It’s a relief to find Shep Gordon so humble and gentle. Remember, this is a show-biz player who propelled Alice Cooper to stardom with a billboard of Cooper’s naked body (clothed only by a boa constrictor) jamming up Piccadilly Circus. He produced Academy Award-winning movies. He rubbed shoulders and passed joints with Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix before they got huge. He celebrated cooking culture and erected well-paid empires for Roger Verge and Emeril Lagasse. He’s been chummy with everybody from Salvador Dali to the Dalai Lama, and he perpetuated groupie culture; in his prime, he wore a shirt declaring “No Head, No Backstage Pass.”
With that sort of backstory, you might expect the seventy-year-old Gordon, who is semi-retired, to be an unbearable egomaniac. But the “Supermensch” lives up to his nickname, and speaks with little arrogance and much gratitude. You can hear it in his voice, and you'll find it in his memoir, They Call Me Supermensch, which drops Tuesday September 20th.
How does it feel to have “author” added to your long resume? To me, I don’t think of it as that. More as observer and storyteller. I was just trying to make some sense out of my life, to tell some great stories that deserve a life out there.
You more or less pick up where Mike Myers left off his movie, Supermensch. There couldn’t have been enough time there to fit all those great stories you have in the book. It’s really his version of my story. He was always looking for a cause and effect. When I look at my life it’s completely random. The book gave me the opportunity to really explore that and see if my life was really random, if I was alluding to a subset of something that moved me along my personal journey. It was like a psychology class... for me, maybe not for my readers.
Was it difficult at all, or was it all pretty laid out for you? At times it was painful, at times it was hilarious. There were so many times when I had to fact check! (laughter) Because time is such an interesting thing, especially with stories. Some stories I thought happened actually hadn't, so to me that was hysterical. Like that moment with Picasso [in Supermensch there's a scene where he talks about meeting Picasso, who had already been two years dead by the time the anecdote took place.] The other times I had to check up on were the more stories that were more difficult, the times that weren’t all great times and happy and laughing. I enjoyed the exercise, got hysterical thinking about, like with the story of when Alice (Cooper) was shot out of a cannon! People thought he had to go to the hospital! Not that hospitals are funny or anything.
I was especially delighted about your meeting of Salvador Dali, or “The Dali,” as he preferred to be called. That was amazing! A tool I use to help make people celebrities was “guilt by association”—put somebody famous next to another person and some of that fame bleeds off. In those days, Dali was the epitome of who we thought Alice Cooper fans would be. Alice was basically doing a Salvador Dali picture live on stage, so we were thinking “how do we get a picture with Dali?” and at the time, holograms were being perfected for scientific usage, it hadn’t blended in the art world. We asked “would he like to do the first art hologram,” and they said yes. It was like the perfect Dali painting in living motion. When we met him, he held this jar of honey far above a cup of hot water, and he would cut the trail of honey coming out with a pair of scissors! He was living in art! He kept calling me Mr. Blemley, I couldn’t tell you why! (laughs) Alice was wearing a million dollars worth of jewelry in a tiara, the Dali had Alice’s brain with an eclair in the middle.
You take a lot of time paying attention to other people, which is rare in this kind of book. I feel lucky. We all get lucky we find something to hold onto, whether it’s real or not. I’d see people get joy through the Jewish religion, through cooking, through all kinds of things—we all have our journey. Me, I found joy through the life of service. It always came naturally to me, whether in my personal life, or in terms of helping people in need. I always found myself as the guy on the white horse. The most selfish thing I ever did was be in service. If I actually accomplished somebody’s dream, that made me feel good. I was in the business of making dreams come true.
Do people shout “Supermensch!” at you when you’re on the street? (laughs) They do! At my golf course, on my bag tag, they changed it to Supermensch on the course, I didn’t even think people would know what it was! But I have gotten a lot of attention for it. People come up to me asking for guidance. I couldn’t give any answers, but I hope the book could let me help them.
When you were younger and growing up in New York, did you ever want to travel as much as you have in your career? There’s nothing really about my young life that I think about now, except living on the ocean. I didn’t want to be a manager or make movies because I wanted to, i just happened to be there. My travel—I loved it because I love the different cultures. I never dreamt about them as a young man. My goal was always to live on an ocean somewhere, and I’ve come close.
I love New York, I’ll always consider it home. When I go back, it always feels like a great bowl of chicken soup. I love walking the streets, the access to theatre, the culture. Food is one of my passions in life. I have an extensive itinerary for when I visit - a benefit dinner at Chelsea Piers with Michael White and Emeril [Lagasse], the Yankees-Dodgers game on Wednesday, brunch at the Plaza, Mission Chinese for a meal, speaking with Anthony Bourdain at the 92nd Street Y, which I’m excited about. He’s a publisher of my book, and I adore his show.. the excitement of different cultures, it’s so much more than just about cooking culture.
I recently learned that you were a producer of a couple of John Carpenter’s movies. Did you have a relationship with him? Oh yeah, still do! We’re doing a remake of They Live. I had a beautiful little company called Alive FIlms, we did Koyaanisqatsi and Kiss of The Spider Woman, and Stop Making Sense and these beautiful little movies that nobody went to see. “How can we make some money?” we thought. We discovered that the foundation of [the business] was videocassettes, which were selling big time. I said, why don’t I apply this to movies people actually wanna see, and horror movies had the best ratio of box office gross, and I wondered who were the two best directors, and they were John Carpenter and Wes Craven. I went to them and said, I can give you money, I won’t look at the script, I won’t look over your shoulder. We did They Live, which has so much resonance. The other one I loved that we did is Shocker. We used special effects that didn’t exist in those days! I’d love to see what that would look like now.
It’s rare when a Hollywood movie can exist with so much creativity. Money is a much bigger factor now. That’s in everything. You see it in coffee shops, Starbucks instead of Joe’s Coffee, you can’t fly into any city now and not run into a McDonalds or Gap! (laughs) It’s the same with blockbusters, the mom and pop organizations are bleedings, but now you have so many outlets for people to tell stories, between Netflix and documentary channels and Amazon, so I think it helps that there’s this whole rebirth of storytellers to tell their stories.
You open your memoir with a quote from His Holiness The Dalai Lama. Do you hope people turn more to Dalai Lama’s teachings? These are almost desperate times. I think America is an amazing country. In my book I say, “Just the fact that we dropped out of our mother’s wombs in America gave us the chance to do what we wanna do.” We have a system here that needs to be a preserved, and the system ‘For the People’ was a radical thought. When you look at the landscape today, it’s about to just go bye-bye possibly. Americans shouldn’t stand for it. I’m a victim of television these days, and there’s no regard for the truth whatsoever. People should be in the streets with pitchforks. How do you let a system get to a place where the the two major candidates are hated by everybody? It’s unbelievable. Not only that, but they lie to us and we take it! The spirituality is always important, but we’re letting our country become an environment where spirituality is something dictated, not felt.