MICHAEL ALAGO - I Am Michael Alago: Breathing Music, Signing Metallica & Beating Death

March 14, 2020, 4 months ago

(Backbeat Books)

Mark Gromen

Rating: 8.0

review heavy metal michael alago

MICHAEL ALAGO - I Am Michael Alago: Breathing Music, Signing Metallica & Beating Death

250 page autobiography of famed ‘80s A&R man, Michael Alago (imagine that), a young Puerto Rican kid, from Brooklyn, teaching the clueless suits what new music to sign. His biggest professional achievement (as the title references), was inking Metallica to Elektra Records. His musical life began, working at the Ritz, the East Village club (aka Webster Hall, before and after) which hosted everyone and everyone during the ‘80s, especially the burgeoning metal/hardcore scene. He also recounts his bouts with drug and alcohol addiction (clean a dozen years now) and life as a gay man with AIDS, as well as the music scene.

The easy-to-read prose are almost diary entries, short choppy anecdotes, not necessarily connections between the topics. Growing up, in a large, extended family, there were plenty of secrets and told to fend for himself, "Don't discuss the family." Explains how kids were given away for adoption, yet considered dead to all but those that knew the truth. Also no discussion of alternative sexuality, others, nor Michael's. After all, it was the ‘60s, pre-Stonewall. A product of Catholic school, but also experienced with his Cuban aunt's Santeria religion, his parents divorced when he was 13, an awkward age...and with all the groundwork already laid, soon it was the escapism of music & sex.

First concert, escorted to Alice Cooper at Madison Square Gardens, June '73, from there, the candle was lit. High school years spent all over the city, seeing music & Broadway shows. Early on he had the gift of gab & balls to go backstage (without cause) or personally upgrade seats (sitting front row for Bette Midler, bootlegging her performance. Mid-70s Manhattan was dangerous, not the glitzy Disney world of today. Still Michael staked out punk clubs Max's Kansas City and CBGB's, developing (pun intended) a love of live concert photography, getting a mag cover and EP artwork on his first and second attempts. Unheard of today!

Sadly, throughout the narrative, many of those in his travelogue have since passed away, often with complications from drugs, alcohol and/or AIDS. Forming his own band (went nowhere), and working in the city, by happenstance was on the ground floor of Ritz opening. First third of the book deals w/ life before Elektra. Only about 10 pages on Metallica, demo to Cliff's death, but Alago continues the narrative as "that metal guy from Elektra" for another four pages. Not much for the metal fanatic, but Alago soon had bigger fish to fry, HIV diagnosis, the result of rampant drug/alcohol fueled sex romps. Art (ie photos) also takes on a renewed vigor, including a friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe.

Chapter 24 sees Michael leaving Elektra ('88), for a string of other labels a signing White Zombie to Geffen, before returning to Elektra in the early Nineties, only to return to Ge by '96. Insidious, but not as bad as stealing money from his dying father, in order to buy crack cocaine! Same addiction rears its head at Liza Minnelli's X-mas party, leaving Tony Bennett and Madonna for a little vial. Spent the fight against AIDS from his sofa, with private nurse (mother of friend) rather than in the hospital.

Having gone through rehab, at the start of the 2000s, Alago relapses, eight years after the fact. Hard! In addition to personal tragedies, there's his first person account of 9/11 in NYC, and traveled to New Orleans, after Katrina. Out of the music biz, we continues to shoot photos for publication and exhibition (which if you know his work, is also a pun!). The final two chapter are dedicated to the death of his mother and his continued sobriety.

Might not always make you comfortable, but if all the various communities he's touched buy a book, it's bound (pun intended) to be very successful. Extraordinary life, any way you look at it.

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