Tag Archives: Alice Cooper

Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon

There’s a commonly held belief that successful people are all assholes. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I judge the guy sitting next to me in traffic in his fancy BMW: man, that guy must be jerk to have so much money. And while the world certainly has no short supply of Gordon Gecko-wannabes climbing the ladder of success by stabbing people in the back, it is possible to be a tremendous success without being a terrible person. Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon is a documentary about a guy who made a lot of people rich and famous—but he did by being nice.

Now, I’m sure you  have two questions right now:

1. What is a “Supermensch”?

and

2. Who the hell is Shep Gordon?

Mensch is a Yiddish word that means “a person of integrity and honor.” A Supermensch is someone with an almost super-human level of goodness. Shep Gordon is a talent manager who rose to fame after moving to California in the late 1960’s and essentially helped break Alice Cooper into the popular consciousness. He also managed to create the celebrity chef, overthrow the unfair practice of not paying black music acts for live appearances/concerts, help start one of the first independent film companies (the first to be headed by a woman), and make friends with the Dalai Lama.

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The early days of Gordon’s career are probably the most fascinating parts of the documentary. He moves to California to be a parole officer in 1968. After promptly quitting (he was a “longhair” and didn’t fit in) he almost immediately meets Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. It was Hendrix who suggests that Gordon become a manager (for no reason other than the fact that Shep’s Jewish). He becomes a drug dealer to the some of the 1960’s most famous musical acts before opting to leave the danger behind and manage Alice Cooper. The philosophy Gordon employed to make Alice Cooper a household name is both genius and a bit nuts. Gordon cultivated negative press for the band. Why would he do that? Well, Gordon knew that if he could make parents hate Alice Cooper the kids listening to rock music would love Alice Cooper. From rigging a mobile billboard to “breakdown” in the middle of London’s busiest intersection at rush hour, to tossing a live chicken on stage (RIP that chicken)—Gordon learned to become a master manipulator.  Soon parents were up in arms over Alice Cooper, and Gordon was laughing all the way to the bank.

Turns out the story behind the rise of Alice Cooper is full of really funny stories. I think the best early Alice Cooper story was the time a promoter wanted a female folk act and booked Alice Cooper. Ever the savvy businessman, Gordon went along with the mistake! I think I’d pay almost anything to see the look on those peaceful hippie faces when the freakish Alice Cooper took the stage at that concert. Once the Alice Cooper band took off, Gordon had to fight Frank Zappa (of all people) to get their first album out. All of this Alice Cooper stuff is really interesting, and I kinda wish the documentary was just about those early days.

Gordon with Alice Cooper.

Gordon with Alice Cooper.

Once Alice Cooper gains infamy and riches, Gordon tries his hand at managing other acts. Supermensch delves into Gordon’s relationship with R&B legend Teddy Pendergrass and how he helped the world’s best chefs become overnight millionaires by hawking spices and Tupperware. Gordon’s had an impressive run and it’s interesting to learn that the guy who helped invent Alice Cooper also “invented” Emeril Lagasse. He uses the same nice guy tactics to make everyone he touches into success.

What’s so menschy about Gordon? His business philosophy seems to be that everyone should walk away from the table a winner. He does whatever it takes to promote his artists, but always in an honorable way (unless you are a chicken). A good example is the motel rooms used by the fledgling Alice Cooper band. In the early days, the band was trying to relocate from LA to Detroit and on the way the band played concerts. Because they were unknowns, the band had no money for motels, so Gordon paid with bad checks. As soon as the band took off and made money, Gordon went back and re-paid all the motels they’d screwed over.

I was surprised to learn that Supermensch was directed by Mike Myers. Yes, that Mike Myers. The SNL alumni fell on hard times after his film The Love Guru tanked at the box office and in a deep depression, the comedian ended up spending two months at Gordon’s house in Hawaii. So while I think Shep Gordon is probably a genuinely nice guy…I do think the film veers a bit too far into hero worship. There’s some dark stuff in the film, but it’s largely glossed over. That’s a bit disappointing, but makes sense when you learn that the man behind the camera probably owes his sanity (maybe even his life) to the film’s subject.

Overall, Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon is a fascinating glimpse into the behind-the-scenes of the entertainment industry and a great way to kill an hour and thirty minutes.  Supermensch is currently streaming on Netflix and is available on iTunes.

