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Go-Go’s Guitarist Jane Wiedlin Claims Influential Rock DJ Sexually Abused Her as a Teen


F
our years before
she co-founded the beloved New Wave group the Go-Go’s, guitarist Jane Wiedlin was about 15 years old living with her parents in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. It was around 1974, and she was enamored with glam-rock titans like David Bowie and Marc Bolan. Looking to get as close to the music as possible, she went to the hottest club in L.A.: Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco.

The club — which opened its doors in 1972 — had built a reputation as a well-known haunt for Bowie, Bolan, Iggy Pop, Keith Moon, the New York Dolls, Led Zeppelin, and even Elvis Presley, and it popularized England’s glam rock movement in the United States. But the Disco arguably became as known for its underage female clientele, who came there to dance, listen to music, and meet rock stars. It was here where several of rock’s most famous groupies like the GTOs, Sable Starr, and Lori Mattix would hold court. 

Wiedlin and several other high school friends  — among those who christened themselves the “Hollywooders”  — hung out there frequently, sneaking out of their parents’ homes to drive to West Hollywood’s Sunset Strip and changing into their club outfits behind the Disco outside. One night, Wiedlin alleges, the club’s eponymous owner — the famed former KROQ DJ and rock-star liaison Rodney Bingenheimer — approached her, isolated her in one of the club’s back rooms, and sexually assaulted her.

“I remember [the room] being very dark and cold,” Wiedlin tells Rolling Stone. “I was a virgin. I didn’t have much experience with boys; boys tended to ignore me…. He picked me out that night. I didn’t know what was going to happen before, but he started rubbing against me with his crotch against my crotch. I didn’t know what to do; I was pretty much frozen. I didn’t say anything; I didn’t try to stop him.”

Wiedlin alleges that Bingenheimer, who would have been around 27, told her to remove her belt as it was “getting in the way,” at which point she claims he continued to rub his crotch against her before he ejaculated on her clothes. (Wiedlin wrote about the experience during a chapter of X vocalist John Doe’s 2016 book, Under the Big Black Sun. Bingenheimer wasn’t named at the time, though Wiedlin confirms to Rolling Stone she was writing about the DJ.) 

“I wasn’t entirely sure what had gone down until we went back out. He disappeared [into the crowd], I went back to my friends, and my satin pants were a big mess,” she says. “It was weird; it never occurred to me that that had been a crime. I didn’t know what to think. It wasn’t until the #MeToo movement started when I realized I was sexually assaulted by [an adult] when I was 15.

“I was this sweet, sensitive, artistic little girl, and I really wanted to be an adult,” she adds. “I was intrigued by the sexuality of Bowie and these other people. And I wanted it, but I was also scared and I didn’t want it, and I didn’t know how it was going to happen. And I certainly didn’t think this kind of creepy little man was something I would’ve chosen.” (Bingenheimer did not reply to a detailed list of questions surrounding the allegations.)

The Go-Go’s guitarist Jane Wiedlin circa 1980.

Kerstin Rodgers/Redferns/Getty Images

Four other women — all of whom say they were minors at the time – detailed alleged similar experiences with Bingenheimer to Rolling Stone. One of the women alleges he molested her when she was a pre-teen. The allegations come nearly eight months after a sixth woman —Runaways songwriter Kari Krome — sued Bingenheimer for sexual assault when she was a minor in the 1970s. (Krome also sued the estate of producer Kim Fowley for sexual assault in her suit. Fowley died in 2015.)

In her suit, Krome alleged that she met Bingenheimer when she was 13 and claims he immediately started grooming her. Krome alleged that she “felt reassured because Defendant Bingenheimer often had numerous young girls around him, especially at the nightclub, and she had stayed at his apartment numerous times without any attempts at physical contact with her,” according to the suit. “Defendant Bingenheimer groomed Plaintiff to believe they were becoming friends and that she could trust him.” (Bingenheimer failed to appear at a recent hearing regarding Krome’s suit, and Krome and her team are pursuing a default judgment in the case.) 

Krome says Bingenheimer assaulted her one night at his apartment. “It was through his position of authority as an adult that Defendant Bingenheimer, a 28-year-old man, well-connected in the music scene, [and] the owner of the nightclub ‘Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco’ on Sunset Strip, groomed and exploited Plaintiff, a minor, and perpetrated his sexual assaults upon her,” the suit alleges. “Plaintiff is informed and thereon alleges that all the sexually abusive and harassing conduct alleged herein was done to satisfy Defendant Bingenheimer’s own prurient sexual desires.”

 “It wasn’t until the #MeToo movement started when I realized I was sexually assaulted by [an adult] when I was 15.”

