Thursday, July 10, 2014

WWE Network World Tour: WrestleMania VIII

After the 1992 Royal Rumble, the pieces were set into place for the wrestling nerd dream match of the century. Hell, for a hot second, the WWF looked like they'd even pull it off, too, as they aired a fake "press conference" where fake WWF President Jack Tunney named Hulk Hogan as the #1 contender to Ric Flair's newly-won WWF World Championship. For once, Hogan's incessant need to headline every goddamn show he was ever on was working to my advantage, as i wanted to see Hogan/Flair as much as anyone. WrestleMania VIII was going to be MINT.

Hey, wait.

So....about that. If you venture out into Internetlandia, you can find myriad reasons for why the WWF quickly reshuffled their WrestleMania VIII plans. Hogan and Flair had been wrestling at house shows and the reactions were tepid (not that they were built up as anything more special than "Hogan's fighting this guy this month"). Vince McMahon decided the match was "five years too late" (well, whose fault was that, Mr. Drain-The-Territories-of-all-Their-Talent?). Vince didn't want to push Flair as a champion on Hogan's level (which is a ridiculous assertion, as they built him up as a "real world's champion" with an acknowledged pre-WWF career). Whatever the reason, what we eventually got was a "double main event" of Hulk Hogan vs. Sid Justice (who thought that, as the last man eliminated in the Rumble, he should have been #1 contender, and thus took his frustration out on Mr. I-Headline-Every-'Mania Hogan, which...understandable), and Flair ended up defending his title against Randy "Macho Man" Savage, which was sure to be a better match than Hogan/Flair anyway. I mean, if you're going to pair these four dudes off, let the two real workers put on a clinic while the two muscleheads punch each other for 12 minutes elsewhere on the show. This makes sense. So yes, let's make up an angle where Flair produces doctored photos of himself hanging out with Miss Elizabeth and have him claim that "she was mine before she was yours, Savage!" Because, let's be honest--that's pretty fucking funny. Flair's ladies' man character going full heel, unable to handle the fact that for once his opponent is the one with the stunningly hot lady at his side, and not him! His ego cannot process this, for he is Space Mountain and there is not a female alive that does not want to strap in for the ride! He will refer to said lady as property and exhibit questionable sorta-misogynist behavior, for he is a dastardly heel champion (and knows that Savage has a famously jealous streak when it comes to Liz to boot, so it's a brilliant psychological strategy as well)! Honestly, it's hard to argue with the WWF here; this really probably was the right call. Throw in an Intercontinental title match with Roddy Piper defending against Bret "Hitman" Hart, and we have at least two potentially stupidawesome matches to watch here. So let's get on with it! 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Raise Our Fists Up: The 2014 PRFBBQ


My friend Thom came to his first PRFBBQ last weekend. He's heard a few of his friends--mostly members of my two bands--raving about the Chicago getaway that happens once a year during a weekend in late June several times over the years, but i don't think he ever seriously considered attending until this year, when his Seattle band Seminars played. His bandmate James played three of the festivals with his currently slumbering band, Police Teeth, and so Thom (who met James through us after he moved there from Milwaukee--this is important) got dragged along back to the Midwest for this annual collection of Internet nerds that also happens to be the most exhilarating, wall-to-wall excellent DIY festival you'll ever hear about.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

WWE Network World Tour: Royal Rumble 1992

BONUS COVERAGE!

In August 1991, the WWF, Bobby Heenan, and Ric Flair made wrestling history after Flair was fired from WCW due to creative "differences" with its president, Jim Herd (can you imagine Ric Flair disagreeing with the idea of completely redesigning his character and renaming him "Spartacus?" That would have made millions!). Throughout the Hulkamania era of the WWF, hardcore wrestling fans who followed every wrestling promotion and marked out for technical wrestling contended that Hulk Hogan only kept a stranglehold on the WWF Title because he'd never wrestled Ric Flair. Whether you were a complete mark or someone who actually realized that, ya know, it was completely logical that Ric Flair in the WWF would have been booked as just another heel that would lose to the big boot and legdrop, what with Hogan being the companies golden egg-laying goose and all, it was still fun to daydream about what would happen if, someday, the two men who held the two most prestigious championships in pro wrestling in the 1980s were to collide. And in 1991, after Flair's ignoble dismissal from the company that was once Jim Crockett Promotions--the company he ruled for ten years--it was finally possible.

