Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Life on the record


Bono with Michael Alago. Photo: Courtesy of Michael Alago
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The first thing people notice when they listen to Michael Alago speak is how much joy he derives from his work. A former record executive known for discovering many now-iconic bands, the openly gay Alago has enjoyed a second career as a renowned photographer of hypermasculine men in his photo books " Beautiful Imperfections" and " Brutal Truth."

"My whole life I've loved music," Alago tells the B.A.R. "I came out of the womb loving music. I always knew I wanted to work in the music business." Alago, now in his 50s, was in San Francisco promoting the new Netflix documentary "Who the F**k Is That Guy? The Fabulous Journey of Michael Alago," a film about his life and work directed by Drew Stone.

He grew up as a Puerto Rican kid in Boro Park, a Hassidic enclave in Brooklyn, where WABC, a local rock-n-roll radio station, and Dick Clark's "American Bandstand" had a big influence on him. "WABC and 'American Bandstand' were not heavily formatted, so I heard a wide variety of music." Though rock-n-roll holds a special place in his heart, Alago is also fond of jazz-pop standards from the Great American Songbook.

At 19, Alago's dream began to come true. He met Jerry Brandt, owner of the East Village club The Ritz (now Webster Hall), and said, "I want a job." He got his wish, first as Brandt's assistant, then as a booker of bands.

"Who the F**k Is That Guy?" follows Alago's swift rise from booker to record company executive. Alago discovered the now-iconic heavy metal band Metallica, among others. Alago's friends from the music business appear in the film, sharing their memories of him and what he did for their careers. Through it all Alago was always open about being a gay man.

"I've never seen a closet in my life," he said. "I just didn't think about it. You either like me or you don't. Being in hard rock, it might have thrown people off, but when they saw that I was the same as they, they embraced me. I have never had a problem with who I am."

Alago expressed a deep affection for Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett, one of the many colleagues who appear in the film and express support for Alago's gay journey. "Kirk is open and loving," Alago said. "We became great friends. When I asked him and the guys to show up [for the film], they did."

Ultimately, "Who the F**k Is That Guy?" stands as a sweet, uplifting and lovely tribute to a kid from Brooklyn whose childhood dreams came true. It's a film that anyone can relate to, even if hard rock and heavy metal aren't your cup of tea. Everyone has dreams. As Michael Alago shows us, a little determination can make those dreams come true.


Look for the film on Netflix, Amazon and iTunes.


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