“Who The F**k Is That Guy” is a new documentary by director Drew Stone. It tells the story of famed record executive, Michael Alago. His history with influential punk, rock and metal bands is extensive. If you’re already a music nerd, you may have heard of him as the guy who signed Metallica.
But he’s also the guy who did Nina Simone’s final album.
…and the guy who worked at The Ritz with bands like U2, Duran Duran, Simple Minds and Cyndi Lauper before they were household names.
Before that, his youth was spent in the rock and punk clubs of New York City in the seventies. Places like Max’s, Lizner Lounge and the famous CBGB’s. (I forgot to ask whether he ever ventured into that famed antithetical disco scene at places like Studio 54.)
Are you starting to get the idea?
The doc is information-dense, ever wandering, and always interesting. The film feels like an extension of Alago’s surreal life. It started with a phone call out of the blue. “Drew Stone, the director, who I originally met in 1997, we became acquaintances but that was it. Fast forward, three years ago. He called me up and said, ‘You know, you’ve had such a fascinating life all these years. I’d like to talk to you about making a film.’”
But I want to tell you why I think PunkHouse readers should watch this.
In Alago’s own words, he grew up a “gay Puerto Rican in a Hassidic neighborhood”. There are pictures of him at all those aforementioned hallowed halls or rock. He’s not milling in the background. If he’s not with an artist, he’s front row, center, smack dab in front of the stage. The images depict an innocent-looking kid, someone who might’ve wandered off the set of any seventies sitcom. They also show some kind of magical, punk rock time traveler, founder of a Dead Boyz fan zine, and eventual industry tastemaker. This guy just really, truly, loves music and he’s lived the life to back that up.
Refreshingly, it feels like no topic was off-limits in the film. Alago spoke to that, “My whole life has been a bit of an open book. I feel like when one is transparent, and you tell the truth, people are gonna feel that. And if people feel that, we’re all gonna embrace each other.” I don’t really want to ruin the surprise of how deep this doc gets, but truth and transparency play a huge part across several subjects.
And that, that is why PunkHouse readers will want to watch this. The punk scene, the very idea of any counter-culture, is frequently misunderstood. Please feel free to skip the next two paragraphs if you hate it when writers inject themselves into the story. I know I do. (But I’m doing it anyway, because we do what we want at PunkHouse.)
Growing up, my oldest sister wore black and blue eyeliner, bleached her short pixie hair peroxide blonde, and wore rows of silver safety pins across slashed t-shirts. She was also a straight-A student who would cry buckets for ailing baby birds or stray cats. That didn’t change just because her image did, just because she found new music she liked. And that, at least in part, was punk rock. Not the manufactured machismo bravado so many people on the outside think it is. Not that there’s not machismo. And bravado. There is, but that’s not all there is.
When Martin Dunn asked me if I wanted to be involved at PunkHouse, I tried to explain to him why I didn’t think I fit in. “What could I possibly write?” I asked him very sincerely. “Whatever you want, that’s what makes it punk.”
So, back to the documentary.
Alago’s friends talk about how they frequently feared for his safety, how he didn’t always fit in, visually, within the landscape of shows he attended. And yet, he always managed to make friends. Good friends. (Except for that time he got into a fist fight in the parking lot of a stadium concert. Even that encounter yielded another surprise, Alago held his own and then some.)
When I asked Alago if it was uncomfortable to watch the litany of his famous friends talk about him onscreen, he replied, “It’s a blessing they feel that way about me…there’s always been love and respect to all of the artists that I work with, so it just is a really good feeling that everyone wound up saying yes.”
And by everyone, I mean John Lydon, just about every member of Metallica, Rob Zombie, Cyndi Lauper, Cherry Vanilla, Doyle…the list goes on and on.
If you like music history, if you like any of the bands mentioned, if you’ve ever worn a CBGB shirt, do yourself a favor and watch this documentary. (And check back for additional snippets from my conversation with Alago that didn’t make this write-up. I’ll post them next week. I promise you, this man is doling out some life advice that rivals Tony Robbins.)
WHO THE F**K IS THAT GUY? in select theaters on July 21st and on VOD and iTunes on July 25th.
Audrey (in her super-secret third-person) began writing professionally in 2007. Her work has appeared in places like Geek Monthly, Hello Giggles, on-air via public radio and onscreen at LA Comedy Fest. She has her MA in creative writing and can be found at AudreyWrites.com, Twitter, and anywhere they serve vegan donuts.