Shep Gordon isn’t a name many music fans know. It may not be nearly as popular as the name Alice Cooper, but “Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon” reveals that Cooper’s name, and those of many other past pop-culture icons, wouldn’t be known without Gordon managing their careers.
This portrait-style documentary helmed by Mike Myers — yes, the same Myers as international man of mystery Austin Powers — peeks behind the curtain of the electric life and times of Gordon beginning with his debut as a band manager in the early 1970s. Due to a chance encounter — and a rather comical misunderstanding — with Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, Gordon came to manage upcoming musical acts among the likes of Pink Floyd and others, before eventually finding permanent success with then-floundering Alice Cooper. In those days, “manager” was more or less a synonym to weed-supplier, a profession in which Gordon flourished as well.
Myers developed a personal relationship with Gordon after negotiating with him to arrange the Alice Cooper cameo in “Wayne’s World” (1992) and was struck by Gordon’s easygoing generosity and storied past. He knew he wanted to make a film telling Gordon’s story, but getting his permission was no easy task.
“He’s asked me for about 10 years,” confessed Gordon in an interview with The Daily Californian. “It was a bit more ego for me than I could deal with. I don’t consider myself that special. So I just said no, no, no, no … and then when I was in the hospital, heavily medicated, he asked me to make it — in a weak or strong moment, I’m not sure which.”
It seems like Gordon had too many stories than Myers knew what to do with, however. The film begins chronologically, following Gordon’s career path until present day and the many celebrity encounters along the way. Often it diverges into personal anecdotes told by Gordon himself or a slew of celebrity guest interviews, including Sylvester Stallone, Michael Douglas and Willie Nelson. No matter how scattered the film’s trajectory, it’s hard to get bored with the diverse cameos and humor that Myers treats the subject matter. Much of the testimony was heartfelt as well, transforming the film into a reflective experience for Gordon.
“It was weird,” said Gordon. “I went to Mike and said, ‘Did you write these things for them?’ and he says ‘no.’ That was my first thought, that maybe it was scripted. I had a really warm feeling to know I have friends like these.”
Much of this sentiment can be explained by the film’s title. A “mensch” is a Jewish term for a person of honor and high character. This is exemplified in the film, with stories such as Gordon paying out of pocket to compensate a young Sammy Hagar after a hurricane canceled a concert he was opening for Cooper more than 30 years ago. Or Gordon adopting the children of a past lover who passed away in order to ensure their care. On paper, Gordon is a saint. Luckily, Myers includes additional content to somewhat balance out an otherwise one-sided image of Gordon, such as photographs of a 1970s Gordon boasting a T-shirt reading, “No Head, No Backstage Pass.”
Even with the these hints at what Gordon may have really been like in his prime, “Supermensch” still feels like an 85-minute idolization of someone whose life story, if given a more well-rounded treatment, could have proven to be much more dynamic and entertaining.
One major flaw for those looking for a documentary in search of realism is the film’s exclusion of all of the details of Gordon’s success — one of which is Joe Greenberg, Gordon’s former business partner who was there at the start of it all. Gordon is quick to bring Greenberg up when asked if there’s anything he felt was left out of the film.
“On a serious note, my ex-partner is very angry,” Gordon admitted. “Said I’m stealing his story, and I said I’m not stealing anybody’s story, Mike’s telling my story, and I don’t know what to say. So there’s no any one incident that I care about. It’s more the people who got left out.”
At the very least, “Supermensch” lives up to the legend it claims to tell. Through Gordon’s life, audiences are treated to a larger glimpse into the past days of a music scene on the rise, during a time when record companies supported artistry and there was little precedent for what a successful act comprised. So enjoy, but take the tales told in “Supermensch” with a grain of salt, because chances are Gordon took them with a dose of something else.
“I have no idea what’s true in my life anymore,” Gordon laughed. “I took so much acid in those days. I only know what I know.”
Ryan Koehn covers film. Contact him at [email protected].