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That Time The Ramones (And Clint Howard!) Blew-Up A High School

What do you get when you take B-Movie King Roger Corman, Clint Howard (Ron’s awesomely-fugly brother), and punk legends The Ramones? You get ROCK ‘N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL. I recently saw this movie for the first time thanks to Netflix, who have added it to their instant-streaming service (at least for now). The movie came out in the summer of 1979 but is set in 1980. Going in I didn’t know much about the movie except that The Ramones were in it and at the end (SPOILER) they blow-up a high school. The film had been on my “to-see” list for a while, but because it was a low-budget B-movie and a bit obscure, getting my hands on it proved difficult.

You could do a lot worse…I’m looking at you ROCK OF AGES.

Apparently the film was quite popular in the early days of MTV and was often used to supplement the fledgling channels lack of content. Anyway, the movie is about some teens at Vince Lombardi High (school motto: Winning is better than losing) who get this new hardass principal. Like all 80’s movies, this principal is a total nutcase hell-bent on keeping the students away from *gasp* ROCK ‘N ROLL and it’s evil influences. Though it was set in 1980, the film seems at times to be ripped from the late 1950’s or early 1960’s as far as it’s depiction of teen culture (“Rave on?” Seriously?). This is most likely because the film was produced by Roger Corman, who at the time was trying to recapture the glory of his rebellious-teen flicks from the previous decades. I’ve read that the project was originally to be-titled DISCO HIGH, that should tell you just how out-of-touch (some of) the creators of this movie were. Thankfully, the film got a re-write and The Ramones were added. Speaking of writing, the story is credited to Allan Arkush and Joe Dante. Yes, that Joe Dante (of GREMLINS fame).

The Ramones, while in the film (a lot) are not the protagonists of the film, which kinda surprised me. Instead, the movie is about this girl who wants to write songs for The Ramones, and of course is in love with Joey (‘natch). Her attempt to score tickets for the big Ramones concert lands her afoul of the school’s new principal, which sets off a series of high-jinks. Overall the movie was “cute” but not “funny.” There were a few scenes that really made me laugh, but overall the film’s jokes ended up coming off a bit corny. Clint Howard (!) steals the show as a “fixer” who runs an illicit business in the men’s room. There’s a great scene where he’s teaching two “square” students how to “neck.” It’s pretty much as awesome as it sounds. I also found it weird seeing Howard with a full head of hair, so if you’ve wondered what Clint Howard looked like as a younger man you need to check this movie out. The Ramones themselves, while obviously not actors, come off pretty cool in the movie though I couldn’t help but notice that The Ramones basically act like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (only in a punk band). One of the best scenes of the movie has then cramming pizza into their mouths after a gig. Well, all of them except for Joey, who’s forced to eat alfalfa and wheatgerm by their bizarre manager.

Joey Ramone was not known as the world’s best substitute.

The movie’s chief flaw is it’s rather schizophrenic tone. At one point it seems like a coming of age story, then it’s a raunchy Porky’s-esque sex farce, at a few points it’s a wacky-slapstick comedy, and then it flirts with being a musical. Actually, now that I think about it, ROCK ‘N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL reminded me a bit of John Hughes excellent film WEIRD SCIENCE. Both feature lovable losers getting some “special” help, instead of Kelly LeBrock the teens get The Ramones. Both also have bizarre over-the-top moments, though ROCK ‘N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL’s are fewer than WEIRD SCIENCE. But there’s a running gag throughout the film about exploding mice that could have probably fit nicely into Hughes’ film.

As a rock ‘n roll relic/curiosity ROCK ‘N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL doesn’t disappoint. There are better 80’s teen comedies to be sure, but none that feature The Ramones. The soundtrack is pretty varied, too. I was shocked when I started watching the film because the first song played is NOT The Ramones but rather Paul McCartney!!! In addition to the former Beatle, Alice Cooper, Brownsville Station, Chuck Berry, and (awesomely enough) Nick Lowe are also included in the soundtrack. Oh, yeah and at the end The Ramones help blow-up the high school.

ROCK N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL is as cheesy as the pizza The Ramones eat after their concert–and that’s a good thing.

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Highly-Unscientific Rock Poll: All-Time Best Song of Summer

Sometimes there are questions too big for one man. Sometimes, in the search for ultimate truth, we must seek the guidance of others. And then there are times when one wants to increase traffic to one’s blog by actively seeking participation of one’s small readership by stoking the fires of eternal debate…

Yes friends, it’s time to review the lastest statistical disaster I like to call my HIGHLY-UNSCIENTIFIC ROCK POLL!  With the temperatures rising and the days lasting longer, I found myself in a summer mood.  I have a lot of fond memories of sitting by an inflatable kiddie pool listening to the radio.  I also spent an inordinate amount of time driving around the suburbs listening to an assortment of shitty pop stations.  Anyway, summer means many things to many people, which meant choosing an all-time best song of summer wasn’t going to be easy–luckily I had some help this week.

