Monday, October 16, 2006


This picture was taken at the original KROQ studio in 1977
(l to r: Chris Stein, Jimmy Destri, Rodney, Debbie Harry,
Gary Valentine Lachman, Engineer, Clem Burke)

Rodney Bingenheimer, the subject of the documentary Mayor of Sunset Strip, will blow a hole in your heart. His sincerity is excruciating. People who know him are saying that it's about time he got some attention for his service to others but I say it's about time he got some money. How 'bout it OASIS? Care to make a donation? Does anyone understand what this guy's been living on all these years because it's not money and he can't eat appreciation. I was impressed by the people who showed up for participation in the documentary, the ones who more or less "get it" that Rodney contributed to their celebrity and success not only with his gentle fandom but by being the first to play their records and then relentlessly continuing to play them until other deejays and record companies were forced to.

The only obvious thing missing from the Documentary is the fact that Sal Mineo gave him this Nickname, the name of the movie.

I first came out to L.A. with Blondie in 1977. Their (then) bass player Gary Valentine was my boyfriend. I had auditioned for a television After Schoool Special (SNOWBOUND) just before leaving New York and had my “call back”, and got that job at Paramount Studios during that trip. I was also writing and taking pictures for NEW YORK ROCKER. We were all excited about going out to Ellay to have the Sunset Strip experience. Anyone interested in more about this can read Gary's book which is linked here and below New York Rocker: My Life in the Blank Generation .
We were met at the airport by a roundish, freckled faced guy named Famous Toby Mamis and taken to a hotel on Sunset Blvd. We were all really disappointed when we realized it was a walk of many miles to get to the actual "Strip" even though people kept describing it as "Close by". Close by in L.A. Lingo is car talk not feet speak. We stayed at The Bel Air Sands, next to the 405 fwy. Debbie was the only one of us who knew how to drive. Anyway, the second "big" thing we did was go to KROQ to meet Rodney, who, at that time was the only one playing their record (X-Offender). At that time, the one song that we heard continuously on every other radio station was Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own WayRodney was gracious and unassuming and a true fan-not to be confused with an autograph hound. It was really exciting for everyone to be on his show. New York didn't even have a show as hip as his. I think KROQ was still an AM station and it was definitely commercial free.

Here is an interview I did with Rodney a couple of years later for the L.A.Weekly (May of 1979).
The unknown story about this is that during the time between the taping of the interview and the actual publication of it, he was fired from KROQ by station managers who never understood his value. The interview came out and he called me and said in a reallly sad voice,
"You called me an ugly duckling."
and I felt terrible and said
"but Rodney, the ugly duckling became the most beautiful swan."
and he said
"Okay. Thanks"
and the next day he called me again and said that because of the article, KROQ called and re-hired him. Apparently they needed his value explained to them. He was overjoyed and grateful.


A Child of the Myth
Lisa Jane Persky for L.A. Weekly May 18-24 1979

Keeping my fingers on the pulse of the musical movement in L.A. which, gratefully is growing, I can not ignore one of it's prime gardeners. Rodney Bingenheimer is, of lat, the diminutive giant of the New Wave. A plant man, assailing the ears with all the ammunition of the new movement.

Every Suday on KROQ FM from eight to m;idnight, Rodney hosts "Rodney on the ROQ". Much fun is poked at the little prince, who is often depictedas jester, but he is undeniably an integral part of the pimping ot the paupers soon to be Hit Paraders. His listenership is immense. He is without the usual storebought deejay voice that makes so many others indistiguishable. His is a fluted and whispery mid-puberty sound.

Will you tell me how old you are?

"No. It's my well-kept secret. I'm really getting a joy out of hearing all the rumors. Some people think that I'm 50, some 40 and some people think that I'm 22, which is interesting. I understand that I'm gay every now and then and that I'm black, a cripple in a wheel chair, fat, an amputee, and four feet tall."

For the record, Rodney is very much a white boy. He loves beach movies, Mamie Van Doren, Annette Funicello, Elvis, Connie Stevens and of course, The Beach Boys. He hails from somewhere north of San Jose where his mother was a cocktail waitress. As a child, Rodney spent wintersreading fan magazines and summers cutting apricots. "We called it cutting cots. That's what the term was."

With an able, if short set of skinny white boy legs and his green thumb planted on the freeway, Rodney, number one teen dreamer, made it to Hollywood, land of teen dreams.

He began his affiliation with the rock world as a writer for a local magazine called GO, and he has gone from one glorious affair after another as a mini-afficianado. Gopher for Sonnny and Cher, stand-in for Monkee Davy Jones, being flown to Vegas by and to party with Elvis. He worked for Mercury Records, Capitol Records, once promoted Linda Ronstadt, and wrote for Phonograph Record Magazine.

But his greatest fame came when he opened the legendary but late Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco. Rodney singlehandedly introduced the white-trash music of the early 70's to L.A. youth. It became a "Roseland" for the Hollywood teen, a place where every contemporary glitter kid could go to dance and to gape at the visiting luminaries. In 1967, Sal Mineo crowned Rodney with his most coveted title, "The Mayor of Sunset Strip" and where once Rodney had a name for himself, he now had two.

When for a moment Frank Zappa turned talent scout and signed the GTO's and Wildman Fisher, he had to include Rodney - and this little prince's praises were sung in even loftier places, ever more loudly. Famed entrepreneur Kim Fowley gifted Rodney with his own track on Fowley's album, Good Clean Fun. Rodney is the hero of his own fairy tale on the album. "From Cutting Cots to Cutting Records".