Not that any of us teenagers really knew the behind the scenes politics in the NWA at the time, so when this aired on WWF Wrestling Challenge, there was almost no advance warning and jaws hit the floor across North America on one Saturday morning in August:



I love how Gorilla Monsoon and Jim Neidhart act like they've never seen the Big Gold Belt in their lives, and have never heard of Ric Flair. Buncha company man babyfaces treating their employer like it's the only game in town, while the diabolical heel manager has his finger on the pulse of the wrestling underground. And yes, that is the original Big Gold NWA World Championship Belt that Heenan is holding in this video. When Flair was fired from WCW, he was the world champ, and when Jim Herd and WCW demanded it back, Flair said, "ok, fine, as long as you return the $25,000 deposit i paid when i first won the belt way back in 1981." (This was a thing that NWA champions did back in the day, apparently.) WCW didn't have the money (because it was paid to the NWA, not them), and thus Flair kept the belt to use on WWF television as the "Real World's Champion."

So Flair immediately started making life difficult for his old friend/nemesis, Roddy Piper, and eventually got onto Hogan's radar by interfering in Hulk's title defense against the young Undertaker at the 1991 Survivor Series. After tombstone piledriving Hogan onto a chair that Flair slid into the ring, 'Taker had won his first title and was headed to a WWF "President" Jack Tunney-mandated rematch at a 1st time (and only) PPV the following Tuesday, creatively called This Tuesday in Texas. There, Hogan regained his title after throwing ashes from 'Taker's urn into his face (which, EW). Because Tunney was at ringside and witnessed the flagrant cheating from the WWF's resident superhero, justice prevailed (the concept, not Sid Justice) and Hogan was stripped of the championship, which would be filled by the winner of the 1992 Royal Rumble match.

Now, let's be clear here--titles being won in battle royals is some serious lame sauce, and as a young mark i initially rolled my eyes at this announcement. You win a title via pinfall or submission (or grabbing a belt hanging above the ring by using a ladder, i suppose), not simply by tossing dudes over the top rope. The idea of The Barbarian or "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan fluking their way to the title was a serious concern of mine. What i forgot was that this shit is scripted so the title win would be booked in a way that made damn sure the winner deserved it. And hoooo boy, did the winner deserve it.

Since the events here are so critical in setting up the matches for WrestleMania VIII, let's go through the card. BONUS COVERAGE!

Monday, May 26, 2014

WWE Network World Tour: WrestleMania VII

Guys, i am not looking forward to this recap. Let's not get too flowery about it and just resign ourselves to the fact that we're about to slog through a whole bunch of hot garbage when it comes to WrestleMania VII. We've got two of the company's best talents, Rick Martel and Jake Roberts, in a match where they can't see each other. We've got Virgil turning on Ted DiBiase. Sure, we've got Randy Savage propping up The Ultimate Warrior, and we've got the Hart Foundation in a tag title match, but we also have--if memory serves, and knowing that i haven't revisited this PPV since it aired in 1991 leads me to think i'm right--a steaming pile of rancid horse crap of a main event, where WWF World Champion Sergeant Slaughter defends against Hulk Hogan. "Oh, hey, DJ--shit, isn't this the match where Slaughter is a pro-Iraqi turncoat?"

Sigh. YES. YES IT IS. FUCK.

Wrestling has a long, inglorious history of co-opting or exploiting current events to make money. One of the WWF's best heels ever, The Iron Sheik, won the World Title from all-American goody-two-shoes Bob Backlund when the Iran hostage crisis was still fresh in America's memory. Decades of "Russian" wrestlers terrorized wrestling rings with their cold war chicanery. So when, in 1990 and 1991, the WWF began to exploit Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent Gulf War, it wasn't particularly shocking, but it was particularly awful.

Not because it's completely crass and tasteless to profit off a war resulting in innocent lives being snuffed out in the collateral damage of SCUD missiles (although i'm sure Vince McMahon would tell us they were telling a morality tale to boost morale back home, like Captain America socking Hitler in the jaw), but because it was just so goddamn lazy. The moment that "Macho King" Randy Savage cracked The Ultimate Warrior over the head with his scepter at the 1991 Royal Rumble, leading directly to Sgt. Slaughter pinning the Warrior for the title seconds later, everyone knew that the WrestleMania VII main event was going to feature Slaughter dropping the title back to a Real American (and Jack Swagger and Cesaro weren't around yet, so guess who?). And frankly, i like to think i wasn't alone in being completely sick of Hulk Effing Hogan.

Well, shit. Let's get on with this then.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

WWE Network World Tour: WrestleMania VI

It was the pinfall that rocked a million grade schoolers.

In professional wrestling, there are countless ways to win a match, depending on the gimmick involved. You can escape a cage, drag your opponent to all four corners, toss 'em in a casket, even light 'em on fire. But a lot of these finishes are copouts--ways to give a victory to one wrestler while not making the opponent look too weak in defeat. Even in 2014, the way to really assert dominance over an opponent--to show them that you are truly better, to really defeat them--is through pinfall or submission.

