"Mayor of the Sunset Strip," a documentary premiering Tuesday as the centerpiece of the Los Angeles Film Festival, is the "Zelig" of L.A. rock 'n' roll -- but it's not fiction. It's the story of Rodney Bingenheimer, who in his 25 years as the reedy-voiced Rodney on the Roq at radio trendsetter KROQ-FM (106.7) was among the first to play new rock forces from the Ramones to Coldplay for the American public. And before that he sparked the Hollywood glitter scene with his English Disco club in the early '70s. Before that he was a ubiquitous presence in the swingin' '60s world.
There he is doubling for Davy Jones in "The Monkees," hanging out with the Beatles, the Doors, the Rolling Stones, taken under the wings of Sonny & Cher, befriended by Brian Wilson, chatting with Elvis Presley, with Frank Sinatra, with David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Sid Vicious, Blondie, X -- you get the idea.
Produced by longtime friend Chris Carter, whose band Dramarama was plucked from obscurity by Bingenheimer, and written and directed by George Hickenlooper ("Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse"), "Mayor" also examines the allure of celebrity and Bingenheimer's non-spotlight life with family and friends.
Over breakfast at the Gower Gulch Denny's, where he dines every day, Bingenheimer chatted about the documentary and the life behind it.
What was it like seeing yourself presented on film like this?
I've been in movies before, like "Rock 'n' Roll High School," "Back to the Beach," "Up in Smoke." But it was just weird seeing my parents up on the screen. I kept thinking of myself as a person watching the movie, not as me.
And from that perspective, what did you think of this guy in the movie?
Lucky guy! The guy's been around so much
It was Chris Carter who first proposed doing the film?
Yeah, Chris Carter. First he wanted to do a book on me but had a hard time getting publishers. They wanted the real scoops, all the stories behind the scenes. I'm not going to tell on people and gossip like that. So we went to an art show of Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones, and Ron Wood suggested, "Hey, why don't you do a documentary on Rodney?" So Chris got ahold of George Hickenlooper, and that's how it started.
What were your thoughts about the proposal?
I didn't want to do it! I'm a real private person, have a quiet life. But when you have someone respectable like George, why not?
Which act has meant the most to you to have a relationship with?
Brian Wilson, Siouxsie Sioux from Siouxsie & the Banshees, Blondie. Brian used to call me up and go, "Hey, let's go out tonight." I took him to Cafe Bleu, which was the mod club Thursday nights. They were playing all Brit-pop music. [The band] Rialto was there. They go, "Oh, my God, it's Brian." I introduced them to him.
How do you describe your role?
Music lover. Friend to the stars. Always in good spirits, keeping the music alive. Especially with the club. I played all the imports from England. David Bowie used to send me demos and I'd play them.
You met Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra.
Elvis introduced me to Frank Sinatra, at one of his Vegas shows. There was a big party at the penthouse upstairs with Elvis. He had come into my [English Disco] club. His stepbrother Rick Stanley brought him, and Elvis invited me to his shows in Vegas. It was amazing. It was closing night, and the next night was going to be Nancy Sinatra.
So at the party, Frank enters the room. I'm talking to Elvis. "Hey, Frank, come over here. This is Rodney Bingenheimer." So I'm standing with Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra.
What did Sinatra say to you?
Just, "Hi, how you doin'?"
We see old friends of yours still marveling that you have been in the middle of all these things and all these stars. What's your secret?
Be kind. Don't be pushy. Like what they like. And, just be kind.
-- Steve Hochman