Everybody has a story.
There are many words of wisdom born from the soul of Michael Alago that he has shared in his memoir. Most know him as the music industry legend that signed Metallica to Electra Records and helped guide them on the path to being the biggest band of all time. The Drew Stone documentary Who The F*ck Is That Guy: The Fabulous Journey of Michael Alago (now on Netflix and Amazon) shined a light on him that he deserved for decades. But there is so much more to his story, to the person than bands he signed, and who whom he rubbed shoulders with. The film was a terrific introduction to his life and times and why he deserves the credit he does. The book slowly peels back the years, all the wonderful and terrible things that life can bring and all the in-betweens. A lot of formative times with his family growing up in Brooklyn, dear friends, loves and losses. A terrific tapestry of experiences, stories, and reminiscences. There are many standout movements, including instances of Michael being surrounded the greats of the music and art world; Jerry Brandt, Bill Graham, Danny Fields, Bob Krasnow, Robert Mapplethorpe and many more. It’s cool enough to have met those people, but what really matters is listening and learning from greatness when it comes across your path. He did just that.
I Am Michael Alago: Breathing Music. Signing Metallica. Beating Death. (BackBeat Books), written by Michael Alago with Laura Davis-Chanin (with a foreword by Mina Caputo of Life of Agony and John Joseph of Cro-Mags) is not a narrow thread, but full-bodied like a wave in the ocean. It rises and ebbs, crashes and rises again over the decades. Writing your life story surely takes a lot of resolve to rip off those band-aids all at once. Although Michael jokes about his memory failing him, the attention to detail in each line of this book is startling, and it’s written beautifully. Personal history enmeshes with music history in a nexus of reality often. There is a lot of good fortune and synchronicity, meetings of minds, creative kismet, sweat equity, talent and more on display.
Seemingly a charismatic, magnificent person from the moment he came out of the womb, reading the book, you could be forgiven if you think on the surface he has lived a charmed life at times. In some ways he has. New York is that kind of city where anything is possible. His rise from his first love of music, Punk Rock zine editor and photographer (a talent and passion that continues today), to venue booker, to his rise to music executive, was meteoric. Often as a young adult and future shape of musical genres on a global level, he was the same age or a little older than his artists. But their trust, and that of his bosses, in him was gained and earned because his belief in talent often proved right. It’s more than savvy, or great ears, Michael has a gift of seeing the chessboard of moves needed for success for bands as they are happening and even future moves, which is how stars are born. In addition to the memorable story of how he signed Metallica and White Zombie, there are a plethora of bands, artists, A-list celebs and incredible artists and the memories with them are astounding. Chances are some band you love has worked with Michael or been influenced by an album he worked on across Thrash Metal, Hardcore Punk, Rock, Blues, Jazz, and other genres. Chapters focusing on the Misfits, Cyndi Lauper, John Lydon, Cro-Mags, and Nina Simone make this worth reading on its own. Little excerpts, letters, and quotes of inspiration from his life also dot the pages.
From his earliest recollections, Alago is very careful to cast a sincere, non-filtered light on himself. Brutal honesty is what this book gives you, even when that honesty shows and unflattering or painful image. Overcoming addiction, defeating AIDS after losing many friends to the disease, has all given him a new lease on life. However, it also shows that more important than getting through trials alive is what you do with your life afterward. Nothing in the book is glossed over or left uncovered it seems. Whenever fate or tenacity matched him up with one of the greats, Michael was just being himself and exuded his own greatness back. Those folks, they seemed to be as taken with him as much as he appreciated being with them. There is that charisma and charm again.
Everybody has a story.
There are definitely a lot of lows in the book that leaves you feeling gutted and gutted for him. Some amends were made and made up for. Some sadness and regrets are peppered in, but not bitterness. There is also a lot of bravery and fearlessness in him, not just risks taken professionally, but to live your truth from day one as well. Not everyone can say that. Today only gratitude and peace color Michael’s world. Michael, like the many mentors he learned from, is now one of those greats passing down what he knows so we may have a glimpse of the engine that fueled the world of music. He is a person that hides nothing and holds nothing back, which is really unique and refreshing in this day and age. This book is essential reading for music fans of all kinds.
Purchase the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Am-Michael-Alago-Breathing-Metallica/dp/1617137251
9 / 10