9, 8, 7 and 6 (no votes) “Let’s Go Surfin” and “California Girls”  by The Beach Boys, “Summertimes Blues” by Eddie Cochran, “The Boys of Summer” by Don Henley, and “Summer Mood” by Best Coast: So I guess I should start off by saying that this poll is full of meddling.  Even though about the same number of people participated in the poll as usual, meddling was up 300% from my last two rock polls.  Initially I only had one Beach Boys song on the list, but one of my relatives on Facebook (where these scientific polls are conducted) asked me to add “Let’s Go Surfin,” which is fine but after I added it–she didn’t vote.  So technically “Let’s Go Surfin” should have one vote, but I’m a stickler for the rules and just commenting on a poll does not equal an actual vote. I’m a Beach Boys fan, as cheesy as 99.999% of their songs are–you have to give them one thing: they own the summer.  They have so many songs about the beach, summer, waves, surfing, riding around in cars, etc. that to exclude them from your summer music mix would be a crime.  “Summer Mood” by Best Coast was my attempt to add something a bit newer (less classic rock-ish) to the poll, though I can see why they got no votes.  I absolutely love Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer.”  That song really takes me back to high school and all the things I should have done, could have done…it’s a very bittersweet song and whenever I hear it I think about those high school summers. I’m a bit surprised it didn’t get a vote (I couldn’t vote for it because it makes me a bit sniffly).

“Summertime Blues” by Eddie Cochran, are you fucking kidding me? No votes? Clearly this poll is unscientific because we all know that song kicks-ass–there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues!!!!

3. “In the Summertime” by Mungo Jerry: Alright, more meddling, but this was meddling of the welcomed variety.  One of my poll-takers added Mungo Jerry’s laid-back classic to the list, how I forgot this tune I’ll never know.  I heard it again on the radio and it pretty much sums up the summer experience.  I don’t know a thing about Mungo Jerry, and I bet you don’t either, but we’ve all heard the song.  If I could have had two votes I definitely would have voted for this song.  I also love how creepy/fucked up it is towards women.  It’s such a happy-song and then bam! The singer give you advice about how to treat the daughter’s of rich and poor men (“if her daddies rich, take her out for a meal/if her daddies poor, then do what you feel”).  I always like a little creepy in my summer.

2. “It’s Raining Men” by The Weather Girls: Sigh, this was more meddling on the part of my poll-takers.  I guess this is what I get for allowing people to add their own options.  DEMOCRACY: IT JUST DOESN’T WORK.

1. TIE: “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper and “Summer in the City” by The Lovin’ Spoonful: I voted for “Summer in the City” because it’s catchy and a little scary sounding.  That keyboard riff is iconic, you hear it and you instantly know what song your hearing.  Mungo Jerry’s song perfectly captures the easy-going nature of the country in summer  and The Lovin’ Spoonful do the same thing for the city.  Except the city is not easy-going.  The song rhymes “city” with “pity” so  you know dark shit is going on.  Whenever I hear this song I think about that dirty mixture of smog and sweat.

Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” is a fantastic choice for #1 as well.  We’ve all been there–counting down the days until school was out for the summer.  Remember cleaning out your locker? I used to gleefully throw everything away. School is out for the SUMMER!  It’s been a few years since I was “out for summer” so this song has lost a little of it’s appeal, which is kind of sad now that I think about it.  Like “Summer in the City,” “School’s Out” has a dark edge to it as well (what with all the talk about school being blown up and the chuggy-guitar riff). When I think of summer, I don’t think of “dark” or “gritty” so why did these songs end up getting the most votes? I suppose it’s the highly-unscientific nature of the poll, but I also think that as a species we’re attracted to the macabre…even in the middle of summer.

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Classic Albums Revisited: BILLION DOLLAR BABIES

Alice Cooper made “sick in the head” an art form. Before Marilyn Manson, before rap music was making parents shit themselves…there was Alice. A lot of people plop Cooper into the same category as Ozzy–bumbling, brutish, pseudo-satanic weirdos. But Cooper is much more than that, he’s more dangerous than Ozzy, because unlike the “Oz-man,” Cooper is actually very well-read, smart, and witty.

Snakeskin...dollar babies...

I know, some of you reading this will think I’m crazy. Maybe you’ll think I’m being overly generous, but listening to BILLION DOLLAR BABIES, Alice Cooper’s fifth (and greatest) album–I had to look some stuff up. For instance, do you know who Saint Vitus is? I didn’t either, but Cooper makes a passing reference to him in “Unfinished Sweets,” the album’s fifth track. I had to look it up. Turns out Vitus was this dude who is supposed to have driven a demon from this Roman Emperor’s son. He was drove the demon away and was killed (because he wouldn’t renounce his Christianity). Before performing this task (and then being rewarded with death) Vitus is said to have been tortured by his father (who was a Roman Senator and wasn’t cool with his son’s religious views).

