You’re in a bar, or club, or music venue, or event and you see that guy you saw yesterday, last week, and the week before that, and you wondered, who the f**ck is that guy. Well that’s exactly the motivation for the documentary “Who the F**ck Is That Guy? The Fabulous Journey of Michael Alago”. Director Drew Stone would see Michael Alago at every major music event there was in New York City and other parts of the globe. In this film we learn exactly who Michael Alago is and why his life’s journey is so fabulous.
Alago was a regular, under aged teenager, at New York City hot spots during the 80s such as Max’s Kansas City and CBGB. From his family’s railroad apartment in a Hasidic Brooklyn neighborhood, he’d jump on the subway at night and travel into the city as an early teenager to be in the front row of the crowd, enthralled by the music of the headliners of the day.
At the very early age of 19 Alago obtained a job as a talent booker at the legendary Ritz. He was responsible for signing some of the bands that would shape rock ‘n’ roll as we now know it. At 24 he would become an A&R executive at Elektra records who signed Metallica, one of the biggest metal bands ever. Alago is also responsible for signing White Zombie, Nina Simone, and executive producing Cyndi Lauper. What makes his story even more unique and fabulous is the fact Alago was an out gay man throughout his career.
We learn about Alago in part through Alago’s own stories and also through the colorful stories of the artists he’s worked with who include Cyndi Lauper, Metallica (James, Lars and Kirk), Doyle (Misfits), Philip Anselmo (Pantera), Jerry Brandt (The Ritz), Dito Montiel (filmmaker), Joe Sib (comedian), John Lydon (PiL and Sex Pistols), Cherry Vanilla (musician), Jason Newsted (Newsted and Metallica), Phil Caivano (Monster Magnet), and John Joseph (Bloodclot and Cro-Mags).
A slew of pictures and videos of the time and original illustrations that were created to reenact some of the stories help add flavor and take us back to what some would call “old New York”. You truly get a sense of the grit and energy of the city and the time. Pictures of Alago in his early days really give a sense of his energy and youthfulness and drive and passion for music and being a part of the scene. The illustrations created to reenact some of the stories are delightfully entertaining and interestingly monochromatic, perhaps so we get all the color and flavor directly from the artist sharing their stories rather than the visual depiction of the event.
With what I thought was one abrupt transition, the film takes us chronologically from Alago’s early beginnings to his present day. Throughout our own journey in learning Alago’s story there were plenty of highs and lows. From Jerry Brandt sharing with us what he saw in a young twinkle-in-the-eye Alago, to John Lydon’s very entertaining stories of what makes Alago special, to Cherry Vanilla’s heartfelt concern for Alago’s deteriorating health after his crash into substance abuse and AIDS, we’re endeared to root for Alago throughout.
I was fortunate to have seen the film at a private screening at the iconic Theatre 80 St Marks which added extra flavor to the experience. Cast, crew, friends and family were on hand and the energy, love, and support for the film and Alago was palpable.
Alago’s journey has been fabulous. A gay Puerto Rican kid from Brooklyn he went on to shape and reinvent the world’s musical landscape. When despair and adversity came knocking he found a way to reinvent himself and rise like a phoenix from the dark ashes of substance abuse and near death experiences of AIDS to become a visual artist focusing on photography which includes the works called “Rough Gods”.
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