Honestly (Book Review)
Released: 2014, Big3 Records
Stryper has always been a curious proposition. Reviled by some, worshipped by others, laughed at by many and yet the true music fans realize at the core, if you strip away all the extraneous components of image and controversy about lyrics, Stryper was (and still is!) one hell (pun intended) of a Metal band. It was only a matter of time before the band, in this case vocalist Michael Sweet, stepped up to tell the story of this long suffering, band of survivors.
HONESTLY is the first autobiography of Michael Sweet and it has a bit of a schizophrenic feel to it as Sweet talks about himself, Stryper and his solo career which is perhaps much larger than people outside of the Christian music community might suspect. Sweet has seven solo albums, the same number of full-length studio albums of new material that Stryper has! He also talks about his long stint in the band Boston so Sweet tries to cover a huge amount of material in the short book, to varying degrees of success. The 286 page hard cover is in quite large font making it easy to read but somewhat deceptive about the length. He could have easily doubled the book, there is so much information to cover and so much information left out. The book has over rare and candid photos from across his lifespan, all printed on glossy plates and Michael was kind enough to autograph it, which is always a nice personal touch. The book is co-written by a couple of guys and his manager writes the Foreword so it is a bit of an in-house affair. Once you read how he got screwed, in the business sense, you will understand why he wanted creative and quality control over his own story. Speaking of quality, he autographed the booK which was a nice touch and it is loaded with celebrity endorsements.
HONESTLY follows a conventional path, where Sweet discusses his early childhood, family stuff, pretty typical ‘70’s California teen wants to be rock star’ raised on a diet of crappy TV’ stuff. I was a bit surprised that one of his main inspirations to embrace Christianity was Jimmy Swaggart, the popular televangelist at the time. He admits he was drawn in by the showmanship and was too young to be skeptical of TV preachers of the time, and later struggled as the very man (Swaggart) who drew him to Christianity, would fiercely and very publically attack Sweet and Stryper in later years for being wolves in sheep’s clothing. The narrative follows his stratospheric rise (selling 150, 000 copies of the debut indie demo) touring Japan and making millions to the painful crash where essentially Sweet rejects his faith, the band breaks up and through a series of really bad business decisions he ends up personally bankrupt, flees California and spends several years doing manual labour on a cranberry farm. Highs and lows indeed.
Sweet is an engaging and honest writer. In fact, he is refreshingly honest and not because he dishes secrets but because he admits to his flaws. He basically admits he is a bit of a diva who would threaten to cancel shows at a moments notice. He is a bit of a control freak and prima donna and those are hard things to admit as he discusses his flaws, the same ones many of us have, and I admire his bravery for that. He claims that basically he did everything in the band, song-writing and lyrics and there would be fights about money and who was doing what type of work and how they should get paid. He was constantly firing and blaming people (band members, managers etc) for what he saw were their mistakes contributing to the various levels of failure, musically and professionally. In another brave and controversial move he admits he lost a lot of friends when a mere 42 days after the death of his wife (of over 22 years) from cancer, he confesses his love to a girl he just met and ends up marrying her a few months later. I must have been very difficult to allow some of this to go to print, I’m not sure all of us would have that courage or honesty. There is naturally a heavy Christian theme running through the book as Sweet discusses his faith as his public persona and religious beliefs are inextricably linked.
As I hinted earlier in this review, there was a ton of stuff that got left out. When Stryper reformed his writing was not as nearly detailed or enthusiastic. Earlier in the book he describes the first four Stryper albums in great detail, writing, recording, touring, videos etc…and then for the next five or so Stryper releases there is very little detail, some albums barely getting any mention at all. Stryper fans, myself included will be disappointed by the lack of detail about the second coming of the band. On the other side there is tons of great detail about his tenure with the band Boston, his pretty massive solo career, his home and personal life and relationships with the guys in Stryper. And for the record, he doesn’t like the yellow and black, bumble-bee suits anymore than you do, that was more of his brother Robert Sweet’s idea, but for those mere five years, 1984-1989, it worked. In fact, Michael Sweet mentions how is sick and tired of being identified with, and talking about, the damn outfits. They were, in reality, one small part of the bands entire career that had nothing to do with the music on the 10 albums to date.
In the end it was a fascinating story; revelatory, brave and honest which is more than can be said for some Rock Star autobiographies. I think the definitive book about Stryper has yet to be written but until then HONESTLY sheds great insight onto Sweet and his life and career.