Today I stopped by Spring Creek Trail, where the sidewalks run through riparian woodland, but the deciduous holly were inexplicably not yet in berry. I stopped by the Office Depot, where I got a fresh printer cartridge, after weeks of procrastinating on that task.
My wife wished to go to Macaroni Grill, a very bland chain place with good service and quite credible pasta, where I typically order a pleasing very simple grilled salmon. At 6 p.m., though, the wait was forty minutes, and the sun rarely rises on days when I am willing to wait lengthy time periods for a chain restaurant. Plano, Texas is that kind of town, by the way--the world's greatest restaurant could serve Babette's Feast to three tables of people, but any chain will pack people into the parking lot, waiting hours to sample "punch press" food. I am not a food snob, and I enjoy most chains, but I go to chains for quick service, not waiting lists.
We went instead to Papparazzi, a non-chain Plano Italian place where we got a table immediately. I had had no lunch, so I ordered a huge bowl of a white bean soup in a tomato broth, while my wife had a salad to begin. Then we had the nicest chat while we waited for our entrees, her pasta and my steak. I do not always favor the "continental" way of doing dinner, in which the meal drags on for stuporous lengths, but tonight it was very pleasant. A helpful wait staff kept us supplied with bread and soda and a chianti for my wife, and we had a very nice time together. The restaurant's blurb materials say it seeks to provide a five star experience on a two star price plan, and it very nearly succeeds in that lofty goal.
On the way home, we rented the DVD for "The Mayor of Sunset Strip", the documentary about the legendary Rodney Bingenheimer. I had been familiar with his story, of course, as his influence in breaking artists was well known long before the documentary. I was never in Los Angeles during most of his heyday, and much of his early times were times when I was too young to be even aware. But he's always been part of the way things work since I was a teen. I remember being a very young teen, and reading articles he wrote in the little fanzine magazines--always so exuberant and always the work of someone who was a fan first, and a critic not at all. But the curious thing about Bingenheimer is that while he seemed to worship celebritites, he also had a very good ear. When he was the "main DJ" at L.A.'s KROQ, the station played acts nobody played, and remarkable numbers of those acts broke out in this country.
I had high hopes for the documentary, but the movie exceeded every one of them. Although I knew some of the story, I learned a great deal I did not know. More importantly, the movie served as a paean and epitaph for a kind of Los Angeles that died either when X failed to break nationally, or when they moved Rodney to midnight. Having created KROQ, he kept his job as a DJ there even as KROQ calcified into rock salt, only without the savor. KROQ is still listenable, but aside from Bingenheimer's show, nobody would turn on KROQ to feel rock happen before your very eyes as it did in his heyday.
Much had been made in the reviews of what a sad movie it was, because, after all, Bingenheimer became the ultimate prophet without honor in his own country. But I was repeatedly struck by how this curious man with a complete sense of the present tense history in which he lived and a simple religious worship of talent and (more prominently) celebrity achieved so many things. He did it largely by being like Woody Allen's Zelig, present at each moment of his particular slice of the counterculture's history.
The director had numerous "points" to make in the film, but fortunately the "set pieces" all dissipate in the sheer wash of a Los Angeles that is long gone, and which Bingenheimer created as much as anyone.
I remember when I first began travelling to LA, in the late 80s, and being so disappointed in the club scene in Los Angeles. I expected the Whiskey a Go Go of the late 1960s or the English Disco, and instead I found thousands upon thousands of bands who all paid to play in over-hyped clubs and merely tried to fit that woebegotten week's MTV stereotype of a signed band. I found myself amazed that the Dallas Deep Ellum scene and the Austin 6th Street scene of that era had so much more vitality than the Los Angeles scene I had read so much about since my youngest days.
I have never had much of the celebrity bug for meeting famous people, but I rather wish that I had sought out and met Bingenheimer, certainly one of the more "attainable" celebrities to meet from what I have heard. To me, as to the film-makers, he was the ultimate avatar of his odd time and weird place. Even his stark eccentricity and stunning despair seem so appropriate and so much a part of his place and time. His other-worldiness and improbable innocence really illumine the film. I would pray for Rodney Bingenheimer, because we're all diminished in a world in which he no longer matters. As Courtney Love said, he got the joke of all the best bands.
So many Los Angeles bands were omitted from the movie that "should have been" in the film. I suspect that the film was more "marketable" focusing on the bigger names rather than on the full Sunset Strip scene, but the audience unfamiliar with the 70s gets deprived of the context of so much of the times.
But I love that they made this gorgeous film about how a strange and strangely likable man ruled a sound from an IHOP and a Denny's on Sunset Boulevard, in the most storied and seedy neighborhood of Los Angeles. I can tell that I have more than a bit of fan in me, too, as I write this and as I felt the thrill during the movie when Bowie's "Andy Warhol" throbs through the celluloid. I was glad that the movie explained in part the whole Kim Fowley thing, right down to a denunciation by Cherie Currie, but sometimes I wished the film had explained more (the audience is never told the GTOs' "story" for instance, nor Zappa's signing of bands as running jokes, nor even the homogenization of KROQ, the true tragedy of the piece).
Imagine if an eccentric star-worshipper inserted himself by the side of each up and coming 60s band by dint of being the ultimate fanboy, and then became the best DJ in America. Then imagine that everything he created got adopted, corporatized and had its pulp and rind completely squeezed out. Imagine they made a movie of it, and called it "Mayor of Sunset Strip". Then stop imagining, it's real. Self-promotion and humility merge at the intersection of Sunset and a hundred hipster streets.
In those Tolkien books I love, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Yet Bingenheimer seems to have escaped with a part of his soul. Perhaps he eschewed enough of the rewards he could have had, although frankly the "St. Rodney" aspect of the film was particularly ineffective. But sometimes I think they can't touch you if you're already not there. Bingenheimer broke Cheap Trick in California. Surrender, surrender.....
When I used to read Rodney Bingenheimer when I was 13, I thought it odd that all his sentences had
exclamation points in them, and every sentence was about how someone he raved about was in his club, or was just really cool. But he was right, and we're all a bit better for it.
John Peel, also a DJ, occupies a completely different place in UK rock history, though both broke a lot of bands. But I felt badly lately when Peel, in many ways a larger figure in terms of influence, had to die to get all the adulation he deserved. At least Bingenheimer got this film made about him during his lifetime.
I wonder what 1968 was like for Rodney Bingenheimer. Stars for friends, girls on each arm each night,
and that eccentric unassuming air. Was he lonely in a crowd? What was he like when the facepaint came off? Did he ever take the metaphoric facepaint off?
I have seen "The Mayor of Sunset Strip", about a moment after the moment, and I am simply intrigued, through and through. I would never want to live that particular life--but it raises so many entertaining, fascinating and troubling things about the little person dying to be discovered in each of us. We both simply loved the film.