Last Friday, March 9, was Rodney Bingenheimer Day in Hollywood, and the honorary Mayor of Hollywood, Johnny Grant, gave the Mayor of the Sunset Strip a star on the Walk of Fame. And some rock & roll angel up in heaven got his wings. And a cowbell.
Rodney was late to the ceremony, of course, arriving in a limo. It was already well past noon, but he thanked everyone for coming out “so early.” Good times.
As he receives his star, Rodney displays his still-impressive pushup technique.
(Photo by Wild Don Lewis)
A uniquely twinkling selection of stars and starlets attended, from Brian Wilson to Henry Rollins, the Bangles and the Donnas, Clem Burke of Blondie, a few rock nymphets with ’70s fashion sense, as well as L.A. rock-radio vets such as KXLU’s Stella Stray Pop and Reverend Dan, not to mention the only man who rivals Rodney as a KROQ institution, Jed the Fish. David Bowie sent a message of good tidings (“Your getting a star is absolutely the high point of the season…”). Phil Spector was nowhere to be found. It was hot and sunny, and the mayor was funny. Seriously. That Mayor Johnny is a hoot and a half. He made a point to remind everyone that he’s the mayor east of the West Hollywood border. A lifelong entertainer, he also bragged that he’d played the Henry Fonda before it was the Henry Fonda. “I’m still jazzzzzzz,” he assured the crowd. (It’s true. He’s very jazz.)
It was a good Friday in L.A. Brian Wilson sat under a large patio-style umbrella, with a fantastic silver almost-pompadour, then disappeared before giving his scheduled speech. Miss Pamela and Michael Des Barres, who is still showing off his glam-bony chest, looked incredibly healthy, and were touchy with each other. (At one point, I saw that Miss Pamela was the unwitting host to a big black bee — on the front of her bright red blouse! Fortunately, it flew off before she even noticed it, and I was relieved of having to make an awkward decision.) Henry Rollins, now a fantastic rock & roll DJ in his own right (on Indie 103 FM), was just a-snappin’ shots of Rodney like a big old fan. Freaky Don Bolles from the Germs was okay too. During the Bangles’ speech, Vicki Peterson said, “If we’d lived anywhere else there’s no way we’d have a chance to get [our first record] on the radio, but luckily for us, we had Rodney on the Roq! It didn’t hurt if you were in a miniskirt and looked like Susanna Hoffs.” Bolles shouted from the crowd, “I tried that. It didn’t work.”
Since I was a little girl, Rodney on the Roq was the utterly untouchable yet totally accessible Cool of All Cool. Looking back now, knowing what has happened in the intervening years to FM rock radio, and to rock & roll culture — how it has been emasculated, cruelly stripped of its cool and heart and mystery — I appreciate Rodney’s legacy all the more, even though I no longer listen to his show. (That’s mainly due to a passion for beauty sleep: Rodney’s show is still on Sunday night, midnight to 3 a.m.) With an amazing ear and even more impressive constancy, Rodney built an important wing in the palace of rock & roll radio — and he’s endured its gradual ruination with the patience of a saint. In fact, as much as he’s been recognized, I still think, in some way, he’s underrecognized.
But my appreciation for Rodney is decidedly not personal. It’s purely a radio thing. And so this ceremony was welcome, because those who really know and love him — his sister, for example — stood up to explain the nuances of their tender affection. (This more joyful element was underplayed in the fascinating, rather dark documentary of Rodney’s life, Mayor of the Sunset Strip.)
Rodney’s sister talked about the games they played as children, when Rodney was as young as 7: “We would take turns determining what we would play, and for Rodney, the theme was always the same. Movie stars, television, records and Hollywood. I’m not kidding. We played ‘Hollywood.’ And when we played Hollywood, Rodney played records. So you can say I was his first audience, and his first fan.”
A bit surprisingly, the most eloquent speech of the day was from rocker-actress Pauley Perrette (of NCIS and rock band Lo-Ball). Just when I thought there was nothing more to be said on the subject, she put her finger on exactly what makes Rodney an admirable, even heroic historical figure, love him or not.
“A lot of people spend a lot of their time and energy being unimpressed,” Perrette said. “The most beautiful thing about Rodney is that he just likes stuff.
“The way he loves a band. The way he loves a song. The way he loves his friends. The way he loves a GTO or a diner — that’s the most incredible thing about Rodney.”