: DJ Rodney Bingenheimer is as well-known for his friends as his discoveries. –>
Rodney Bingenheimer made the radio star
By Sara Bir
People in the know know Rodney Bingenheimer. He isn’t well-connected as much as he is universally recognized, revered and somewhat neglected by seminal rock musicians, Hollywood starlets and power players.
A spindly little thread one finds running through pop culture of the past 40 years, Bingenheimer hung out with Sonny and Cher, doubled for Davy Jones on The Monkees, secured groupies for Jimmy Page, introduced American record companies to David Bowie, and DJ’d a highly influential show on Los Angeles’ KROQ for over 25 years, where he introduced the charged, initial chords of punk rock to the West Coast masses and played Oasis back when demo cassettes were all the band had to offer.
He’s the mayor of the Sunset Strip, sort of, and now that the Rodney Bingenheimer documentary, Mayor of the Sunset Strip, is out on DVD, you, too, can be in the know. It’s a measure worth taking for any fan of rock music, or any fan of fandom. Bingenheimer’s story speaks of the true and slippery nature of fame, as well as the shifting forces that determine what music lovers hear and what we don’t.
Raised in Mountain View, Calif., by his celebrity-obsessed single mother, the teenaged Bingenheimer found himself alone in L.A. after his mother dumped him off at Connie Stevens’ doorstep. (Ms. Stevens was out on location.) A gnomish boy who grew into a slight, gnomish adult with a shaggy pageboy haircut, Bingenheimer was quickly embraced by the transient youth of the Sunset Strip, particularly the women. Benefiting from his demure yet genuine demeanor, he found himself accepted into inner circles that others were not. (Backstage at one show, Bingenheimer was able to meet John Lennon while the Doors were simply told no.)
In the early ’70s, Rodney ran a tiny club on the Strip called Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco, and during the peak of the glam years, all kinds of drugs and sexual debauchery raged there as parades or rock stars traversed the itty-bitty dance floor to reach the even itty-bittier VIP booth. It’s credible yet still mind-blowing that funny little Rodney, in his suspenders and satin pantsuits, reputedly got mad tail from the ladies.
That’s not the case today. Bingenheimer’s glamour-affected peers and his devoted support of them has led to a decidedly unglamorous life in “Bingenheimer Manor,” which is packed to the gills with dusty gold records, autographed photographs and an unparalleled assortment of pop-culture ephemera (it isn’t so much that he owns a Brooke Shields hanger as that she gave it to him).
KROQ gradually shifted “Rodney on the ROQ” from its original 8pm time slot to Sundays, midnight to 3am. What kind of crap is that? This dude’s affinity for playing little-known bands has pretty much single-handedly built careers from new wave to Britpop, but the target demographic for “alternative rock”–a so-called genre that Debbie Harry claims Bingenheimer created–of 18- to 24-year-olds and their almighty expendable cash supposedly does not give a rat’s ass about the music that Bingenheimer supports, which, while indeed fairly wide in scope, does not include rap or metal.
Sure, Rodney’s famous, kinda. But he hasn’t ascended to sparkling, glossy-paged celebrity because his status as the ultimate fan is so constantly affirmed. In concert footage, we see Bingenheimer, rapt, bobbing his head up and down to the music. He may have introduced the band playing onstage, but his heart is in the audience. He’s in it because he loves the music, not because he’s a businessman or a hanger-on. The Peter Pan quality that secured Bingenheimer the affections of so many has likewise held him back; he’s a beautiful person, but he’s not a Beautiful Person.
But considering how ugly Beautiful People can turn out to be, tragic Rodney still comes out a winner.
From the September 8-14, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.