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Leon’s Library: Walking a Golden Mile

If anyone would like to make me a new Leon’s Library banner, contact me at the Oratory forums. I don’t want pictures of myself online anymore.

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Walking a Golden Mile tells the story of Darren Matthews, the man who would become William Regal. The autobiography was written by Regal himself “with Neil Chandler” as well, leading me to wonder how much was ghost written and how much was all Regal’s voice. It is difficult to determine, but whether this is a biography or autobiography, it is a good story for wrestling fans, especially in today’s current climate. More on what I mean by that later.

The “golden mile” of the title refers to a memory from Regal’s youth, the name of an amusement park. It becomes symbolic of a long journey to reach a good place in his life. But before delving into that, Regal reminisced about his earliest days as a wrestler. Regal recounted his days as a newbie, a jobber and all the hazing that comes with that. He has a great sense of humor about it.

When we wrestled, there would be a piece of paper with the wrestlers’ names on for the ring announcer to introduce us before each match. The other boys always took great delight in dreaming up the daftest names they could for me when I was wrestling. Bertie Bassett from Littlehamptom was one favorite. Phil Hiscock from Cockermouth – you name it, I’ve been it.

One of his stories was about a wrestler who would constantly work stiff with him. Eventually, said wrestler told Regal that he would stop doing it if he (Regal) would pay him half his wages. The young Regal would have none of it and toughed it out until he was big enough that nobody would take any more liberties with him.

Regal considers himself an athlete before he is an entertainer and artist. He is a firm proponent of a tough style that would make the audience believe the lie. He obviously breaks kayfabe in the book, but he also goes out of his way not to reveal too much. In his words, people don’t want to know everything. That’s part of the show, suspending disbelief, just like in a magic act.

The heaviest part of Walking a Golden Mile is Regal’s long battle with drug addiction, most notably painkillers. It spans much of the story and is the most revealing tale of a wrestler’s addiction I have ever read. Regal pulls no punches and exposes himself for what he was. He does so, however, in mature fashion, never making excuses for himself. He says that during his addiction, that’s all he did, and he would not do it anymore. The conclusion of this chapter of his life is very positive.

The next thing I knew, I was sitting naked on the couch in front of the apartment surrounded by people and ambulance men. … A feeling swept through me like a warm wave. It washed right over me. And I absolutely knew that was it. I lay there and I knew the truth. I was not going to touch any more drink or drugs ever again.

Following Regal’s story of recovery, he touches on his feuds with Edge and Triple H, and his partnership with Eugene. The story becomes a lot brighter after the long sections of the book about his drug abuse. It gives a good message about overcoming serious problems and becoming a new man for it.

At the conclusion of the story itself, there is a helpful glossary in the back for British to American interpretation. It’s a neat little addition to the story, created not only to fill out this fairly brief book but also to let Americans know what “take the mick” means. Apparently, it means to make fun of someone. It can be called “taking the mickey” as well.

While this book is largely satisfying, there is one glaring problem with this: it’s short. This book was released in 2005. Regal debuted in 1983. That means this book spans over twenty years of Regal’s career, not to mention his youth before pro wrestling. It clocks in at merely 288 pages, barely cracking the surface of the stories that could be told and what could be said of his career. Regal was about thirty-seven years old when Walking a Golden Mile was released. If we were to pretend that each year of his life was covered equally in this story, it would break down as only eight pages per year.

In fact, saying that this has 288 pages is misleading. Co-writer Neil Chandler clearly padded the book to make it look longer. There are dozens and dozens of pictures, some of which are full-page. Many paragraphs started with large, bold letters, covering more room than necessary. Paragraphs are actually repeated constantly, usually by putting what is said on one page on the next page with the British union jack flag background on it for emphasis. It’s hard to describe. You would have to see it to completely understand.

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Paragraphs are actually repeated constantly, usually by putting what is said on one page on the next page with the British union jack flag background on it for emphasis. It’s hard to describe. You would have to see it to completely understand.

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Unreal. Considering all of this, Walking a Golden Mile actually reads like it is only 200 – 220 pages or so. It is more of a recap of William Regal’s life than an in-depth analysis. The book left me wanting more and not in a good way.

With all that said, this is still a fine book. The stories range from devastatingly tragic to hilarious. Regal has led a life of extreme ups and downs. His autobiography, while a little light in the pages, highlights these twists and turns all the while giving a solid message about the dangers of excess. It is a book that is even more relevant today than when it was released.

