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Even among "shock rock" bands, The Mentors were the
one group that would take things almost too far, in their openly violent
and misogynistic lyrics that seemed to pretty much advertise rape. And on
first glance, their frontman and drummer El Duce (real name: Eldon Hoke)
seemed to be the embodiment of their image: A lifelong alcoholic unable or
unwilling to get a decent job and having lived on welfare most of his
life, and yet never short of insults to dish out to others. On stage, he
and the band would always sport executioner hoods, just to make a point on
how menacing they are, while El Duce would frequently throw Nazi slogans
into the crowd. Now despite the controversy they created as part of their
act, they initially made hardly a ripple on the music scene - until during
a senate hearing that let to the creation of the Parents Music Resource
Center, founded by Tipper Gore among others in 1985, one of The
Mentors' lyrics was read out loud - upon which sales of their music
sky-rocketed and they became (at least for a time) a cause celebré. This
in turn led to El Duce's appearances on several talk shows where hosts
like Jerry Springer would hypocritically condemn his statements and call
for a media ban when in reality they fed off the very shock value they
could count on El Duce to bring - and he didn't disappoint.
In the early
1990s, Ryan Sexton, an actor on TV commercials and frequent guest star on General
Hospital, spent his spare time documenting The Mentors and El Duce
in particular, painting a rather different picture from the band's public
image, like that they started out as a fusion jazz band and eventually
leaned towards shock rock because they couldn't book any venues playing
fusion, that El Duce was actually a gifted drummer, a very non-violent
person, and not a Nazi-sympathizer at all who despite slogans he used
tried to avoid any brushes with the neo-Nazi scene.
That said, El Duce
was still an unapologetic alcoholic and became increasingly erratic as
life went on, which also hurt his performances with the band. El Duce died
in 1997, when in a state of intoxication he was hit by a train. He was 39
years of age.
Now I'll freely admit, I hadn't heard of The
Mentors before watching this documentary, nor is their musical style
entirely up my alley (no accounting for taste, I know), and yet, I was
pretty much glued to the screen while watching this, because the film
manages to shed a sympathetic light on a person who's (only at first
glance) a vile human being and bring his humane side to the fore. And even
if it's clear from the start the guy's on self-destruct due entirely to
his own actions, one roots for him. And thus, what could have become a
pile of gross-out spectacle that would have been in line with El Duce's
public image, has become a rather fascinating biographical take on an
artist working outside the mainstream and outside societal norms.