Jane Wiedlin

“All the women who lived this look at the nostalgia of that time period. But the legacy he has is built off the abuse of these women,” Krome’s attorney, Karen Menzies, says. “He used that as his currency to get access to rock stars. He gets to live a legacy with a false impression of how he got there while the victims have to live with childhood sexual assault and how that effects their lives. And now [the women] want to correct the record.”

FOR MORE THAN 40 YEARS, Bingenheimer was known in the music industry as one of the most influential DJs in the country, hosting his show Rodney on the Roq on Los Angeles’ KROQ from 1976 to 2017. Before then, Bingenheimer was ubiquitous during the heyday of Los Angeles’ debauched rock scene of the 1970s, earning him the moniker “the Mayor of the Sunset Strip.” (The nickname doubled as the title of an acclaimed 2003 documentary on his life.)

Before opening the Disco in 1972, Bingenheimer had circled around the Hollywood music scene, most notably as a double for the Monkees’ Davy Jones in their hit 1960s TV show. According to a 1983 cover story in the trade publication Music Connection Magazine — which called him radio’s “new music messiah” — Bingenheimer was also a columnist for Go! magazine and contributor to Phonograph Record, where he wrote about L.A.’s club scene and nascent bands like the Doors and the Byrds. 

In a Rolling Stone 1969 cover story on groupies, the magazine described Bingenheimer as both a groupie himself — “in the sense that he hangs out with every group that hits town, then tells everybody about hanging out with the group” — and gatekeeper between the teenage girls and the rock stars who he glommed onto. “I’ll let you ball Ringo Starr — but you have to ball me first,” Bingenheimer once told a crowd while dressed as Santa Claus at a Christmas show at the Shrine Auditorium.

“His proximity to the scene is such — and his esteem high enough — that Rodney pulls his share of groupies (groupie chicks, that is) and worries enough about the consequences that he goes to the health clinic on San Vincente regularly to be certain he hasn’t picked up a dose,” Rolling Stone wrote in 1969. 

As Bingenheimer said in the piece: “There’s clap because the groupies catch it from the guys who stand out on the street selling downers. They don’t have any money for downers so they ball the guys. And then they give it to the musicians.”

Rodney Bingenheimer outside his English Disco circa 1974.

Richard Creamer/ Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

In The Mayor of the Sunset Strip documentary, actor-singer Michael Des Barres recalled Bingenheimer as the intermediary between the girls on the scene and other men. “It’s almost like a drug dealer, except Rodney was dealing girls,” he said. “Not in the sense of a pimp or anything, but the power that a dealer has; how everybody is your friend because you’re holding the coke. It was the same with Rodney. He just had access to these beautiful, beautiful little nubile girls with stars in their faces. Coupled with his enthusiasm for the acts’ genuine musical ability, and style and glamor, he also had this extraordinary posse of pussy.”

As Bingenheimer himself said in the documentary: “I’m the designated driver between the famous and the not-so-famous.” Bowie and Mick Jagger were among dozens of celebrities who spoke about Bingenheimer in the documentary. (Jagger himself called Bingenheimer “a famous groupie, now probably respectable.”)

A year after the English Disco closed, in 1976, Bingenheimer began his KROQ radio show. With Rodney on the Roq, he built a reputation for breaking artists and was the first to air music from would-be renowned acts like Blondie, the Ramones, Sex Pistols, the Smiths, Duran Duran, Van Halen, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Nirvana, among hundreds of other bands. 

In 2007, he was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, where the Bangles and Brian Wilson were in attendance to honor him. “You getting a star is the high point of the season. We are all delighted for you,” Bowie wrote to Bingenheimer at the time. 

Bingenheimer currently hosts a weekly radio show on SiriusXM’s Underground Garage channel, a gig he’s had for more than six years beginning right after his KROQ dismissal. After Krome filed her initial suit, the network didn’t comment beyond telling Variety that a more detailed response would come the week after, though no response was issued. (A rep for SiriusXM did not reply to multiple requests for comment.) 

“I still have these feelings of self-loathing, guilt, and shame … It’s good to have someone listen to me and not roll their eyes at me and they’re not telling me to let it go.” 

Kari Krome

BINGENHEIMER WOULD BECOME an early advocate for the Go-Go’s, playing the band on KROQ before they’d broken out as stars. Wiedlin says she and Bingenheimer never spoke about the alleged incident, even as she would go on his radio show or see him at concerts and industry events. Wiedlin said she was unsure if Bingenheimer had even remembered it. 

Bingenheimer’s role in championing the band, who would enter the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2021, only further complicated her feelings on his behavior and whether or not to speak out. “I have these huge mixed emotions. The guy’s a fucking monster, but then he also helped us … the Go-Go’s got our first exposure because of Rodney,” Wiedlin says, adding that for years she blamed herself for his alleged actions. “I should have said no [the night of the alleged assault], but I didn’t. It wasn’t anything I asked for, but at the same time I wanted to be a sexy young adult or whatever. It’s very tangly in my mind. At this stage, I think, ‘Fuck that guy.’ That was wrong. Even if I had asked him to do something, which I didn’t, it wouldn’t have been right. It was illegal and immoral.”