And as of April 1, 1990, Hulk Hogan had not been cleanly pinned in nine years. The internet tells me that the last man to pin Hulk Hogan's shoulders to the mat without cheating before the advent of Hulkamania was Tony Atlas sometime in 1981. For an entire generation of kids who started watching the WWF in 1985 or so, Hogan was unpinnable. Seeing Earl Hebner count a bogus three in '88 with Hogan's shoulder off the mat looked surreal, as did the sight of the WWF title on Andre the Giant's shoulder for all of 40 seconds. These days, champions get pinned in non-title matches all the time to advance storylines--heck, Randy Orton got pinned cleanly more often during his last title run than The Honky Tonk Man may have been in his entire career. But in the '80s, the WWF protected its champions. You did not see a champ get pinned, even in a non-title situation, because it made the champ look weak.

And that's why the finish to WrestleMania VI made history.

The WWF for a time must have been convinced that The Ultimate Warrior was the future of their company. Like Hogan before him, he was huge, ripped, and charismatic...in his way...and incredibly over with the fans. Unless you were a wrestling purist or an NWA fan, it was hard not to get swept up in the energy and the hype of the Warrior...even if nothing he ever said made any sense.




I mean, come on--who wouldn't have wanted this guy as the face of the company?

In 1989, this dude was so goddamn popular that he was on a nonstop collision course with the--until now--unquestioned king of the WWF, the man who had held the title since beating Randy Savage at WrestleMania V, Hulk Hogan. And for the first time since WrestleMania III, there was legitimate doubt as to whether Hogan would actually win, even though conventional wisdom reminded us that he hadn't been pinned in nine years, and did anyone even remember seeing that match, anyway? Hulk Hogan vs. The Ultimate Warrior was the match that had to happen, even though neither guy could actually wrestle worth half a goddamn. And still, it was a main event that ended up being greater than the sum of its parts. Like Andre/Hogan at WMIII, the hype told more story than the in-ring performance. And Intercontinental Title vs. World Title was the cherry on top.

But first, it was apparently critical that "Rowdy" Roddy Piper wrestle in blackface.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

WWE Network World Tour: WrestleMania V

Not too long ago, a tattooed, straight-edge, rebellious outsider named CM Punk held the WWE Championship for a staggering (by today's standards) 434 days, winning the belt at Survivor Series 2011 and holding it uninterrupted all the way to 2013's Royal Rumble. During this title run he had some thrilling title defenses against the likes of Dolph Ziggler, Chris Jericho, and Daniel Bryan, matches that were more than worthy to close any WWE PPV on which they were broadcast. Unfortunately for Punk and his historic title reign--the longest by any WWE Champ in roughly 25 years--his title defenses were routinely relegated to the undercard in lieu of whatever John Cena--eternal champ in the eyes of Make-A-Wish kids everywhere--was up to that month. Punk may have held the belt, but the clean-cut walking cartoon character superhero (who, in the eyes of many fans, is nowhere near CM Punk's level in terms of overall in-ring ability) was still The Man in the eyes of WWE and their merchandise sale statistics. It's no wonder that in August of 2012, Punk finally turned heel and began venting his frustrations on the mic and in the ring.

It's probably not coincidence that Punk started using Randy "Macho Man" Savage's trademark flying elbow drop in tribute not long after Savage died in May 2011. Punk has long cited Savage as a favorite and an influence, which makes Punk's mid-reign heel turn all the more interesting when paralleled with Savage's run after WrestleMania IV in 1988. Like Punk, Savage won the title at a time when another wholesome, clean-cut superhero, Hulk Hogan (who also was generally accepted by "smart marks" as being less skilled in the ring than the new champ), was the top dog in the yard. Sure, Hogan took time off in the Spring and early Summer after WMIV in order to film his debut as a lead "actor" in No Holds Barred while Savage got some time to establish himself as champ, but by late Summer he was back and ready to join up with Savage and Elizabeth (now the manager of both men) at the inaugural SummerSlam in a tag team match against Ted DiBiase and Andre the Giant. From then on, the subtle digs started in the WWF's positioning of the two men--Savage may be holding the strap, but Hulk's still our guy. And it was only a matter of time before the storyline began to reflect what was depicted as Macho Man's long-simmering resentment over the situation.

Whether Savage's frustration was as real-life as Punk's isn't known to me, although stories have been told for years about Hogan's backstage politicking (not that Vince and the WWF were likely in any way interested in moving on from Hogan until the well was beyond dry). But Savage was channeling something during the February 3 edition of The Main Event where, after a tag team match against the Twin Towers (Akeem--more on him below--and The Big Bossman) (never forget), Savage turned on Hogan and delivered the beatdown. See, during the match, Elizabeth got knocked out during an inadvertent collision with Savage, leading Hogan to carry her toward the medical facilities in the back, sobbing and flipping his shit the whole time. He eventually comes back to the ring, but the damage is done--Savage's old jealous streak is reignited and he not only bails on Hogan at the end of the match (which Hulk still wins because, come on, it's Hulk Hogan), but he jumps Hogan in the first aid room, basically accuses him of wanting to bone Liz, and goes on with the rampant ass-kickery. It was almost disturbing as a kid to see Savage so wild-eyed, insane, and rage-filled, although today, hindsight shows me that i've seen a lot worse since.