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Two notes before I go. First, I no longer use my old e-mail address. It is packed with SPAM, especially from wrestling promoters. If you want to comment on this or any other article of mine, go to the Column Feedback section of the forums. It’s the very first folder. I love hearing what I’m doing right and wrong. Don’t be shy.

Second, I also read Jerry Lawler’s autobiography recently. I won’t do a full review. I’ll just sum up. It’s the story of the life of a man who comes across so immature that one wonders why the ghost writer didn’t try to touch that up a bit. While some may argue that Lawler was simply in character in the book, that can’t be true. He drew distinctions between himself and his King character. It just so happens that they are similar. I’m a Lawler fan, but this was not a good read.

See you all soon.

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Leon’s Library: A Lion’s Tale: Around the World in Spandex

Has there ever been a better pro wrestling autobiography than A Lion’s Tale: Around the World in Spandex by Chris Jericho? I honestly don’t know. For the longest time, the general consensus was that Have a Nice Day by Mick Foley was in a league all its own, but with the release of Jericho’s wildly funny, touching and insightful career retrospective, there may be a new contender to the crown.

First things first. Did Chris Jericho actually write this or was it ghost written by Peter Thomas Forntale? According to both Forntale and Jericho, the former WWE Undisputed World Champion is the real voice behind the story. In a co-author’s note, Forntale let the reader know that this was in no way, shape or form an “as told to” autobiography. Forntale’s role was merely to help with organization. As he put it, the voice is 100% Chris Jericho. With that said, let’s delve into the story.

The book is divided into fifty-five chapters, but more importantly, it is in ten parts. Each part is a city or country, lending to the Around the World title. Much of the book compares wrestling in one country or company to another. Jericho is a well-travelled wrestler, so he has first-hand knowledge of working in all the major venues, be it Japan, Mexico, Canada, Germany and various American promotions like WWE, WCW, ECW and SMW.

Naturally, Jericho’s tale begins in Canada with his budding childhood wrestling fandom. It continues with his training to become a wrestler in Calgary at the Hart Brothers Wrestling Camp. Jericho felt his time there was bittersweet in that it taught him the ropes but advertised something it could not deliver: the Hart brothers. Keith Hart appeared on the first day for a speech and never showed up again. Jericho was trained at the Hart Brothers camp but not by any Harts. He would later get a course by the legendary Stu Hart, but his initial wrestling school experience was not much different than in a less “prestigious” school.

His saga continues in Mexico, earning his living as Corozon de Leon (“Lion Heart” in Spanish). He became fast friends with Los Gringos Locos, “Love Machine” Art Barr and Eddy Guerrero. In one of countless funny stories, Jericho recalled his first meeting with Eddy in a hotel room. Eddy was not all too sober during this and was belligerent towards this outsider rookie. “Who are you?!” barked Eddy. “Corozon de Leon,” Jericho said. “It means Lion Heart in Spanish.” Eddy replied “I’m Mexican. I know what it means!” There are many running gags in A Lion’s Tale. Jericho putting his foot in his mouth and saying stupid things while meeting wrestlers is the best one.

Of all of Jericho’s storied history, I think his time in Germany is the least talked about among wrestling fans. Jericho remedies that with a large section on his time there. He met Fit Finlay during his time in Europe. Finlay was working for a competing company, so when meeting Jericho, he politely asked him to deliver the message that Jericho’s company was filled with a bunch of cunts. Yes, the book is filled with language like that and is not appropriate for children.

With the exception of the “Atlanta” (WCW) section, his Japanese experiences fill the most pages. I can only give away so much of the book without spoiling it, but something must be touched upon about his time in Japan: Chris Benoit. In the author’s note, Jericho reminded us that this book was written before the Benoit tragedy and that since this story was about his life before the year 2000, it only reflects Benoit’s character long before he became what he became. There is nothing negative in the book about Benoit, so for those looking for Jericho’s thoughts on his friend in that regard, you will have to wait for the sequel.

