The legend of rock’s ‘Supermensch’ is better before his success is supersized - The Buffalo News
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The legend of rock’s ‘Supermensch’ is better before his success is supersized

If only Mike Myers’ “Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon” had been booked into the Amherst Theatre rather than the theater at Eastern Hills Mall where it opened Friday.

Then the film could have played right across the street from the university where, it is now clear, so much of the current mainstream of all of American show business was midwived into birth.

That, I assure you, is no hyperbole. The University at Buffalo is where grand movie mega-mogul Harvey Weinstein went before he became (successively), the Buffalo rock promoting partner of Corky Burger, the co-creator of Miramax Films and then the Weinstein Co. (which now brings us “Supermensch”).

It’s also the university where Brad Grey went before (successively) becoming a gofer for Weinstein, a partner of comedy industrialist Bernie Brillstein and, finally, the pasha of the entire Paramount kingdom, kit, kaboodle and whole enchilada, to mix as many metaphors as possible in a short space.

It’s also, we know now, where the showbiz supermanager Shep Gordon, the subject of “Supermensch,” graduated from in 1968 before he became what Myers calls him – the baby that might have somehow resulted from the three-way mating of Brian Epstein, Marshall McLuhan and Mr. Magoo.

Who is Shep Gordon? He started out, after UB, being virtually appointed by Jimi Hendrix at a motel pool the manager of Alice Cooper.

Here, in one of the avalanche of great stories Gordon drops on us, is how that conversation with Hendrix transpired:

Jimi: “Are you Jewish?”

Shep: “Yeah.”

Jimi: “You should be a manager.”

Shep: “Who should I manage?”

Jimi: “Alice Cooper.”

Gordon wasn’t doing anything else so why not? A drawer full of grass that just happened to be in Gordon’s motel room helped seal the deal.

By the time Gordon retired to his estate in Maui after many decades of a long career, the list of his clients included everyone from Alice Cooper’s pal Groucho Marx and Raquel Welch to Pink Floyd and Anne Murray to Teddy Pendergrass. Nor does his roster of clients begin to tell the story (or rather limit the subjects of his Sheherazade Arabian Night full of stories).

This is a man who seems to have known half of the people in the world worth knowing, from Michael Douglas to the Dalai Lama. And, get this, he is credited now by no less than celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse with being the man who was the de facto creator of the whole idea of the celebrity chef, on the Food Network and afterward.

How? See the movie and you’ll understand. As so many Gordon stories do, it concerned his righteous anger at the financial mistreatment of those who should have been able to “monetize” (Gordon’s word) both their talent and their fame in ways that an unjust world wouldn’t allow them to.

Until Gordon came along, that is, to work on their behalf.

As you watch Gordon expound on his personal gospel of Karma, “compassionate business” and providing “coupons” for favors past, you can understand why for those in a business whose cutthroat and schlock exploitations are the greatest legends of them all, Gordon became as beloved as any artist representative likely would ever be.

All of which is certainly heartening to watch, to be sure. But some of which, as his star rises and his inside showbiz legend expands beyond supernova size, becomes a wee bit boring in the film’s final 5 minutes. Nice guys don’t finish last, as Leo Durocher insisted, but they do flirt with narrative tedium on occasion.

What makes “Supermensch” virtually required viewing for anyone interested in rock or show business at all, is its riotously funny first hour where this super tale teller gives us, in the stories of Cooper’s rise, some of the most irresistible showbiz in any documentary you’ve ever seen.

It was a UB professor he’d had, he tells us, that animated the philosophy that made Cooper a rock star. “We knew that if we could get the parents to hate you, the kids would love you.”

So what you do is, for instance, have a truck break down during rush hour in Piccadilly Circus while dragging a giant picture of a naked Cooper fondling a snake crawling over his genitalia. Out of a hellish British traffic jam came major stories in every outrage-peddling rag on Fleet Street.

At events, Gordon crowded Cooper with photographers whose cameras had no film, just so real photographers would be impressed by all the flashing.

Cooper was equally good at building his own legend Gordon-style. He told reporters that in his early days of skipping out on motels without paying bills, “They said we stole some towels. That’s silly. We don’t even wash.”

By the time Gordon’s client was Anne Murray, you’re going to love the explanation provided by Murray herself of her song “Snowbird.”

For his first movie as director, Myers took the friend he made while making “Wayne’s World” and followed his later-life hosannas, heartaches and illnesses to places that don’t begin to entertain the way the film’s portrayal of the early life of the music biz pioneer did.

But then Myers is happy to tell us how much he owes Gordon for helping him keep body and soul together when they threatened to come apart.

A good man, to be sure.

But the point of the movie is that he is also, as are so many behind-the-scenes folks in showbiz, one of the all-time great storytellers.

The first hour of “Supermensch” is priceless. And absolutely irresistible.

Charge the last 25 minutes up to karma.


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