Michael Sweet, known prominently as the front man for the most feted of all Christian rock bands, Stryper tells the story of his life with a candid honesty that makes this a compelling read, and not just for rock fans. Rock fans will no doubt relish the tell-all account of Stryper’s rise and fall and rise again – yet it’s the depiction of his frailties, strengths and struggles that makes his a human interest story the reader can not only relate to, but also empathise with.
In the mid-1980s, Michael Sweet was a young man going places. His band Stryper represented the popular glam metal style of that time, characterized by highly visual performances, twin guitar solos, big hair and Sweet’s high-pitched, multi-octave screams. Here was a guy in his early to mid-twenties, a gifted guitar player, vocalist, song writer and front man for a band who were touring the world, selling hundreds of thousands of albums and enjoying worldwide success on MTV. Unlike their peers however, they were rock ‘n’ roll trailblazers – the first Christian heavy metal band to enjoy global commercial success and at the same time, proselytize the word of God through their music to the masses.
Yet behind the façade, Sweet was anything but happy. A series of events over a sustained period (including disputes about song writing, poor financial management and even egos permitting the band to become incorporated) had seen cracks start to appear in the yellow and black veneer, cracks that would ultimately lead to his departure from the band.
Being a highly visible Christian metal band was what separated Stryper from the pack. Yet by 1991, Sweet was being choked by it. He was tired of being lampooned by both Christians and non Christians alike. Sweet ditched the yellow and retained only the black, hit the bottle pretty hard, took up collecting firearms and put God on hold. To the Christian zealots that makes him a sinner. To me, that makes him human. He describes these events in his life with a frankness that you don’t normally find in rock bios, a quality that is consistent throughout the book.
Amongst a slew of topics, he talks about growing up with ADHD, signing bad publishing deals, record labels going bankrupt, the sacking of Tim Gaines, the pros and cons (mainly cons) of having his Mother manage the band, the squandering of millions of dollars, and being asked to join Boston. Yet its only when Sweet describes his struggle to break free from the shackles of Stryper that you begin to understand Stryper has been both a blessing and curse for him, a monkey on his back that at times he has wanted to kill, and at times has been an impediment to his solo career.
If the reader chooses to forever pigeon hole Sweet in striped yellow and black spandex then the point is missed. With each chapter, it becomes clear that Sweet possesses a depth of character (and staunch faith) as he has dealt with life’s trials and tribulations. He comes across as a sensitive, at times emotional figure. These traits we can all relate too. From being a rock star and performing in Stadiums to performing manual labour, to struggling to find his identity and re-establishing himself following Stryper’s split, to being a better Father to his children, and supporting his wife through her terminal battle with cancer. I was stirred by Sweet’s narrative of his wife’s Kyle’s last days, and you’ll be hard pressed not to be moved either.
As expected, he talks a lot about his faith, (a faith that has been tested), and his relationship with God. Throughout life’s roller coaster ride he has maintained his conviction and integrity – again, behaviours not unfamiliar to readers, Christian or not.
This is a thoroughly engaging read, and a book I couldn’t put down. I’ve read hundreds of rock books over the years – and Michael Sweet’s ‘Honestly’ makes my Top 10. That’s a statement I don’t make lightly. 9.5 out of 10.
“Honestly: My Life And Stryper Revealed, will be released worldwide on May 6th. For more details go to Michaelsweet.com