There is not much at all on the subject of ECW. Jericho showers much praise on it and his time there, but with his run so short, there isn’t much to say. His stories about Paul Heyman’s incredible ability to lie make up for the brevity. Finally, his WCW career is recounted. Most American wrestling fans were introduced to Jericho through WCW, and if you’re looking for stories about his greatest hits and misses in the sinking ship of WCW, you will be in for a treat. It contains everything from his on-screen and off-screen feud with Bill Goldberg to his secret contract negotiations at Vince McMahon’s mansion to finally jump ship.

So, is it any good? Well, haven’t you been paying attention? Yes! It’s very good. It’s sensationally funny, personally leaving me in embarrassed laughter while reading this in public. Jericho is on fire in this. He’s practically in his over-the-top character during this because you can practically hear his exaggerated, goofy Y2J voice during most of his hilarious tirades. It’s not just one big joke, though. There are moments of true heart, including the deaths of Art Barr and Owen Hart as well as the paralyzing of his mother. However, the heavy parts are few and far between, creating what is mostly an entertaining read that never, ever drags. It is one interesting (comedy or drama) story on top of another.

Despite Jericho’s problems with men like Goldberg and Eric Bischoff, there aren’t too many insults thrown their way. In fact, in the case of Bischoff, every insult is counter-balanced with a compliment on his intelligence and his crucial role in skyrocketing his career. The only wrestling personality that completely got Jericho’s ire was Vampiro. I know. I was surprised too! Chris Jericho and Vampiro have heat? So it would seem, according to this book. Vampiro, so it is said, was not happy with Jericho being in Mexico and Japan. Vampiro saw himself as the #1 foreigner and may have been threatened by this new rising star. Jericho cited many cases in which Vampiro tried to sabotage his career and lied to his face. There isn’t a lot of venom in this book, but the Vampiro stories, while laced with jokes, are a little bitter.

Much has been said about this book in recent weeks. Is it the new standard in wrestling autobiographies? Put simply, yes. It is. What Have a Nice Day was for the 90’s, A Lion’s tale is that for the 00’s. This is the best true wrestling autobiography of the decade. Only Bret Hart’s forthcoming book could possibly unseat Jericho from his non-fiction throne. We’ll have to wait and see on that one.

Bottom line: Buy this book. If you don’t have the money, go to your library. If your town doesn’t have one, travel. If you don’t have the means to get around, beg, borrow or steal a copy. It’s worth the risk.

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Leon’s Library: The Death of WCW

The Death of WCW was written by R.D. Reynolds and Bryan Alvarez. For those unfamiliar with them, Reynolds is best known for Wrestlecrap.com and Alvarez for the Figure Four Weekly newsletter. Both, in varying degrees, employ a lot of humor in their writing. So, while this book is part history, it is also part comedy. Let’s face it. A lot of World Championship Wrestling’s decisions are perfect for wisecracks. Alvarez and Reynolds had a lot to work with here.

The title The Death of WCW is actually a little misleading. Rather than being only a history of WCW’s waning days, the book follows Ted Turner’s original bid to get in on, as he put it, “the rasslin’ business” so many years ago. The story takes us from Jim Crockett Promotions to Eric Bischoff’s rise to power to Vince Russo’s hiring to the demise in early 2001.

The book takes a sarcastic tone throughout the entire journey. World Championship Wrestling, as well as nearly all of its major players and presidents, are seen as incompetent or even corrupt through the eyes of Reynolds and Alvarez. The story paints a very negative picture of WCW, one that many in the wrestling business (not to mention fans) have today.

Dave Meltzer of Wrestling Observer fame wrote the introduction, mirroring the authors’ feelings but in a more gentle fashion. Here is an excerpt:

In the end, WCW was a victim of its own success. Bischoff had created a successful formula, one that he held onto for far too long, and one that ultimately started the downfall of the company. Once the snowball started to roll, those in charge had no idea how to stop it.

Despite the negative aspect of the book, or perhaps even because of it, the book is highly comical. WCW’s most absurd decisions are shown in a very unflattering light but done so in a style that is a lot funnier than sad. Reynolds and Alvarez seamlessly weave the serious downfall of WCW with zingers. Best to give an example or two rather than describe their style.

So the race was on: could Goldberg make it back to the Georgia Dome in time for his main event? The unintentional comedy here was that, earlier in the show, it had been revealed that the police station was across the street from the arena. Goldberg was somehow unable to get back in time, even though he had thirty minutes to walk several dozen feet. Perhaps the crosswalk light was broken.