So then this guy goes and gets his own radio show. It's just like he says:
"There are millionaires who can't do what I do."
Rodney the effervescing fan, the kind that keeps people making movies and records and and magazines becomes a perpetuator of the pulp. His admiration of the famous and not-so-famous had produced in him the inspiration to promote, and in so doing, he had become an odd idol himself. Girls run to Rodney like rivers into oceans, even though Rodney is not your typical love-god. He generates a sympathetic aura and provides a refuge under his bird-like arm for young fans. He has a particular penchant for very youg ladies and the largest looming rumor about him is that he tends toward thirteen year-olds.

"The only one I know is Brooke Shields. I just like girls in general. I have a girlfriend now who is 17. She'll be 18 in August. If people changed the age law to 20 and she were 19, people would still look down on me."

What about "older" women though? Does he like Jeanne Moreau? No, he doesn't know who she is buthe says:
"Anne Bancroft is pretty interesting and Deborah Harry is amazing."
He once had a beautiful girlfriend who was 24. Research leads me to speculate that Rodney himself is 32. . . but he is a sort of ugly duckling Dorian Grey; unsophisticated, pleasure seeking, innocent.

"I don't want to live to be 40. If I die, I really won't mind. I hope I go peacefully. I don't want to live past 40 because I've done everything. I see what's coming in the world with all this nuclear stuff. I predict that people will be rioting at gas stations. People will be shooting eachother at Ralphs supermarket just to get something to eat. I see that coming and I don't want to be a part of it."

Hence, Rodney's philosophy:
"Do it now because you cannot do it later."
Rodney's predictions are not to be taken lightly. He is one of the best barometers of things to come.
"I hate to say this, I hate this kind of music, but I see more of a rock, guitar-oriented disco coming. People will be getting back together and there will be a big skating thing. Skating discos. Hopefully there will be a rock 'n' roll skating disco, a new wave disco. That's what I'd like to see. I'd like to open a malt shop. I'd have to take over an existing lease and the rent and get the proper licenses. I have a plan in mind."

I see it like this; Rodney, an ingenue Louie Dumbrowski, behind the counter jerkin soda's to the mellifluous sounds of the real Bowery Boys: The Ramones. There will be live broadcasts frominside the shop every Sunday where our favorites divulge secret cake and shake fantasies that Host Rodney is concocting, all transmitted over the new waves of KROQ.

I truly believe though, that Rodney rarely eats. I have, however witnessed his addiction to TAB. These poor habits and a freat deal of nervous tension contributed to a stroke he suffered several years back which caused him to practically re-learn the language and certainly re-think the future.

Rodney has the highest rated radio show during those Sunday hours in all of Ellay. He was the first to play Nick Gilder, Cheap Trick, Blondie, Van Halen, The Runaways, Talking Heads, The Ramones, Patti Smith. . .The list goes on and, hopefully, on.

"The pay is not too good. I get by. I do it 'cause of my love for music. I love turning people on to new music. It was so great to hear Anarchy In The UK on radio. This was when KROQ was on AM. I'm only somewhat appreciated. There are people playing The Forum because of me. There are people driving Rolls-Royces because of me. I don't think they know what I'm doing. Nobody realizes. The Blondies are appreciative. They always come down and do the show. I'm supposed to be getting a gold record from them. I've never gotten a gold record from any of the groups I've helped. Where's my gold record? I'm having a hard time getting a Cheap Trick jacket."

I just like what I'm doing, as long as I can eat and pay the rent and stuff. I'm making an album now and there is this one certain real big guest star on it and they are on a really big label and that label won't let me put their names on my record and I was the one who broke four of this company's major acts in L.A.. I'm the first to play those people but they let that same group play on some other guy's record in England."

The Eve Harringtons of the music business often leave Rodney (Margo Channing) Bingenheimer in the wind. Rodney seems to be above it and spends alot of time keeping up with current events. He lends himself nightly to the news. Connie Chung, Kim Fowley, Harvey Kubernick and Phil Spector all help to keep Rodney afloat.

"I've known Phil Spector since I first got here. I remember when I was up north, he had a big article that came out in ESQUIRE. He had these weird diamond shaped glasses, long hair, and this suit and I said 'Well, this guy is weird.' For a long time he has helped me out in a lot of ways and sort of looked after me.
My favorite period in music was the girl-group 60's. The Ronettes. The Supremes. From 1969 until 1975 I can't even think of a song that was on."

"Do you think we're in kind of a slump now?"

"It looks like it. I can't believe it. Here are The Kinks, The Stones, The Beach Boys, real 60's groups going disco. I never thought The Beach Boys would do a disco record. That is why I've got to keep playing what I play.
I've been offered a TV gig. It's like a 60-minute rock show with different hosts. I'd do the new scene section. I'm assistant editor of a new magazine called HOT ROCKS. I give them ideas on who to write about and I'm doing a monthly column. The strangest thing that ever happened to me on the air was when this nudist family came down. I was doing a commercial and this 11 year-old girl came in naked and I said 'Do your parents know where you are?' Then they came walking in and they were naked too."

Has Hollywood lived up to his expectations?

"Somewhat. It was weird seeing Tab Hunter and Richard Chamberlain and all these idols that aren't famous anymore. It doesn't seem that glamorous now. I thought rock stars were going to take over where movie stars left off. People like Gary Valentine can walk down the streets and, well, people might say hello but back then people would jump out of cars and mob him and tear his clothes off. If you go to Ralphs supermarket you can see Aerosmith walking around shopping and no one really cares."

"What should they do?"

"Stay at home."

"Like Garbo?"


Rodney Bingenheimer deserves a star on Hollywood Boulevard, even if it is simply because he understands the myth.
Lisa Jane Persky for L.A. Weekly May 18-24 1979


riff buttons said...

Check out the classic Rodney shows from the late 70s.

Claudia Mohr said...

Brilliant writing! Why aren't you doing this now?

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