Or something like that. The point is, Cooper put this strange, educated reference into a song about being tortured in a dentist’s chair.

Alice Cooper’s popularity was at an all time high in 1973. The band’s last album SCHOOL’S OUT, had been the band’s biggest hit and catapulted them into the ranks of rock glory. BILLION DOLLAR BABIES was the follow-up record, and proved to be more popular than SCHOOL’S OUT, spawning four hit singles.

While not quite metal, Cooper walked a thin line between hard-rock and mainstream rock ‘n roll on BILLION DOLLAR BABIES. The songs are darker sounding, the guitars are heavier than what most people think of as typical 70’s rock. But beyond being “heavy” or just being loud…Cooper was very theatrical. There is this sinister, “evil-carnival” type vibe flowing throughout the album. I’ll admit, some of it is ridiculous. Some of it is even pretty damn stupid. But most of it is kinda awesome, like one of those cheesy black-and-white rubber monster movies. BILLION DOLLAR BABIES works because Cooper is smirking through the coarse growls and dark ambiance.

Let’s talk first, though about the track that most disturbed me: “Mary-Ann.” This song is a freakishly-normal sounding love song. It comes in near the end of the record, just after the absurdly dark/satanic-ish “Sick Things” (which I’ll get to). “Mary-Ann” is a breath of seemingly-fresh air. Think 1930’s piano ballad or early Elton John. But somewhere, something goes wrong and the about half-way through the song (after going on and on about how much he loves his girl Mary-Ann), Cooper wails: “Mary-Ann…I thought you were my man!” The first few times I listened to the song, I totally missed this. Before your brain can make sense of this bizarre phrasing (or is it a revelation?) the song degrades into a funky-fucked up piano solo that starts sweetly in heaven before dropping back down to Earth (where is stutters and dies).

It’s a short, two minute song…but it freaks the hell out of you at three AM…when you’re wearing headphones and the lights are out. That’s the power of Cooper–he can make the most innocent thing strange and sorta creepy/terrifying. And yet, at the same time he can take something godawful, something repugnant…like say, necrophilia and make it happy and sunny like on “I Love the Dead.” This song, which is both unabashedly about violating corpses (and yet very innocent for the most part, lyrically) is also very up-beat sounding. There’s a strange, explosive sing-a-long quality to “I Love the Dead” that makes you…smile. It’s damn near a Beatles song at the end, it’s so fucking sunny. And yet, it’s about fucking someones dead loved one: “While friends and lovers mourn your silly grave/I have other uses for you, Darling.” There’s a beautiful horn and string arrangement at the end (there’s also a sick groaning sound, too). I know, intellectually, I should find this song horrid…but I love it. That, too, is the power of Cooper.

BILLION DOLLAR BABIES opens with “Hello Horray!” which pretty much sets the scene for the entire forty minutes of the album. The song is the declaration of a mad carnival barker, the loudmouth announcer who’s preparing himself as much as he is his captive audience (“I’ve been waiting so long for this thing to come/Yeah-I’ve been thinking so long I was the only one”). “Hello Horray!” also mentions the “American Dream” which is a theme that Cooper seems preoccupied with at various times throughout the album (most notably “Elected” which I’ll attend to in a moment). It’s as though “Hello Horray!” is a kind of cry to everyone–including the disenfranchised (youth) of America. Cooper’s swagger, his affirmation that “God, I’m so strong” at the end of the song appears to be brash arrogance…but by the end of BILLION DOLLAR BABIES you realize it’s not arrogance, it’s a natural fact.

I haven’t talked much about the music of this album–BILLION DOLLAR BABIES is very much a “guitar” album. There is some killer guitar work on this record. The title track “Billion Dollar Babies” (which yes, was in GUITAR HERO 2) is the most technically impressive track on the record, but the album abounds with awesome (and catchy) guitar licks. Cooper’s band is not big on the guitar solo (which was HUGE in the 1970s), expect on “Billion Dollar Babies” which is like 80% solo.

“Billion Dollar Babies” is a fucking fantastic song. Again, it’s not so much anyone thing that makes this song so creepy–it’s everything added up. First off, there’ s the creepy lyrics. I have no idea what this song is about (Cooper makes another reference to the “billion dollar babies” in a later track, “Generation Landslide”) but the lyrics are all “attics” and “moonlight.” There are some weird images too, like “Rubber little lady, slicker than a weasel.” Uh, okay. The song is supposed to be about the dangers of over-indulgence…but I don’t see it.