Here is another:

To give you an idea of how hot WCW was at the time, the January 15 Thunder drew a 3.7 rating despite the fact that a satellite malfunction destroyed the picture quality and caused the entire show to be virtually unwatchable (as opposed to years later, when the show was unwatchable regardless of whether the picture was good or not).

The story ends not with the death of WCW but with its aftermath: the WCW/ECW Invasion angle of 2001. Detailing its botched execution, Alvarez and Reynolds show that massive booking and business screw-ups weren’t just a WCW affair. It just so happened that WCW’s were the worst of the two at the time, which led to its downfall.

So, what did kill World Championship Wrestling? Alvarez and Reynolds tell a story of contracts to workers who were almost never used, overpaying celebrities, stunts that went nowhere, not pushing new talent, the AOL-Time Warner merger and various other factors that led to WCW’s demise. The book also debunks the idea that it was simply a matter of guaranteed contracts to men like Hulk Hogan and Kevin Nash.

While a very entertaining read, The Death of WCW is not without its flaws. Firstly, the visual style of the text and layout was a touch out of the ordinary. Most of the story was done in simple text, but whenever there was a slight aside about something else that was happening at the time, a barrier line appeared in the middle of the page, followed by a new font and bold face. To explain, take this paragraph as an example of the regular text, followed by this strange aside…

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That wasn’t the only thing that happened that day, as blah, blah, something, something, yeah.

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Imagine that happening every couple pages but with the bold paragraphs a lot longer. It created a fractured chronology that did not lend itself well to the story. It seemingly did not have a point. There may have been a perfectly reasonably point to this, but it was lost to me because it was never explained. Why not just place it into the story proper with regular text instead of looking like bold-faced afterthoughts?

Another problem is that Reynolds and Alvarez take big liberties with their suppositions. Take this for instance. There was a story about something that went wrong in WCW that made Bischoff unhappy. A few days later, so the authors say, Bischoff got into an argument with Ric Flair over an unrelated matter. The authors claimed that was clearly Bischoff taking out his frustrations on Flair. This is a small example. There are countless other suppositions about why wrestlers or management did what they did. Newsletter writers speculate all the time, but the frequency of it in this book is unsettling. This is especially alarming since it comes across as “fact”, which I find a little brazen.

Finally, on the subject of what actually killed WCW, not nearly enough attention was given to the competition, meaning what WWF was doing at the time. Much of WCW’s fall in ratings had less to do with WCW and more to do with WWF. There is significantly more on Scott Hall’s “damage” to WCW than about the rise of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and the greatest, biggest, most profitable feud in years, Austin vs. McMahon. I suppose, in the end, I wanted the book to be more detailed and more than just 334 pages.

With all that said, this is still a fine book and worth the price. It’s funny, fairly informative and a good primer for those who are new to wrestling and who missed the 90’s Monday Night Wars. The WWE DVD of that name is far less accurate and far more skewed.

I recommend this book but to be taken with a pinch of salt and to be enjoyed as light reading.

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Leon’s Library: The Hardcore Diaries

Hi, folks. I said I would write a review of The Hardcore Diaries by Mick Foley shortly before I made my little disappearing act from the main page. I don’t like unfinished business, so here it is. I hope you enjoy it.

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In the introduction to his third volume of memoirs, Mick Foley noted that he once planned for the book to be nothing but previously seen web logs from WWE.com but changed his mind when he realized that it would be a weak, anti-climatic end to his career trilogy. His efforts should be commended, but for all his best intentions, that is exactly what the readers got: the worst of his three autobiographies.

The title The Hardcore Diaries actually has meaning. Foley began many sections with “Dear Hardcore Diary” as if he were a pre-teen schoolgirl writing about her first crush. It separated itself from the other books but the gimmick actually started to tire out around halfway through the book.

This autobiography is often noted as being a non-standard for WWE. Foley took shots at the writers, certain wrestlers and even committed the sin of mentioning TNA. I think The Hardcore Diaries is probably the most that WWE (this is a book published by their company, after all) has ever said of TNA or even acknowledged its existence. Foley talked about TNA after a heartfelt speech about why he was not feeling the passion for wrestling that he once did:

Or maybe I felt like I had taken the easy way out, by opting for the WWE contract, instead of taking a gamble with the upstart TNA promotion. My longtime buddy Raven (whose real name is Scott Levy; I actually had to ponder that for a while) had gotten in my ear and convinced me that if I were to indeed jump to TNA, it could literally make the difference between life and death for the promotion.

