DANCING WITH TEARS IN MY EYES
I watched the Mayor of Sunset Strip the other day, a documentary about Rodney Bingenheimer who, when I first became aware of him, was a DJ on KROQ. At the time radio in Los Angeles was pretty standard rock fare, like KLOS, KMET & KWST that played Led Zepplin, The Stones, your standard rock bands. But in the 70s there was new music emerging that didn’t fit with that format - the rock that is now known as classic and how old does that make me feel. MTV was up and running with 24 hour, commercial free videos featuring new artists like Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Talking Heads – GOD I love their version of Psycho Killer, Blondie, The Pretenders and Devo, to name only a very few.
And if you wanted to listen to those bands on the radio you tuned into KROQ. I don’t really remember the early DJs except for Jed the Fish because he always sounded like he was drunk or crazy, and he still does, but I do remember Rodney on the rock. Rodney was the guy with the high little voice who talked like that kid in elementary school who was always picked on. Every sentence went up at the end as though he was asking a question and he was so completely earnest in his love for music. Not only did he love it, but he also knew everything about the music and the people who made the music.
Rodney came to Los Angeles in the 60s when his mother, a waitress who collected autographs as a hobby, dropped her teen aged son on Connie Steven’s doorstep. And drove away. This was kind of glossed over in the documentary, like it was normal or something. But I can't stop thinking about it - it's a weird thing to do right? So Rodney goes up to the door and knocks and the maid answers and tells him that Ms. Stevens is out of town on location. Rodney was left on his own in Los Angeles at the height of the scene on the Sunset Strip. And the scene was about music – at that time rock n’ roll and little Rodney Bingenheimer immersed himself in that scene and knew everybody who was anybody. Sonny and Cher were like surrogate parents to him.
Being only 5’3” with the same hairdo as Davy Jones he got to be the stand in when they were shooting the TV series, The Monkeys. And that’s kind of the theme of Rodney’s life. He’s always next to the rock and roll royalty but he has never been able to rise to that level himself. He’s the guy that introduces the band and then watches from the side of the stage. As he approaches 60 years of age he has been relegated to the midnite to 3am shift on KROQ. He lives in the same apartment he’s lived in for years in Hollywood, surrounded by pictures of himself with absolutely everybody who was/is anybody in the world of music. He spends time with a woman whom he says that “he thinks about all the time and cares for very much”, but she’s got a boyfriend and says while sitting next to him, that she and Rodney are just friends.
The camera focuses very closely on his face as she says this and you can see the hurt in his eyes, but his expression doesn’t change. The hairdo that was so cool in the 80s when he was a very big deal, now looks like your bubbie’s hairdo. In fact, Rodney kind of looks like someone’s bubbie. We go with him to visit his father and stepmother and they have no pictures of Rodney anywhere among the glamour shot photos of his stepmom and the family that doesn’t seem to include him. It hurts me to watch this vignette, as his father goes into another room and tries to find an album where there might be pictures of Rodney.
With the advent of bands like Limp Biskit and Linkin Park, Green Day Rodney began to seem like an anachronism and even now with bands that are derivative of the new wave/punk pop that Rodney turned the world on to, like Modest Mouse, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Death Cab for Cutie – Rodney stills seems to get left in the dust. Even though I think he was one of the first to play the YeahYeahYeahs.
Toward the end of the documentary we travel with Rodney as he goes to London with his mother's ashes to dump them in the Thames. The loneliness, that to this point has only been alluded too is crushing. As I watch I feel so sad for this kid that grew up to meet all of his heros, but in the process seemingly forgot to make connections with anyone who would love him when he was old. I don't mean like a wife, I mean like a best friend. He doesn't seem to have any of those.
Midnight to 3am is no place for Rodney. It makes me sad. He's still playing the newest music that no one else has. He also plays the greatest of the old music - the music made by our heros. And the music he plays will always make me want to dance.
But now, thinking of Rodney alone in the studio in the pre-dawn hours and then going home to his little apartment in Hollywood filled with only pictures on the wall - I’m dancing with tears in my eyes.