A few years back, on the tenth anniversary of my deliberate efforts to “become a writer”, I did some posts on my old LJ account about my big influences. But instead of the usual cast of writers and novels and short stories I love, I chose to write about non-literary influences. Namely, punk rock and roll, comic books, Star Wars movies, Dungeons and Dragons and their ilk and, you guessed it, pro wrestling.
Because I didn’t read much when I was a kid. I was not the typical “born to be writer” who sat in the library reading Tolkien or King or Heinlein and avoiding the jocks. I was the kid planning gigs for Monday nights, getting paid in beer at seventeen, and arguing the history and merit of the post punk scene with people who only knew one Nirvana song. I think I’d collectively finished five novels by the time I was nineteen.
My original love of storytelling came from music and comics and Star Wars and wrestling. Scoff if you must, but that’s the truth. I spent the next ten years filling in the gaps, learning to love books and short stories as much as songs and graphic novels. But it was those four forms of storytelling that got to me first. They shaped my brain and imagination, good or bad, and forged some of the writer I am today. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
So here’s a clip from my review of why pro wrestling is kick ass and how it shaped my early growing brain! WARNING! This is long and rambly!
If comic books fueled my imagination with adventures of muscle-bound men in tights kicking the snot out of each other, they more than prepared me for my next childhood obsession: pro wrestling. I’ve waxed and waned and loved and hated pro wrestling throughout my life, but there is no denying that it has been a tremendous influence on me (good, bad, and ugly). It was also the bane of my sister Sue, who saw it as the worst form of entertainment on earth, a point that might have had more power if she didn’t watch eight hours of soap operas each week!
But like Stephen King and the pulps, Ligotti with Lovecraft, or Neil Gaiman with mythology, much of my introduction to storytelling as art came through countless hours of having my eyes glued to the set as pro wrestlers did their damndest to try and convince me and every other kid in the universe that what happened in the squared circle was more real than Santa Claus, and teaching me the basics of heroic storytelling and the seedy world that hid behind the curtain.
My introduction to pro wrestling came from long time friend Jamie “Call me James” Wallace (yes, of the William Wallace clan). Two years older and two years cooler than me, Jamie always got to the big and important pop culture phenomenons that dominated our childhood first. And pro wrestling was no exception. Jamie came over one Saturday afternoon and demanded we watch WWF Superstars, that it was crazy amazing. And he was right.
From the first match I saw, I was hooked. It was like comic books come to life. Giants, muscle men, high flyers, bloody villains, amazing comebacks, it was all there, told through physical violence and crazy dialog from guys with names almost out of Marvel like Rowdy Roddy Piper, Macho Man Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan. When TV wasn’t enough, I gorged on wrestling mags, those crappy, newsprint rags that maintained the illusion that wrestling was real. They showed lots of bloody pictures from leagues all around the world, listing champions and debating who was the next rising star. I mean, you can’t make that stuff up, people!
For years, I absorbed their storylines and matches, and developed my own opinions on what was good and bad wrestling. I found the matches of giants slow, plodding snorefests. I enjoyed some of the strong guys, even the certifiably coo coo Ultimite Warrior (his interviews were el bizzaro and often hilarious “Load up the spaceship with the rocketfuel and the warriors and blast off to parts unknown!”), but I was never much of a Hogan fan. Indeed, it was watching Hogan’s title matches (which were the same match over and over for years) that made me doubt wrestling’s verity. I started to catch on when he fought Hercules Hernedez and actually got bumped hard for real on the mat and the ref had to make a slow count to make the match work. Hogan matches were the big draw, but when guys like Ricky Steamboat or Bret Hart or the Dynamite Kid were in the ring . . . well, they made you think it was real.
Hart was and still is my favorite. He had a novel gimmick in wrestling: he was good at . . . wrestling. No super powers, no using the fans to give him the strength to make a comeback, Hart was supposed to be the best there was, the best there is, and the best there ever would be. And when he was in his prime, you believed it. Sure, he was Canadian, and that rallied my enthusiasm, too, but the fact is his matches were great storytelling, whether against Randy Savage or Razor Ramone or his late brother Owen or Stone Cold or Sean Michaels, Hart threw everything he had into his matches. He pulled off what a wrestler should do with his match, no matter the venue or opponent: suspend your disbelief, make you believe that despite the over the top acting, promos, gimmicks, pyrotechnics, good or awful story lines and interviews, that at that moment, in that ring, that it was real. There have been lots of great ring storytellers, but for me The Hitman was the man to beat.
Lately, it’s the behind the scenes world of how wrestling works that most fascinates me. The business has long given up any secrecy regarding the scripted nature of the bouts, and have endorsed the fiction of wrestling. But behind this admission is a world of smoke, of drugs and hard knock life, of death and depravity, of people sacrificing their bodies and minds for the roar of the crowd and paycheque that could suck or be millions. Death hangs in the air of the arenas as so many wrestlers who cut their teeth in the 1980s have died before their time, or become real life horror stories like Chris Benoit, who killed his family and himself two years ago. For many, retirement is just survival misspelled.
I’ve hated a lot about wrestling, too. The underlying racism, the bullshit machismo, the mysoginy. I gave up on the attitude era when necrophelia and people with mental disabilities became fodder for storylines. The WWE has since tried to re-brand itself as more kid friendly (less blood and sex, more focus on in ring performance), and I catch an hour or two each week to see who they are hyping as the next big things, and catching internet gossip on the arrest of ex champion Jeff Hardy on drug charges. One thing is clear, no matter what I think, the world of pro wrestling marches on and on.
I’ve written stories about pro wrestlers, pro wrestling fans, and am cooking up a novella on the life of a pro wrestler that is about a month to completion. The whole world of wrestling, from the in ring performance, to the glory and shattered lives it creates, to the crap tastic indie scene and the global reach of the WWE, continues to fascinate me for reasons base and profound.
So, whether I like it or not, I need to thank Vince McMahon, the grand vizier of the WWE, and all the talent that gave me hours of heroic joy as a kid, and for instilling in me a love of the, awesome, sleazy, rotten and wonderful mythic and horrific world of pro wrestling.
And that’s the bottom line, because I said so.