The first thing Michael Bublé sees as he bounds into the publicity suite at Toronto’s Ritz-Carlton hotel is a giant placard emblazoned with his face, as seen on the cover of his first book, Onstage Offstage. “Whoa!” he says, and seems momentarily taken aback, even though the reason he’s in the room is to talk about the book.
Then again, he hadn’t really intended to become an author. “I was strongly against any kind of memoir, and I still am,” he says, right off the bat. But Bublé is a born talker, and exhibits the same exuberant charm in print that he radiates in person.
He’s open, but not in the bare-it-all way of American celebrities; although he’s happy to tell a story involving his wife, Argentine actress Luisana Lopilato, he doesn’t actually discuss his private life (although he does promise to reveal more in a major memoir in, say, a decade). And, just as his current book doesn’t shy away from recounting some of the bumps in his career or times when he let his temper get the better of him, Bublé in person is more than happy to own up to his own faults.
In all, it makes the idea of a mini-memoir – even at age 36 – seem smart indeed.
For someone who, over the past decade, has sold 27 million albums and performs regularly in front of crowds of 20,000 or more, Bublé seems profoundly uncomfortable with the image-inflating aspects of what Joni Mitchell once described as “the star-making machinery.”
For instance, of the 304 pages in Onstage Offstage, over 200 are devoted to Dean Freeman’s photos of Bublé. “It’s very strange for me to know that there’s a book of pictures of me,” he says, sounding pretty much as embarrassed as any other guy from Burnaby, B.C., might.
“This book was to come out in the U.K. only, and it was to be a coffee-table book – photos and a brief synopsis of my life,” Bublé explains. “But then [Random House]Canada got involved, and the States, and it kind of grew.”
Now, instead of a brief bio, it contains 66 pages of autobiography, a breezy yet refreshingly honest account of Bublé’s life and career that covers not just successes but also quite a few stumbles.
“It was therapeutic,” he says, modestly. “It’s the truth.”
Because he comes off as such a regular guy, and because his swing-based sound lacks the transgressive edge of most popular music, Bublé frequently has people tell him what a nice guy he is.
“Yesterday, I did an interview here, and the woman said to me, ‘You’re such a sweet boy, God bless you.’ And I was thinking, Is she talking to me? Why does she think this?
“And she said, ‘Because your music is so pure and so romantic.’ And I thought, I am a romantic. But I’m a dumb-ass.”
He laughs, but he understands how people get the wrong idea. “When I started making records, the way the record company put me out there was like they didn’t know who I was, or care, really. It was, like, ‘Listen, we know the housewives and grannies are going to love him, so let’s make him real clean-cut.’
“Even my boys in the band used to call me ‘the product.’ Like, ‘Oh, look, there goes the product!’ Because there really wasn’t a lot of say for me. And that scared me.”
Part of what scared Bublé was that he knew he wasn’t that guy. “I can be egotistical. I can be rude or grumpy,” he says. “In my past, I was really insecure, and that came out in different ways … I was never a good boyfriend.
“I’m proud that one day I decided that I wanted to be better, and wanted to like myself more. So I did therapy and read books. I’m still not even close to being the guy I know that I can be, but at least I’m aware of it. At least I work on it.”
Part of that work, apparently, is recounting some of the jerky things he’s done in the pages of Onstage Offstage, from stupid things he did as a kid, working on his dad’s fishing boat, to stupid things he’s said in interviews and regretted later, as when a joking comment in 2007 that he wouldn’t be attending the Grammy Awards because “Tony [Bennett]s going to win anyway” made him seem like “an ungrateful jerk.”
It helps to have people around – his wife, his mother, his friends – he can trust to be honest with him. “Being an entertainer, being in my position right now, you get to feel entitled,” he says. “You need people to take you down.”
If Sammy Davis, Jr. hadn’t sung it first, Bublé might well have taken I’ve Gotta Be Me as his theme song.
“I remember my mother saying to me, ‘Michael, it’s embarrassing for us when you use that language,’ ” he says. Granted, it’s not as if Bublé works blue, but he’s not above jokingly responding to a woman who yelled, “Take it off!” during his last Toronto appearance, “I’m not taking it off, bitch!”
But as he told his mother, “This is who I am, and I’ve got to be honest, because if people believe I’m something I’m not, when they find out who I am, it’s going to crush them.”
Even now, with eight albums behind him, there are still those who find Bublé’s stage patter shocking. Some mail CDs and tour T-shirts to his management office, with notes explaining that they can’t support a singer who says such things.
“My agent, Don Fox, said, ‘Mike, you can’t be too risqué.’ And I said to him, Don, I don’t want those people in my audience. If that’s not their thing, okay. They can go and listen to whomever they want.
“Because the people I want, they won’t just stay – they’ll call their friends. They’ll talk at the water cooler. And the next time we come to Chicago, there’ll be 500 more of them.”