Wiedlin kept her experience almost entirely to herself until several years ago after the #MeToo movement erupted. She says she didn’t tell her Go-Go’s bandmates until decades after the incident and says they’ve been supportive since. Wiedlin also confided in one of her old “Hollywooder” high school friends Rachel (who is using a pseudonym over privacy concerns) in 2019, who told Wiedlin that Bingenheimer had also allegedly sexually assaulted her and another friend. It made Wiedlin realize for the first time that she wasn’t alone with her allegations.

“I was fucking shocked that I didn’t know,” Wiedlin says. “It turned out he molested everybody, and nobody talked to each other about it. I think he just made his way through every girl that he could.”

Wiedlin had previously been hesitant to speak out, but she came forward after Krome filed her lawsuit, telling Rolling Stone that she wanted to support her and make sure the public knows Krome isn’t alone with her claims. “I hadn’t known Kari well, but I remember meeting her when I was 14, and she was this amazing force,” Wiedlin says. “When she came out, I just felt like I had to support her. I didn’t want her to go to one of those things where people don’t believe the woman.”

Partiers at Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco, circa 1973.

Richard Creamer/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

“I’m grateful to everyone,” Krome tells Rolling Stone of Wiedlin and the other women coming forward with their own stories. “I still have these feelings of self-loathing, guilt, and shame. And that goes from being manageable and unmanageable, but that’s starting to lift. It’s good to have someone listen to me and not roll their eyes at me and they’re not telling me to let it go.” 

Rachel claims to Rolling Stone that in 1974, Bingenheimer fondled her in a back-office room at the club when she was around 15 years old. The only thing I remember about it was being in this weird room, which didn’t look anything like the rest of the club,” Rachel says. “And him fondling me, I don’t think he kissed me. He didn’t really talk … He was sort of chatty for a minute, and then he started touching me. It didn’t go farther than that. I was completely uninterested. He became really creepy to me at that moment. He was no longer sort of a joke.”

Rachel says that she doesn’t recall thinking she was taken advantage of at the time, equating the incident to more of a “rite of passage” that came with being a part of that scene. But in retrospect, Rachel says, it was violating. “We were young and innocent. All the things that we were seeing were sort of theoretical for us,” she tells Rolling Stone. “Once we saw girls who were 16 and 17 hanging out with these guys who were much older, it all seemed so normal that the idea that Rodney would try to get to know all of these teenage girls didn’t seem weird at the time.

“Years later when I thought about it, I was fucking infuriated,” she continues. “He was a monster who was taking advantage of all these teenage girls who were not there to be with him, but to be with each other and dance and dress up however we wanted, to have fun and meet guys our own age and meet rock stars.”

A second Hollywooder friend, Limor Godwin, says she had multiple run-ins with Bingenheimer as a teenager over the course of more than a year that the friends went to the Disco. In one instance when she was 15 years old, she claims Bingenheimer took her to a back room before he started kissing her, rubbing his crotch against her and putting his fingers up her vagina. 

“I was truly a virgin; I’d never been kissed before or anything else. He was kissing me, the worst breath ever,” she says, claiming that she saw a stain of his semen on his pink satin pants after he rubbed against her. “As far as manhandling me or sexually abusing me, you can say it was ‘consensual’ because what the hell did I know? I was 15, and he was 10 years older than I was. I certainly didn’t enjoy it.”

“He was a monster who was taking advantage of all these teenage girls who were not there to be with him”

“Rachel”

Godwin says none of the girls had fully understood their experiences for years because they felt that sort of behavior was so normalized around them. “I just figured it was just part of growing up,” Godwin says. “There was a lot of wild stuff; we grew up in the Seventies in the Valley. Until Jane mentioned it, I hadn’t thought about it in years.”

Outside of people in Wiedlin’s orbit, another woman named Kourtney Kaye also came forward to Rolling Stone following Krome’s suit. She says that around 1974, when she was about 11 years old, Bingenheimer kissed her on her lips, stuck his tongue in her mouth, and “fumblingly groped” her at her Beverly Hills home. Kaye says she was too young to go to the club, but her older brother Randy would go. One night, Randy came back home with several friends, including Bingenheimer, while Kaye was in her room sleeping. 

As Kaye remembers, another friend of her brother’s came into Kaye’s room and asked her if she had any “cute, sexy nightgowns to wear.” Kaye says the friend instructed her to put on one of the two negligee robes she had and brushed her hair. Soon after, Kaye remembers, Bingenheimer, who was around 28 at the time, came into her bedroom after the friend left. 