Foley’s Diaries actually felt like a diary not only because of the standardized intro to each chapter but also because he wrote things that many would think should not be shared with others. In my case, I’m certainly glad he did. Everything that Foley criticized seemed to deserve it in one way or another. Here is one example:

Okay, here’s the fact sheet from the June 7 WWE vs. ECW show from Dayton. There was no video package. No Funk promo. No Dreamer promo. Tommy Dreamer officially heads into One Night Stand as a main eventer of sorts, despite the fact that the vast majority of the fans don’t even know what his voice sounds like.

Foley’s feelings on Vince McMahon were expressed as well. For the most part, Foley described him as a good man, but on a few occasions, he tore into him. Foley had some strong words about the infamous Dr. Heiny skit of a couple years ago. It was quite bad and Foley didn’t pull any punches.

Vince, colon surgery is serious. Not only that, it’s a sensitive issue. It’s not funny. Exploiting it and humiliating a loyal employee because of it is not only in poor taste but downright baffling to me. As far as I know, only one person found it funny – you.

The “controversial” material is not nearly as inflammatory and shocking as some say. Foley wrote about TNA, but in the end, we all know he turned them down. He criticized the WWE writers, but in all fairness, he did not say anything that millions of fans and many of the wrestlers weren’t already thinking. He just did so in a public manner. Yes, he was and I believe still is under WWE contract, but it is such a minimalist contract (two PPV matches a year by his own admission) that he is barely even a part-timer. The contract is merely for assurances. Again, I can’t say that his words were very controversial or even all that unique, but I can say that his criticisms were a pleasure to read.

I’ve said some good things about this book. Now for the bad. One thing that stood out in this book was Foley’s constant mentions of President George W. Bush. Not “stood out” as in it should be noticed and admired, though. “Stood out” as in sore thumbs. Foley, a long-time Democrat, lined his book with negative remarks about the current administration. Foley is sometimes involved on politics, appearing on an Air America radio program and debating John Layfield in public. He’s obviously political and wants to share his thoughts with the world, but that should be the garnish. Not one of the courses. Isn’t this supposed to be a wrestling book? Here is one of the more tame examples about Bush’s tough guy catch phrases:

And as far as Dreamer, Funk and Beulah go, I’ve got three simple words: “Bring ’em on!” Oh, man. I hope the president didn’t read that.

He mentioned Bush, either by name, title or implication more than a dozen times. At some point, the quips lost their bite. It became a running joke and a bad one at that. Fans of his previous autobiographies will know what I mean when I say that Bush became the new Al Snow, but in this case, I wasn’t laughing. Late in the book, I threw my arms up in the air and yelled “Okay! We get it!”

Some of Foley’s stories were interesting to me because I’m a wrestling fan and I enjoy hearing about the little slice-of-life stories from my favorite wrestlers. For example, there is a whole chapter that is largely about Foley writing letters to children and author John Irving. For me, it was intriguing to read about Foley’s life. However, were I an average reader who just happened to try reading this wrestler’s diary, I can’t help but think I would be bored by a lot of it.

In summation, I have mixed feelings about The Hardcore Diaries by Mick Foley. Here is the best thing that can be said about the book: In and of itself, this is entertaining and contains fun stories and clever insights from someone who truly understands the wrestling business. I enjoyed much of it. Here is the worst thing: Fans of Foley’s autobiographies sometimes debated over whether Have a Nice Day or Foley is Good is the stronger of the two. Valid arguments can be made for either. Now that Foley has written three and the debate has been altered and rejuvenated, I think I can say that nobody will be arguing for The Hardcore Diaries as the strongest, and I think it is also safe to say that the majority argument will actually be for the weakest by far.

Mick Foley’s third autobiography covers a few years since his semi-retirement and the few matches and programs he was involved with. Since he will almost certainly be wrestling even less and has not had an actual WWE match in about a year, there probably is not much else to write about in terms of his career, at least not enough to fill another book. That means The Hardcore Diaries could be the final word on the hardcore legend, Mick Foley. As the worst of his three autobiographies, that is a real shame.