So the stage was set for WrestleMania V: Hogan would challenge Randy Savage for the title that he only lost a year before so he could go make a movie, looking to make a casualty of Randy Savage's 371-day title reign--a reign that wasn't very long in the context of Hogan's four-year reign that preceded it, but nonetheless, a reign whose length wouldn't be sniffed at for nearly 20 years, only surpassed by John Cena in 2006-2007, and by CM Punk (who would eventually drop the title to another guy who left the company to make movies, The Rock, who would then drop the title at the next 'Mania...to John Cena. Parallels!).

OK, should we get on with this already?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Kael

Back in the early days of IfIHadAHiFi, we very often found ourselves in the deceptively sleepy burg of Manitowoc, a town full of kids that were suddenly without a Concert Cafe in Green Bay at which to see punk rock shows. Some kids in town were booking shows at an all-ages venue called The Attic, and for some reason we were in demand. The shows we played in Manitowoc still rank as some of the zaniest, craziest times we ever spent on stage, and a big source of that wackiness was a local band of high school kids called The Basics and their friends.

One of those Basics kids was a dude named Kael Klassen. Not once did we ever see this guy raging at anything less than 150%, dancing and thrashing around like a fiend for any band he loved, which was usually every band. He'd greet the end of a song with a loud "MEATWAAAAAD!" which made absolutely no sense, which was why it was hilarious. And Kael was always hilarious, all of the time. And he loved our band, which meant we heard "MEATWAAAAAD!" a lot.

Here's my favorite Kael Klassen story:

In 2006, The HiFi were on a tour of the South and East Coast, and it was going, to be generous, poorly. No one was coming out to see us, and many of the venues we were playing hadn't made much of an effort to promote. To compound things, my girlfriend had moved to Florida to go to school the year before and we had since broken up, and i spent the entire tour questioning that decision. What the hell was i doing driving around in a van with three other guys, playing to three apathetic people a night, when i could have moved to Florida and kept my relationship going? I was having some miserable nights on tour and was not enjoying myself.

Eventually, we ended up in Long Island, playing an all-ages show at a VFW hall. I had gotten an email from an old pal saying he was going to make it to the show, which surprised me because i had no idea he was in New York to begin with. I assumed his intentions were pure, but like so many shows where out of town friends promise to represent, i expected disappointment and a "oh, something came up" excuse. But sure enough, after we loaded in to the hall and were aimlessly standing around, we suddenly heard a familiar cry behind us. "MEATWAAAAAD!" We turned around, and there was Kael, in possession of a bottle of whiskey and his familiar ear-to-ear smile. "Where are we drinking this?"

When a nobody rock band goes out on tour, familiar faces mean the world, because the DIY touring circuit is a harsh, cruel place filled with bar patrons that are too cool for the room, and so-called "music fans" that leave the room and head back to the bar as soon as their friends in the local band leave the stage. We found out that Kael was attending culinary school in upstate New York, and had taken four hours' worth of various trains, buses, and cabs to get to the Eastern tip of Long Island to see us play. He almost singlehandedly made the entire tour worth it. I know he saved the tour for me.

That was the last time i hung out with him in person. About once a year i'd get an email from him at about three in the morning that said something like "DUUUUUUDE! I miss HiFi so bad! Come play my birthday party in South Carolina! I'll pay you $300!" Assuming he was drunk and hyper, I'd always email him back and remind him that we loved him, but rockers with day jobs can't exactly go out on two-day tours that span 1000 miles.

As soon as i heard that he passed away last Friday, at the obscene and unfair age of 29, i immediately wished that we had gotten swept up in Kael's devil-may-care spirit a little more often and gone on one of those spontaneous road trips he wanted us to take. While i hadn't seen him in years, it always set my mind at ease knowing he was out there somewhere, making the world a little bit weirder, a lot crazier, and hopefully still screaming "MEATWAAAAAD!" at bands. If i could talk to him now, i'd tell him that making friends like him is the reason why people start rock bands. And i'd tell him "thank you" for absolutely everything that made him the unforgettable soul he was. Wherever you are, Kael, i hope you're tearing it up with the same passion i saw in you as you tore through life. You burned bright and fast here on Earth, but now you're somewhere you can burn as bright as you want until you're the last star in the sky. Thanks for the memories, pal--and all the whiskey, too.

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