I’ve never been able to decide if being a manager is one of the best or worst jobs in the music industry.
Managing artists puts you in close proximity to very talented people and bestows upon you the opportunity to build a long-term career for your clients and potentially make lots and lots of money. But there’s also a real downside — managing egos, monitoring vices and screaming at booking agents, promoters and other assorted stupid people.
Ok, maybe screaming at agents sounds kind of fun, but Shep Gordon doesn’t really come off as much of a screamer. At least not according to his new memoir “They Call Me Supermensch: A Backstage Pass to the Amazing Worlds of Film, Food, and Rock’n’Roll” which is now available on Amazon. Shep Gordon’s memoir is a fun, engaging read that starts with his childhood in Oceanside, N.Y. and deep dives into his early days in rock music, managing Alice Cooper and later his run as a Hollywood power broker with Alive Films and his time developing the careers of celebrity chefs like Roger Vergé of Moulin de Mougins in Cannes and later Emeril Lagasse and Wolfgang Puck.
“Supermensch” is published on Anthony Bourdain’s HarperCollins imprint Ecco and a live Q&A between the two is scheduled for tonight at 92Y in New York. Supermensch is a breezy read that can easily be digested on a cross-country flight or a rainy weekened. Those looking for tawdry tales of sex, drugs and celebrities behaving badly won’t be disappointed — Gordon easily weaves between stories of hooking up with Playboy Bunnies and dating Sharon Stone with spiritual enlightenment from his time spent cooking for the Dalai Lama. Like all managers, Gordon is a fighter, but Supermensch isn’t a tale of battles with promoters as much as it is a celebration of creativity and problem-solving.
How did he keep Luther Vandross and Anita Baker from fighting when the two went on tour? After a nuclear battle led to the cancellation of a sold-out show at Madison Square Garden, Shep called ahead to buildings hosting the show and had them erect a brick wall between the two artist’s dressing rooms so that they wouldn’t have to see each other.
“They went onstage separately, did their shows, and never saw or heard each other,” he wrote. “It makes for a funny story now, but it was a nightmare then. It cost us twenty thousand dollars a night to keep those two dueling divas apart.”
Everyone remembers Alice Cooper’s performance at the 1969 Toronto Rock and Roll Revival when Gordon spotted a wild chicken backstage, tossed it to Cooper mid-song who then threw it in the audience.
“He didn’t know chickens can’t fly. It dropped like a meteor into the crowd,” he wrote. “Alice had gotten them so worked up in a frenzy that they ripped that chicken apart, just tore it to pieces, and threw it back at him—wings, legs, the head, all bloody.”
Yes, that’s gross and cruel, but Alice Cooper was a dangerous act and any press or publicity captured national attention and helped him become a superstar. Gordon had one singular goal — make parents absolutely hate Cooper, and by consequence, the kids would love him.
“No other rock band was working that angle at the time,” Gordon wrote. “They were all making hippie peace-and-love music. I thought that the more outrageous, obnoxious and offensive Cooper could be, the more we’d stand out.”
Gordon’s book shines where so many other Hollywood mogul’s memoirs fall short. Supermensch is chock full of rich, highly descriptive stories that are well-paced and even-keeled yet still doted with A-list celebrities and outrageous behavior from Groucho Marx, Salvador Dali, Timothy Leary and G. Gordon Liddy. Rarely does a chapter go by without someone doing drugs, having sex or making threats — often all at the same time. The book wouldn’t work without Gordon’s self-awareness, and he readily admits his luck stumbling into his charmed life but also regularly returns to his ideas about persistence, generosity and having a vision and goals. He can be the nice guy, but also refuse to take no for an answer.
He has lots of great mantras in the book — don’t get angry, get what you want. He speaks of the importance of being able to “dissociate myself from my emotions, keep a clear head, and accomplish my goal.” If someone does him a favor, he owes them a favor in return, it’s what he likes to call his coupon system.
And finally, he explains that happiness isn’t found in money or power, but in service to other people. Perhaps that’s why he is such a successful manager — he understands the importance of putting others above himself. Speaking of meeting celebrity chef Vergé, he writes:
“Early in our friendship, I came to feel that true bliss was service to others and perfecting your compassion. Unlike so many people I knew then, Vergé always did everything in a selfless spirit of ‘How can I make your life better?'” Gordon writes. “As a chef, he liked to say, ‘I try to give pleasure on everyone.’ What made him the absolute happiest was cooking to please his customers and friends. Doing a service for others.”