An Evening with Shep Gordon at WeWork. . .
So back on Wednesday, September 21st WeWork had one of those rare events that I actually attended. I use to routinely be there but that was when they fed us so well. Times have changed. Regardless this one was something different. This one I came not for the food. Imagine that.
That Wednesday they had a Question and Answer Discussion with Shep Gordon, one of the most famous Rock n’Roll Managers out there, with quite the resume both in rock and elsewhere. What grabbed my attention with him, in addition to starting with the Coop – Alice Cooper, are the stories this man has. He is just known for these truly bizarre stories involving all kinds of folks doing all kinds of things, from the challenges of shooting a man out of a cannon, to attempting to stop what he perceived as a rape, to receiving a glowing thank-you from a guy he never met before.
The two hours I spent there taking all of this in was that and more. It was more, however, not only in the range and diversity of the stuff this guy did, but also that he provided some how and maybe even some why. When I arrived I saw they were hawking his new book, Supermensch. And I did go grab one, and he was there to sign it for me. That was cool. I shook his hand, He asked my name, and signed the book accordingly. I thanked him. As I turned away from him I said I look forward to the talk and too all the stories we would hear. It was more than just stories.
He pointed out pretty quickly in the talk that it is more than just stories. He really did not just stumble into all of this. He quickly offers a story to highlight this. In this case he talks of a big stadium show Alice had been scheduled to play down in Florida. It had been rained out due to a tropical storm. The show featured not only Alice, but also Montrose, which was warming up. The cancellation was a hit for Alice, but a manageable hit. For Montrose, however, the gig had meant gas, food, lodging, etc. Without it they were in trouble. Gordon realized this and paid them, show or no show.
It was on this basis that he developed a bond with Sammy Hagar, who was the vocalist and front man for Montrose back in the day. Of course later he would go to become both the Red Rocker and the man that replaced David Lee Roth in Van Halen. Jump ahead a few years. Sammy Hagar is just out of Van Halen, and Gordon is with him again at Cabo Wabo Mexico, encouraging Sammy to find his next venture. Ultimately Hagar forms Cabo Wabo Tequila based in part on those discussions. Today Cabo Wabo is a leading tequila, and Hagar has since sold that business for a handsome sum and moved onto rum in addition to his continued musical pursuits. Going back to our tale, Gordon helped a band out and developed a friendship that has lasted 40 years.
So there were a few themes he touched upon in his talk. This concept of “Menschhood” and karma, of doing the right thing and building on it are all keys to who he is. He also stressed that rejection and failure are parts of the music business. Really, just a part of of life and there is no escaping them. Keep going as each failure brings you closer to success or in fact acceptance.
The one that strikes me, however, is his perception or vision. I jotted some notes down after the event on the train ride home. They included things such as him commenting that he does not understand today’s music business. Further that he was not appreciated by the old business people, and that he never grasped the music business. These are themes and comments I recall him making. I hope I am not putting words in his mouth. Lastly, and this is the one that know I heard – Do not let the truth get in the way of a good story. He attributed it to I think Alice, though a buddy of mine says it is Mark Twain.
I latched on to it regardless. Largely because it challenged my pet phrase – that a lot of truth is said in jest. Mine is from Eminem and comes from his tune. Say What You Say, off the the Eminem Show. And just as Gordon’s has a history, so mine can be traced to both the English poet Chaucer and James Joyce. The two phrases for me conflict. As soon as he brought it up, I was like no – that does not work – you need truth. For me truth is found in a good story or joke. I know humor and story are two different things but close enough. And what he seemed to be pushing was that truth is not needed, or in fact can get in the way of a good story.
They both, however, point to something else – the importance of being honest, of focusing on what you are seeing. Three or four weeks later now, sitting here writing this, it dawns on me. The two largely are saying the same thing. A good joke allows you to say things, and a story allows or even requires that you to stretch or deviate from the truth. They are both ways for us to escape what is accepted as the truth, the given. They allow you to focus.
This is why perhaps he does not understand the music business today, nor get along with the music business folks past. He has seen various opportunities, things neglected and ignored by others. His understanding of Elvis and what was and what was not shown on the Ed Sullivan Show, and his application of that to Alice Cooper was indeed consequential. I am imagine that his forays into film and the idea of a celebrity chef came from similar insights.
So it was a fun evening, and the ideas ruminating through it provocative: the ethics, the approach to business, the importance of persistence and experimentation – the willingness to see and try different things. All are beautiful things. I am currently reading the book. It is early, he is just starting to have success with Alice Cooper. I am surprised about Frank Zappa. I had known that he had played a role in Alice Cooper, but I did not know how that all fit together.
That night I did not really have any questions. I wish I had as the format was question and answer. I guess I was simply stuck at the truth not being needed for a good story. I wish I could have communicated that, but it took as you see some time to digest.
I did on the train arrive at one fun one. Just as Mike Myers every morning was challenging him, I wish I had asked if he had ever encountered Philip Lynott of Thin Lizzy. And today, considering where I am in the book, I wonder if he ever crossed paths again with Frank Zappa. Next time. . .
I do urge all to check out Shep Gordon. He is now easy to find, considering the book, They Call Me Supermensch, and the documentary by Mike Myers – Supermensch The Legend of Shep Gordon, And who knows the book tour may in fact continue.
*Both Pictures are from the wework Creator article “Music Legend Shep Gordon: ‘Don’t Stress Out If the Cannon Doesn’t Work” and the photographer is Lauren Kallen.