30 May 2011

Mayor of the Sunset Strip (2003)

Rodney Bingenheimer has launched some of the biggest and most influential acts in North America and yet I'd never heard of him until I saw this documentary. Bingenheimer got his start as a publicist for Sonny and Cher in the mid-60s. He used his position to build up a reputation as a super-groupie -- celebrities' go-to-guy in L.A. -- eventually evolving into a star-maker and an authority on the next big thing in music.

Through a nightclub called the English Disco (which he abandoned once disco hit mainstream) and later through his long-running radio show on KROQ, Bingenheimer introduced David Bowie, Blondie, Bow Wow Wow, Nirvana, Oasis and countless others to his followers. His show still runs on KROQ and though it airs in the wee hours between Sunday and Monday (midnight to 3 am) podcasting could allow him to reach out to potential new listeners.

Written and directed by George Hickenlooper (Factory Girl, Hearts of Darkness), Mayor of the Sunset Strip is a biographical documentary of Bingenheimer that illustrates how much influence one music fan could have on the industry in the 70s and 80s and even into the 90s and beyond. The footage was gathered over a span of 6 years and includes interviews with many of the people whose careers Bingenheimer launched plus notable "Rodneyites" from Mackenzie Phillips to Courtenay Love to Kato Kaelin. The film is equal parts a biography of Bingenheimer and of the world of glam rock, punk and alternative rock -- it's perhaps fitting that someone who spent his life on the edge of society immersed himself in the edges of popular music.

What amazes me is that while Bingenheimer has been surrounded by celebrities most of his life, he is neither rich nor famous. He eats at Denny's, drives a classic GTO, and seems to be living his life in his own shadow. There is a palpable sadness to the film as the music scene has become very much a music industry where radio play is increasingly irrelevant. Though he can count many of the biggest names in music among his friends and has his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one senses that he is on some level utterly alone.


Currently, Mayor of the Sunset Strip is available on YouTube in 7 parts.

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