Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco

In late 1971 music industry publicist Rodney Bingenheimer moved to London after becoming fed up with the American music industry. 

While in England he saw the birth of the Glam Rock movement and it was David Bowie who suggested Bingenheimer open a Glam club in Los Angeles.

Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco opened on the Sunset Strip from late 1972 until 1975. Kids came from all over to listen to the latest glam pop sounds from England such as Bowie, Queen, Suzi Quatro and Roxy Music. 

It was also the place to come mingle with those rock stars. A young Joan Jett would hang out here, along with Marc Bolan of T-Rex, Led Zeppelin. Glam rock was huge with the underground scene.

The following quotes are taken from various sources.

Kim Fowley recalled, "The English Disco was more a public-toilet version of the E Club. The new location gave it the teenage stench it needed. Everybody had great hair and great make-up, and there were Lolita girls everywhere”.

It soon became the centre of the new ‘Glitter Rock’ movement in Los Angeles. Bowie's biography noted, "The crowd at the club ranged in age from twelve to fifteen... nymphet groupies were stars in their tight little world. As they danced they mimed fellatio and cunnilingus in tribute to David's onstage act of fellatio on Ronno's guitar."

In November 1973 writer Richard Cromelin reported, "Once inside, everybody's a star”.

Newsweek magazine reported in January 1974 that "The dance floor is a dizzy kaleidoscope of lamè hot pants, sequined halters, rhinestone-studded cheeks, thrift-store any things and see-through every things. During the breaks, 14-year-old girls on 6-inch platforms teeter into the back bathrooms to grope with their partners of the moment. Most of the sex is as mixed as the drinks and the drugs the kids bring with them”.

Iggy Pop, who had become a forlorn figure in the glam world, was often seen at the club. Kid Congo, later guitarist with The Cramps and Gun Club, remembered "Iggy on the street outside the Disco, pulling his dress up and exposing himself, and Rodney crying because he thought he was going to be arrested."

Writer Nick Kent also recalled, "I saw Iggy there many a time, stoned out of his gourd, lost to the world and to himself as well, staring at his face and form in those mirrored walls - staring at his reflection like Narcissus drugged out in teenage-disco-hell”.

The club had its dark side, however. In 1999 writer Lisa Fancher wrote how Joan Jett "was walking up to Rodney’s one Friday night when she saw a dead body out front, an obvious OD, and nobody was paying any attention at all. The kids just kept walking into the club. The Sweet was flooding out the door and everybody just kept on dancing”.

By the fall of 1974 Glitter Rock in the US was waning in popularity. In October the Palladium held a "Death of Glitter" night, with performances by the New York Dolls, Iggy Pop and Silverhead. Rodney's deejay Chuckie Star recalled, "All over Hollywood that night it was glitter! Glitter! The line to get into the Palladium was incredible-everyone in LA knew it was their last chance to wear platform shoes and eyeshadow. 

This was it! Surfers from Malibu were there in midriff shirts, silver space boots, and blue eye makeup, hugging their girlfriends as they waited to get in."

The New York Dolls ended the show as Chuckie Star was carried onto the stage in a glitter coffin, into which the crowd threw roses, glitter and lipstick. Nick Kent wrote, "If it wasn’t quite The Beautiful and the Damned it was certainly the pretty and the damned- everyone was, you know, 'going to hell' and nobody cared. 

Remembering the end of the LA Glitter groupie scene Pamela Des Barres wrote, "You couldn’t trust the new LA groupies, who were desperate, discouraged, groveling ego seekers. The love of music had become secondary to preening in Star magazine, standing next to anybody in a Band. It was scary out there. It was fictitious and haunted."

Partnership and licensing problems led Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco to close in early 1975. Pleasant Gehman later wrote, "We were a crowd of groupies, teenage hustlers, bisexual schoolgirls, and fringy, juvenile sluts looking for a good time. We’d hang out at weird coffeeshops (like Arthur J’s, the Gold Cup, and Danielle’s, where drag-queen hookers would meet their tricks in the bathroom), or we’d go to Westwood to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show for the millionth time.

These places didn’t serve alcohol, so of course they didn’t card you. And you could feel totally at home in your fishnets, heavy makeup, and divinely decadent attitude. I mean, who was going to hassle you over your hair color? A drag queen? Rodney’s English Disco had closed down, and the Masque wasn’t yet open so these were our haunts."

David Bowie told ‘Q’ magazine in 1993, “Alone in L.A. Rodney seemed like myself, an island of anglo 'nowness'. He even knew British singles and bands that I wasn't aware of. There was nothing about him that wasn't 'on'. Rodney single-handedly cut a path through the treacle of the 60's, allowing all we 'avants' to parade our sounds of tomorrow, dressing in our clothes of derision"

Q&A With Rodney Bingenheimer from Feb 10 2005.

Chris Tilly catches up with Rodney Bingenheimer - Radio DJ, nightclub owner, pop impresario and star of the new documentary 'Mayor of the Sunset Strip'.

Q: Looking back is there any period you remember with the most fondness?

A: Definitely glam rock – Bowie, T-Rex, Slade – those were all bands I loved and played in my club, Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco. I started the club after I went to London and stayed in Ealing Broadway. 

There was this little place called The Cellar near the tube where they played this amazing music. Bowie suggested that next time I went to LA I start a club like that and I ended up doing it!

Q: Was that how you got so heavily into the English bands then?

A: I'd always been into English music growing up – watching the Beatles and great TV shows like Ed Sullivan and Shindig – hearing all that music that was so happy and positive.


Anonymous said...

Some of these insanely rich performers should send Rodney a few hundred each month to pool together and support him.