I Am Michael Alago: Breathing Music. Signing Metallica. Beating Death

Backbeat: Rowman & Littlefield. Mar. 2020. 261p. ISBN 9781617137259. pap. $24.95. MUSIC
Alago, a photographer and an A&R rep at Elektra Records who launched Metallica’s meteoric rise, breathlessly tracks his journey, starting with his youth in 1960s Brooklyn. With cowriter Davis-Chanin (The Girl in the Back), he draws readers into his personal life while sharing the intricacies of the music business. Alago gravitates to and shares intimate, sometimes deeply charged moments with icons in both the photography and musical realms such as Patti Smith, Nina Simone, and Robert Mapplethorpe. In a more serious vein, he discusses his HIV-positive status; at other times, he turns breezy, considering his emotional and sexual development as a Latinx gay man. Alago’s chatty style should appeal to anyone interested in the music scene or life in a bygone New York—one somehow both more innocent and dangerous. The name-dropping helps establish the vibe, although it can become a bit tiresome; fortunately Alago concentrates on the relationships that mean the most to him. He acknowledges his challenges with cocaine and alcohol abuse and his illness but rejoices in his triumphs, including his long history as a true survivor.
VERDICT For those who enjoy memoir, music, or tales of 1970s and 1980s New York.
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