — behemoth of the Viacom empire — is concerned, Rodney just doesn’t matter that much anymore. He may play their best stuff first, and he may help their eventual hitmakers to get signed, but he no longer shapes the station. Jed the Fish generously suggests in the doc that KROQ’s owners are afraid that if they fire Rodney, the soul of KROQ will dry up and blow away. More likely, they just don’t want to look like bad guys. And so he sits on Sunday night, when only diehard fans are awake, doing what he’s always done.
And though Rodney is a shameless name-dropper, the truth is that for every big name he drops, he also mentions five little bands you’ve never heard of — talking about them as if they were stars. Rodney never forgets a band, no matter how small. Chicklet, Relax to Paris — they’re all famous to him.
“What was fun was when bands used to come up to KROQ, like Bad Religion would show up and give me a tape, and by the time they get in their car and drive off, it’s already on the radio.” He could say the same of a million bands from Van Halen to the Offspring. “I used to play Oasis before they were signed — on cassette demos!”
Rodney claims to be satisfied with his life, and he deserves to be. Maybe the ultimate tragedy of his story, and of the film, is ours. What does it say about the future of music when a real visionary becomes thoroughly marginalized? It would be one thing if he’d become musically fossilized, a sort of punk Jim Ladd, stuck in the music of his youth. But Rodney knows more about new music than most teenagers. In fact, while Rodney may be the amusing old geezer around the KROQ studios, he plays far more brand-new stuff than you’ll hear at any other hour on KROQ — a station that touts itself as the paragon of youth culture. How the hell did that happen?
Things first started changing for Rodney in the mid-’80s, when a corporate conglomerate purchased KROQ and moved it from its Pasadena storefront to a bunker in Burbank (and recently to the former K-Earth Studio near in West L.A.). “It’s really hard now,” he says. “They have gates, and we’re in a soundproof room. There was an all-girl band that showed up called Blocked Number. They came with their mom and everything — they’re all sisters. They’re from Manhattan Beach. But they couldn’t get in — they waited and waited at the gate. I was leaving to grab a quick bite at Canters before my show, so I got their CD. I think I played it.”
Most of the week, KROQ, like all corporate radio, works much differently. But it’s paid a price to become America’s most powerful rock station: Where KROQ used to forge musical trends, it now follows them, favoring bands with major-label deals and large followings. Who knows what greater success it might be missing in its more conservative format? The openness of Rodney’s show is, of course, what made success possible for his bands, and, once upon a time, for the station. The more good music you throw at the wall, the more is likely to stick.
With media chains lobbying tirelessly for further consolidation, Rodney will only become more anachronistic — and more valuable as an outlet for the no-name geniuses of tomorrow. And when he’s gone, you can bet he won’t be replaced.
It’s depressing as hell, and the film has a plaintive quality as it follows Bingenheimer through the streets of Hollywood, visiting his former club — now a martial-arts studio — or sprinkling his mother’s ashes on the water at Brighton Beach in England. Rodney Bingenheimer may have been the most popular man in music, but, in a sense, he’s also become the most isolated.
He doesn’t seem to feel that way, though. “I’m always looking into the future,” he says meaningfully. “The next sound, the next guitar, the next voice.