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Leon’s Library: Slaphappy: Pride, Prejudice, and Professional Wrestling

Hello, everyone. Welcome to the very first edition of Leon?s Library, a new feature for the Oratory. As the title suggests, this is a wrestling book review column that will critique the growing market of books about our favorite pseudo-sport. This year will see dozens of wrestling books released, and while I cannot review them all, I will choose one a month (that?s the plan anyway) to read and discuss. These will range from autobiographies to analytical works about the nature of pro wrestling.

With that said, here is the first book: Slaphappy: Pride, Prejudice, and Professional Wrestling by Thomas Hackett.

In Slaphappy, Hackett deconstructs both wrestlers and wrestling fans in two ways. First, he does so psychologically, mapping out their patterns of behavior, their deepest fears, and most importantly, why they love wrestling so much. Second, he does so in terms of seeing wrestling as a representation of American society as a whole, specifically American men. In order to solve the mystery of the allure of wrestling, Hackett attempts to solve America?s obsession with celebrity and insecurities about masculinity and sexuality.

It is a daunting task, but Hackett, throughout the book, goes to great lengths to discover the secrets of ourselves. This includes visits to XPW?s pornography offices and sets, interviews with top wrestlers and promoters, long bus drives with insane ECW fans and much more in his study. Based the time of certain events early in the book (turn of the millennium) and the book?s release date (2006), it is clear that this study took years out of Hackett?s life. It?s an amazing project — especially for someone who was in no way a fan of wrestling at the start of his journey.

The book begins, oddly enough, at the conclusion:

Wrestling is perhaps man?s oldest living language, preceding even speech. But while the sport may not be distinctly American, its unabashedly exhibitionistic, egomaniacal rituals are. Professional wrestling, I came to believe, is us.

Hackett spends the rest of Slaphappy explaining how he came to that line of thinking. His belief that wrestling is an older language than speech is not to be taken literally. What he means is that semiotics (meaning signs and gestures) predate language as we know it. The author speaks of wrestling in grandiose terms over the course of the book. He gives it a kind of dignity, but at the same time, he shines a light on its obvious flaws and follies. He shows a great objectivity to the wrestling business and gives us an untainted, moderate view of it. The wrestlers and wrestling fans themselves, however, he shows a great and unwavering compassion.

Hackett spends a lot of the book comparing professional wrestling to other parts of American culture. While he recognizes that wrestling is an international business, he also believes that its roots, which are American, say something about our unique country, both in its wonders and failings.

But what did ‘real? mean, anyway? And what did it matter? These, it seemed to be, were questions worth asking not just of professional wrestling, but also of American culture. I suspect that anyone who delves into subculture, be it baseball or Barbies, starts to see evidence of its sensibility everywhere he looks. ? I don’t only mean the easy jokes people made, comparing a political debate, say, to the posturing of a wrestling match. I mean in the ways in which it seemed only natural, and therefore, unremarkable, that American culture should operate according to the berserk logic of professional wrestling.

One of Hackett?s first quests into the unknown of wrestling came in the way of a road trip to an ECW event. That?s the original ECW, by the way. On the advice of Terry Funk, who remarked wrestling was all about the fans, Hackett realized that just watching wrestling was not going to unveil its secrets. In order to see wrestling, one must see it through the eyes of the most hardcore fans.

After speaking to many of them on a long bus ride to ECW, Hackett danced around the idea, but did not entirely conclude as gospel, that many of the most hardcore of wrestling fans lacked a father figure or had some other desire for a man to idolize. Hackett had much to say about their young minds. He also defended them from those who would call them deviants and gave them a kind of surprising respect:

Yet between those in the back drinking malt liquor out of forty-ounce bottles and those in the front arguing about whether wearing a bright and brassy championship replica belt was or was not totally gay, none of the boys on this bus seemed ?out of control and out of touch.?

Hackett did more than speak to the fans. He interviewed several wrestlers and wrestling promoters in his search for the hidden truth, including The Rock, Paul Heyman, Linda McMahon, Vince McMahon, The Sandman and Little Guido. But the wrestler with whom he spent the most time and had the greatest connection was a lesser-known independent wrestler Oren Hauxhurst, AKA Altar Boy Luke. Hackett saw Hauxhurst as a kind of prototypical aspiring wrestler — the kind who would never make it big. Hauxhurst had (and I imagine still has) big dreams of superstardom. Hackett felt for Hauxhurst?s nearly impossible goals as well as his rough upbringing with less-than-stellar parents.

