If ever a metal band’s history needed to be chronicled, it is Stryper’s. And not merely because they are a Christian metal band, which might sound like an absurd oxymoron to some. Bands such as The Devil Wears Prada, Switchfoot and Red are very popular today, even in secular circles, although Stryper undoubtedly broke down many barriers for them. No, what makes Stryper so singular is that they are unabashedly religious – they are famous for throwing Bibles into the audience at their concerts – yet they came up through the ranks amid the sleaze and gutter debauchery of the Sunset Strip during its 1980s heyday. Now there’s a story worth hearing and it’s finally been documented, warts and all, in singer/guitarist Michael Sweet’s remarkable autobiography, 'Honestly: My Life and Stryper Revealed' (co-written by Dave Rose and Doug Van Pelt), which was just released yesterday.
Those readers expecting lurid, graphic tales of drugs and groupies, or trash talk directed at other bands will, not surprisingly, be disappointed, although it turns out Sweet and the rest of Stryper were far from altar boys. Indeed, Sweet starts the first chapter by stating “I drink. Occasionally I smoke… I curse more than I should. I've fooled around with women on tour buses. I’ve been arrested for indecent exposure... I was pi**ed at God when my wife died of cancer and I despise religion.” Now that’s bound to ruffle a feather or two. The other guys in the band engaged in some eyebrow-raising behavior as well. Drummer Robert Sweet was living in sin with an unmarried woman for a while, and the entire band drank massive quantities of alcohol while shooting guns during the recording of 1990’s 'Against the Law.'
Sweet does much more than simply deconstruct the band’s squeaky-clean image here though. He opens up a grand treasure trove of trivia that runs the gamut from fascinating to jaw-on-the-floor shock. Guitarists Doug Aldrich and C.C. Deville both auditioned for Stryper, for example. Deville was even offered the gig but ultimately turned it down because he just would not wear yellow and black. Speaking of that, Sweet reveals the origins of the notorious fashion statement (which he despises to this day, claiming it actually hindered Stryper’s success) as well as the name of the band (it has nothing to do with the Bible – the connotations to the good book and the acronym “salvation through redemption, yielding peace, encouragement and righteousness” came later) and why they never tried to sign with any Christian record labels. And while he doesn’t lash out at any musicians other than himself and his band mates, he surprisingly has plenty to say about the supposed fellow Christians who protested at their concerts or blindly followed defrocked televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, who accused Stryper of being a tool of Satan.
There’s so much more to Sweet’s life story than Stryper though. Most of his fans probably didn’t realize that for as successful as the band was, by the time Sweet quit, Stryper was actually $2 million in debt. The guys in the band didn’t accumulate any wealth whatsoever, and Sweet ended up working on his in-laws’ cranberry farm in Massachusetts while trying to launch a solo career. At the other end of the success spectrum, he was also a member of classic rock legends Boston from 2007-2011. Sweet waxes philosophical throughout 'Honestly,' and his outlook probably differs from that of a lot of Christians. He’s never tried to shove his beliefs down anyone’s throat, and he also actually dislikes most Christian bands. He claims they don’t work as hard as Stryper does in honing their craft because they’re too busy – and too safe – preaching to the choir (no pun intended).
Sweet also discusses in great detail the untimely passing of his first wife, Kyle, who battled Stage 4 ovarian cancer for two years. Toward the end of her life, she was moved into hospice, where Sweet maintained as constant a bedside vigil as he could. The passages in which he describes holding her hand as she takes her final breath are emotionally heart wrenching. Sweet's writing here is phenomenal and even the grimmest metal head will be moved to tears. This one chapter contains more raw emotion and sadness than John Green's entire blockbuster novel 'The Fault in Our Stars.' It's a supremely powerful piece of writing that works both as a vivid depiction of death and as a testament to the love these two souls shared.
'Honestly' is a lot of book despite being less than 300 pages in length, and it possesses immense cross-appeal. Everyone from metal fans to hardcore Christians to philosophy majors will find plenty to love here. Sweet is also the first author I can recall who actually admits that the conversations contained within his book are not literally transcribed word-for-word, but that their substance has been preserved.
As an added bonus, Sweet's new solo album, 'I'm Not Your Suicide,' was released on the same day as his autobiography. Stryper is also currently on tour. With so much going on in Sweet's life right now, there should be plenty of material for another book somewhere down the road.