Mayor of the Sunset Strip (2003)

George Hickenlooper was a director who excelled at telling peoples’ stories. Edie Sedwick in Factory Girl. Jack Abramoff in Casino Jack. And documentaries on Dennis Hopper, Apocalypse Now, Peter Bogdanovich, Monte Hellman and this take of Rodney Bingenheimer, Rodney on the ROQ, the Mayor of the Sunset Strip, the man who launched so many bands into American consciouness.

When Rodney was 16, his mother dropped him off at Connie Stevens’ house, told him to get her autograph and abandoned him. He ended up as a stand-in for Davy Jones, as the live-in publicist for Sonny & Cher, opened a club, brought glam to the U.S. and took to the air on Los Angeles’ KROQ.

The list of bands that Rodney broke on his show includes The Runaways, Blondie, the Ramones, Social Distortion, Van Halen, Duran Duran, Oasis,The Donnas, No Doubt, The Offspring, The Go-Go’s, The B-52’s, X, The Smiths, Suicidal Tendencies, Dramarama and Nena.

In fact, I always wondered how a song like “99 Luft Balloons” broke in our country. It was because Nina Hagen and Christiane Felscherinow liked the song and asked Rodney to play it. The rest was 80’s video history. And in the same way he brought glam to the U.S., he’d bring Britpop here as well.

This movie took six years to produce and presents Rodney as a Zelig, a person that was there for the biggest moments in rock ‘n roll. He got Bowie his record contract, but he lives in a small apartment and until 2017, was happy playing music on Sundays from midnight to 3 AM on KROQ. But no more.

Rodney wasn’t the only Mayor of the Sunset Strip. There was also Bobby Jameson, who released Songs of Protest and Anti-Protest under the name Chris Lucey. He appears in Mondo Hollywood and his role in the Sunset Strip riots earned him the title.

Then, there was the shadowy cult figure Kim Fowley, who held sway over the Runaways (duBeat-e-o), recorded the song “Alley Oop,” wrote “They’re Coming to Take Me Away Ha-Haaa!,” co-wrote “King of the NIght Time World” for KISS, produced the demos for Gilby Clarke’s band Cherry, started another version of the Runaways and even had the time to make a mess of underground films.

Rodney comes from a time when celebrity actually mattered, when rock and roll felt like something and when one play of a song could make you rich and get you laid. We’ll never know that era again.

You can watch this for free on Tubi.

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