Kevin Lusignan, a high school guidance counselor, told me he couldn’t begin to count the times Oren has cried on his shoulder. And when Hauxhurst called me, I often sensed him angling for consolation or guidance. But he didn’t know how to ask for it and I didn’t know how to offer it, so instead we talked about wrestling.

After much research with young boys at the APW training facility and with Hauxhurst, the author concluded that much of the desire to become a professional wrestler comes from a need to be noticed and to be somebody. This desire for fame, Hackett believes, is a product either of the natural insecurity that we all have or our country?s obsession with celebrities.

Slaphappy features a wealth of information and detective work on the sexuality of professional wrestling, especially the latent homosexuality of it all. This is something which I have been waiting to be dissected for a very long time. There is always an underlying bit of male sexuality in wrestling, from the feather boas to men entangled in each other to built-up adolescent frustration about?something! This is an area of pro wrestling that fans sometimes joke about but rarely discuss intellectually and seriously. Hackett does.

Here was a dialectic of wrestling distilled to its essence: attraction expressed as aggression. Gorgeous George was actually a tough and talented technical wrestler, a beer-drinking regular guy, well liked by his colleagues, and not effete or gay. But like Dwayne Johnson a half-century later, he had an intuition of what wrestling was really about ? masculinity, male intimacy, and fear.

This was taken from the pages directly after a long talk with The Rock about vanity and sexuality in wrestling. It is infinitely more complicated than that short paragraph. The author spends a good deal of his book discussing and theorizing on this, usually hitting the nail on the head. This should not worry straight wrestling fans, though. The book does not insist that all wrestling fans and wrestlers are homosexuals. It rather speaks of the average man?s sexuality and relationships in a broad sense and uses the noticeably over-the-top world of pro wrestling as an example. As said, the book is as much about American society in general as it is about wrestling specifically.

Although, it should be noted that Hackett?s deep psychological analysis of homosexual and homosocial relations in wrestling sometimes uncovered things that simply were not true. Some aspects of wrestling were clearly effeminate, some instances he saw were Freudian or covertly sexual, but some things he saw that he deemed gay were not at all. In reaching for more clues, Hackett perhaps saw things that were not there. Sometimes a piledriver is just a piledriver, if you will. For example, towards the end of his chapter on sexual subtext, Hackett mentioned that Shawn Michaels once remarked, speaking of his son during a feud with Triple H, ?I’m going to show my little boy that sometimes you got to fight to be a man.? Hackett joked ?I don’t know who, or what, Michaels meant by his ‘little boy.?? On the whole, however, most of his discoveries were insightful and worthy of debate.

Hackett?s travel logs include a trip to the Hart family dungeon. During his time there, he witnessed a very physical domestic problem between Davey Boy Smith and Diana Hart. Hackett was disappointed in what he saw because he had heard that the Harts were the great bastions of goodness in pro wrestling. Stu Hart, in an effort to teach Hackett something about wrestling, grabbed him by the neck and put him in a submission. Hackett was saved by the bell when the phone rang. It was somebody calling for Owen Hart. ?Owen?? asked Stu. ?Owen?s not here. Owen is dead. He was killed in the ring in Kansas City.? He said nothing about the caller and went back to the submissions. Hackett interviewed Bret Hart but found himself depressed after all the talk of wrestlers dying young. Their conversation about who would probably next to die was chilling.

I had planned on staying nearly a week in Calgary. But after my interview with Bret the next day, I decided to leave first thing in the morning. I had seen enough. Wrestling was supposed to be fun, irreverent, outlandish, triumphant, festive — and, very often, in places like the Viking Hall, it still was. Yet no other branch of popular culture produced so much misery, and it was starting to depress me.

In the end, Thomas Hackett displays mixed feelings about professional wrestling. It is what he said it was in the beginning, that wrestling is all of us. That does not mean we are not without flaws. Like anyone who must objectively look at mankind itself, Hackett sees both the grandeur and folly of the culture of wrestling.

I highly recommend Slaphappy. It combines an articulate, intelligent author examining something that is often just the opposite. And yet he does so with such care that he does not put himself above the subject. I think all wrestling fans should read this book. It teaches us something about ourselves, about our fandom, something we?ve known on some level but have not always been able to put into words.

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