“Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon,” produced and directed by Mike Myers is one of the most fascinating and entertaining documentaries made in the past ten years, and for people over 50 years old will bring back some delightful memories of rock n roll in the 1970s and the contemporaneous life-style.
Given the breadth of what the man was involved with and the extended cadre of celebrities that he knew and managed, I feel somewhat ashamed that I had never heard of Shep Gordon before. His story starts in the 1960s with a road trip to LA after failing as a probation officer at a juvenile prison in California. Shep stops at a motel outside LA where he meets Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. The movie is filled with serendipitous encounters such as this that seem too unreal to be true.
For no other reason than Shep is Jewish, Hedrix thinks he should become a manager. He further suggests Shep take on a scraggly, misfit band called Alice Cooper. The tales of how Shep Gordon manipulated public opinion about the degenerate Alice Cooper and merchandized the band to number 1, multi-millionaire, private jet status are mind-blowing. Whoever said “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” must have been thinking of Alice Cooper.
A significant thread through the movie is the life-long friendship that Shep and Alice have nurtured and enjoyed to this day, and it serves as a springboard by which Myers reinforces Shep’s status as a “supermensch” – a man of integrity and honor who would do anything for a friend. The movie recollects countless examples of Shep’s generosity, the most poignant being his enduring support of five orphans he barely knew – the connection being simply that he had had a brief fling with their grandmother.
Although Shep managed Alice Cooper and as such got close with rock royalty like Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Steven Tyler and Iggy Pop, he was not an enthusiastic fan of the genre, preferring Motown and Folk. Confounding his peers, Shep took on management of Anne Murray, a Canadian singer with a crystal voice and an straight-laced image to match. Music industry insiders thought it a fool’s errand to try to promote the likes of Anne Murray, who sang about snowbirds and “honey, wheat and laughter” at a time when booze, drugs, androgyny and general unwholesomeness dominated rock n roll. In 1973 Shep booked Anne at the Troubador in LA, a small, intimate club, and arranged for several rock stars to attend the set. His mission was to have Anne Murray photographed surrounded by top talent, surmising correctly that anyone who saw the picture would demand to know more about the unknown chick in the middle. Soon afterwards, Anne Murray was featured in numerous trade rags and performed on “The Midnight Special” – the top rock n roll show on TV (back when being on TV meant something.)
In the second half of the film, Shep observes that fame and unhappiness seem inevitably intertwined. He notes the early deaths of Joplin, Morrison, Hendrix, the alcoholism of Alice Cooper, the paralysis of Teddy Pendergrass (another of Shep’s clients) following a car crash. Then one day while having dinner during the Cannes Film Festival (by this time Shep had moved into movie production: “The Duellists,” “Choose Me,” “Kiss of the Spider Woman”) he meets Roger Vergé, one of the greatest chefs of all time – but virtually unknown outside the world of gourmands. Vergé is the first person Shep encounters who is both famous (within his chosen field) and happy. He resolves to become an accomplished chef himself. Later, when Shep learns that Vergé and his fellow chefs actually reap little financial reward for their efforts, he embarks on an effort to change the dynamic, and in the process creates what we now know as the “celebrity chef.” Emeril Lagasse was Shep’s first client and the rest is history.
The unlikely tales go on and on. I highly recommend the film, for as the tag-line says, “Discover the man who saw everything and went looking for more.” Watch “Supermensch” and find out how this regular schmo from the suburbs of New York City came to be best buddies with the likes of Michael Douglas, Groucho Marx, Ron Wood, the Dalai Lama, Tom Arnold, Sylvester Stallone, and dozens more.
Cantor Chants the Blues
Too much already has been written and spoken about in the couple of days since Eric Cantor lost his primary race for the right to represent the 7th congressional district of Virginia to small-town college professor David Brat – an event that has been called “an earthquake,” “a tectonic-plate shift,” “a David and Goliath story,” and a “mind-blowing modern-day ‘Dewey Beats Truman’ moment” (nevermind that the original famous headline was “Dewey Defeats Truman”.) There’s been much speculation by the voyeuristic punditocracy on the meaning and ramification of Cantor’s double-digit drubbing – the first time in American history that a House Majority leader was beaten in a primary. A bitch-slapping worse than when House Speaker Thomas Foley lost in a general election to a newcomer.
I don’t intend to pull out a smudged crystal ball and start opining on the future. That’s the job of cretins like Cokie Roberts and Gail Collins. Rather, I offer a few observations:
• Supposedly Brat won because he maniacally beat up Cantor for his softness on illegal immigration. Forget whether Cantor was a pro-“amnesty” liberal or a latter-day Torquemada. Is the blight of illegal immigration really plaguing the 7th congressional district of Virginia to such an extent that it is their most urgent crisis? Seems a stretch. Whatever evils accompany illegal immigration, I have to believe the bulk of them affect border states like Texas and Arizona, leaving little for genteel Virginia to be upset about. Latinos make up less than 5 percent of the district, which includes some of Richmond and its Caucasian suburbs; is the 7th district really a magnet for illegals? Once again, it seems the people have voted against their interests by giving up the benefits of having their congressman wield the power of the Majority leader so that a phantom boogeyman can be vanquished from their midst.
• Every pundit has remarked with incredulity that Cantor’s massive re-election war-chest of $5.4 million was impotent against Brat’s tiny $200,000 budget. But keep in mind, Brat received what was surely millions of dollars’ worth of free publicity from right-wing radio hosts like Laura Ingraham, Glen Beck and Sean Hannity who carried his water for hours on end each day. Cantor surely squandered his money on suspect marketing tactics, but let’s not pretend Brat won on a 27-1 discount.
• Representative Peter King of New York made the following comment after Cantor’s demise: “The results tonight will move the party further to the right, which will marginalize us further as a national party.” No doubt adding Brat to the line-up will move the GOP further right, and you can expect other knock-kneed Republicans to rush to the right out of fear of catching Cantoritis. And Cantor’s loss may marginalize the party in the sense that fewer Americans will identify with the party – but so what? Through such nefarious tactics like gerrymandering, voter suppression laws and obstructive filibusters, the GOP has effectively stifled the power of those who don’t identify with them. We keep hearing that the GOP is becoming the party of older whiteys, leaving behind the growing population of blacks, Latinos, etc – yet everyone’s talking about a perpetual Republican House, the likelihood that the GOP takes the Senate this year, and the possibility of a Republican winning the presidency in 2016.
Is it possible to hold both houses of Congress, and the presidency, and the Supreme Court, and the majority of governorships – and still be marginal?
Only in America.