“I was half asleep, quite young, and really confused,” Kaye says. “I remember that these were the older kids and they were cool, and I wanted to be a cool older kid. I didn’t really know what was going on.” Kaye claims Bingenheimer apologized after kissing her, “like it was some kind of accident. And then he did it again.”

Another woman who spoke with Rolling Stone, using the pseudonym Amanda to protect her family’s privacy, says she was in an inappropriate relationship with Bingenheimer when she was 17 and he was 38. She met Bingenheimer during her high school winter break in December 1985 when Bingenheimer was a long-established KROQ DJ.

Amanda alleges that she would see Bingenheimer regularly from January until just over six months later in June 1986. She says she met Bingenheimer at Pennyfeathers, a then-popular L.A. restaurant. Bingenheimer took to her quickly, she alleges, and he impressed her early on as he told stories about musicians he knew. She later gave him her phone number. Soon after, she’d see Bingenheimer regularly, she claims, going with him to Hollywood parties and bars to meet his celebrity friends, where she claims she was usually one of the youngest people there.

Rodney Bingenheimer in Hollywood, CA in 2005.

Matthew Simmons/Getty Images

She says that the relationship turned sexual quickly, with Amanda recalling that she slept over at his home early on after meeting him. She alleged that, one night, he showed her a magazine article of a young-looking woman “talking about what they like sexually.” “And then he showed me another magazine like that,” Amanda said, adding that she felt it was a “way to try to normalize that kind of thing.” She alleges that throughout their relationship, Bingenheimer fondled her on his couch and performed oral sex on her. She also claimed he pressured her to use a vibrator on her and photograph her naked, both of which she says she refused. 

Amanda says she got more uncomfortable throughout her time with Bingenheimer, noting that friends of hers were concerned and wanted her to stop. “I started becoming more and more uncomfortable hanging out with him and going places with him because I felt like people were looking at me like I was disgusting,” she says, recalling movie premieres and Hollywood parties where she saw few people her age. 

“I think it hit me pretty quickly [that it wasn’t OK],” Amanda says. “At the time when I was with him, I did feel a lot of shame and confusion. His world was nothing that I knew about. I had a lot of shame about it for years.”

“I was half asleep, quite young, and really confused … These were the older kids and they were cool, and I wanted to be a cool older kid. I didn’t really know what was going on.” 

Kourtney Kaye

Amanda, who today is a therapist working with women who have experienced trauma, stopped speaking to Bingenheimer by June 1986 after she moved out of L.A. To this day, she says her alleged experience with Bingenheimer was “isolating.” “It’s hard to talk about with other people, even family or really close friends,” she says. ”People get freaked out and can’t deal with it.”

In 2018, she says she went to the LAPD to file a police report. Rolling Stone reviewed email correspondences between her and an LAPD officer confirming that she’d spoken with the police about Bingenheimer. However, no charges were ever filed against him. 

“The case was sent to the District Attorney’s office for review. The case was thoroughly reviewed including your most recent memory. The deputy district attorney determined that charges will not be filed against Mr. Bingenheimer,” an officer wrote in an email to her.

Prior to that notice from the LAPD, Amanda told the police in the email that she didn’t want to press charges herself. As she tells Rolling Stone: “All I wanted was for people to know about him.” (A rep for the LAPD said to issue a CPRA request and said there was no further statement.)

“It’s amazing that he got away with it,” Wiedlin says. “The thing is, it was good for him. And then it was good for business because all these rock stars would get to come in there and meet all these girls. 

“It’s hard for me to reconcile my heroes being flawed that way,” she continues. “I’ve got to be honest and say that if David Bowie showed up at that club, I might’ve been too shy to do it, but in my brain, I would have been thinking ‘throw yourself at him, throw yourself at him,’” Wiedlin says with a light chuckle. “That’s what makes all this so tangled and complicated…. I was not interested in Rodney Bingenheimer.” 

In an email sent hours after speaking with Rolling Stone, Rachel further specified her concerns with the way the behavior was so normalized, as well as how much potential damage it did to the girls who experienced it. “The more I think about it now, the angrier I get,” she wrote. “That the club was used as a way to groom young girls for rock stars is nauseating…. The whole idea of rock stars as gods, and that you should be grateful if you were one of the chosen, is so repulsive. I can’t even fathom that that was something we all thought was normal. 

“Looking back on it, I’m horrified,” Rachel continued. “In a way, I feel guilty because I was having what I thought was pretty innocent fun, while Kari — and probably others — were being injured and permanently damaged at the same time. I was a child. I didn’t understand what they were really doing. Fifteen-year-olds CANNOT GIVE CONSENT. Rodney and Kim were monsters. Criminals.

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