But anyway, back to it being creepy.

“Billion Dollar Babies” is also so strange because it’s a duet–between Alice and Donovan (yes, the dude that sang “Mellow Yellow” and “Sunshine Superman”). Donovan’s sweet, angelic voice combined with Cooper’s creepy growl makes for an unusual pairing…that both delights and unnerves. This mixed with a blistering guitar tone, makes “Billion Dollar Babies” truly awesome…and really messed up. It’s one of those things that must be heard to be understood.

“Elected” is Cooper at his most satirical, taking a stab at both vanity and the American political machine. This song sounds like a strange-hybrid of the Rolling Stones “Sympathy for the Devil” and The Ramones “I Wanna Be Sedated.” There’s a brilliant, chugging guitar lick that pervades the song (along with Cooper’s trademark howl). Supposedly, this song is a reworking of an older song “Reflected” (but as I am unfamiliar with this song, I cannot comment directly on this). What I can say is that the song is, in the words of my uncle “the perfect November song.” Though he never says “president” in the song, it’s inferred that Cooper is demanding that he be elected Commander-in-Chief. It’s surreal to hear a man how sings about corpses croon that he wants to be elected President. Once again, like on “Hello Hooray!” Cooper seems to be reaching out for that all-important disenfranchised youth rock-demographic. He calls out that “Kids need a savior, don’t need a fake” and that “I never lied to you, I’ve always been cool.”

Indeed.

My personal favorite off BILLION DOLLAR BABIES is probably the record’s most famous single, “No More Mr. Nice Guy.” First off, this song has an awesome Stone-ish vibe right at the beginning. It’s instantly recognizable, and awesome. “No More Mr. Nice Guy” is a great satirical stab at Cooper’s own infamy. I love all the crazy, outlandish things that happen to him because people think “he’s sick, he’s obscene.” Like the reverend punching him on the nose in Church. Or how his own dog turned on him (and bit him in the leg). Not to mention how his parents have been effected (his dad’s in hiding and his mom was kicked out of the “society circle”). Awesome chorus. Awesome chorus. This song is catchy and insane (and I love the fact that he’s only now bad because the world has made him that way). “No More Mr. Nice Guy” is fantastic and definitely on the best songs Alice Cooper ever recorded.

Speaking of catchy, “Generation Landslide” is super-catchy. The song, which as mentioned before is the second on the album to mention “billion dollar babies” is about spoiled rich kids. The song is also noteworthy of the guitar solo at the end (which as mentioned before are kinda rare on the album). The album’s other two tracks, “Raped and Freezing” and “Sick Things” are both two differing examples of Cooper’s bizarre songwriting. “Raped and Freezing” is a more traditional rock-story-song about a role-reversals (Cooper’s narrator-character ends up getting raped and left “naked, stranded in Chihuahua.” Meanwhile, “Sick Things” is a strange near-spoken-word song that’s really freaky…and is apparently, about…sick…things??? I haven’t a clue. Honestly, I think this song is a bit of a turkey.

But hey, nine out of ten ain’t bad. That’s a 90% (which is an A-). So Cooper makes the grade.

One final note, about “Alice Cooper” vs. “The Alice Cooper Band.” You may have noticed that earlier in this essay, I referred to this album’s artist in both the singular and the plural near the beginning. The reason for this is because, in the beginning, Alice Cooper was the band’s name (and not just it’s lead singer’s stage name). BILLION DOLLAR BABIES is the final album of Alice Cooper THE BAND (as it was originally formed). Alice Cooper the man went on to make a bunch of records, but not with the same backing band.

Just thought I should clear that up. As a youngster I was often confused when I heard people say “Alice Cooper were great” or “I like The Alice Cooper Band.” Both of these things sound weird (especially coming from the mouth of a drunk person) but actually make sense when you are aware that…oh, never mind…you get it…

So, what does it all mean? Well, bottom line: BILLION DOLLAR BABIES is an interesting romp through the strange, dark, wilderness of rock. It’s a fantastic October album (though it is a good November album, too) because it’s plenty spooky. BILLION DOLLAR BABIES is also an interesting historical piece. It’s funny to listen to it because, compared to much of what I hear–it’s actually very tame. Unlike the “dumb” wrap that most music like this gets, Alice Cooper (the man and the band) are pretty clever and merge rock with the theatrical unlike any band this side of Queen.

BILLION DOLLAR BABIES is essential rock. Period.

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