Sunday, April 13, 2014

WWE Network World Tour: WrestleMania IV

If you want to see how radically storytelling in professional wrestling has evolved in the Internet age, compare WrestleMania XXX and its "Daniel Bryan and the Internet Smart Fans vs. Triple H and the Glass Ceiling" meta-storyline with 1988's WrestleMania IV. Back in '88, there was no widespread Internet filled with rumor mills, dirt sheets and message boards full of "insiders" with backstage storyline gossip. The WWF was still maintaining kayfabe in public appearances, and all the dirt sheets were underground newsletters that you had to subscribe to in order to hear the latest gossip. As a soon-to-be 14-year-old fully willing to suspend his disbelief, i had no idea who would win the main event at WrestleMania IV, and hell--i had no idea who would be in the final.

See, WrestleMania IV is the year of the tournament--a one-night single-elimination 14-person tournament to fill the vacant WWF World Heavyweight Championship. On February 5, 1988, NBC aired The Main Event on prime time TV, featuring a title rematch of the WrestleMania III clash between Hogan and Andre. This time, the match ended in controversial fashion when Andre covered Hogan for what should have been a one-count, but was counted three by referee Earl Hebner, evil twin of the scheduled official Dave Hebner, trapped in a locker somewhere backstage after "The Million Dollar Man," Ted DiBiase (Andre's new manager, having bought his contract from Bobby Heenan), bribed Earl to count a bogus three and award the title to Andre, who would then surrender the belt to DiBiase. (Follow all that?) However! President Jack Tunney invalidated the transaction, claiming "no sale" as the title can only change hands by pinfall or submission (someone tell that to Vince McMahon in 2007 when he awards the title to Randy Orton before he even wrestles a match that night). Thus, we have the first-ever WWF championship vacancy, and the aforementioned tourney.

In 1988, there was no Internet speculating about which hot babyface would be given a chance to run with the gold. Not many people knew that Ricky Steamboat was slowly being jobbed out of the company by bitter management, nor did anyone know that Hogan was about to take a sabbatical to film a movie (the classic No Holds Barred, featuring Tiny Lister as Zeus, an unstoppable monster heel nowhere near as lazy as his eye!). All we had at Hilbert Junior High was speculation, and most of us thought that the winner of the tournament would emerge from the Hogan/Andre second-round bout. So obviously we had no idea what was going to happen.

If only the actual wrestling were as dramatic as the storyline...

Sunday, March 23, 2014

WWE Network World Tour: WrestleMania III

OK, y'all. Shit's about to get real. With WrestleMania III, we officially enter the era of the World Wrestling Federation where i started following the goings-on. It was a few months before WMIII that my little brother Kris, all of 3 years old at the time, started expressing a desire to watch the work of one Hulk Hogan. Probably caught an episode of Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling or something, i dunno. At first, the idea of watching grown men beat each other into a pulp was repellant to this good young 13-year-old Catholic boy. But when my dad told me it was all "fake," that made it acceptable (not realizing that they still beat each other into a pulp--it's just in service of a narrative), and one night my brother and i, along with our babysitter (look, they weren't trusting a 13-year-old kid to handle three other rugrats, and i'm grateful they didn't), stayed up late for the Saturday Night's Main Event episode where Hulk Hogan defeated Paul Orndorff in a steel cage match that was restarted after both men hit the floor outside the cage at the exact same time. My brother was hooked, but i still wasn't paying a ton of attention until that November, when "Macho Man" Randy Savage, fresh off a babyface turn that was building his character into a red-hot commodity, beat Bret "Hitman" Hart on another SNME, a win that exacted revenge for the Hart Foundation and Intercontinental Champion Honky Tonk Man's attempted assault on Miss Elizabeth one month prior. Man, that was it. 13-year-old me was marking out for the good guys like a 13-year-old John Cena mark does now.

WrestleMania III was the centerpiece of this period in the WWF/E's growth, as it attracted a ton of new fans like myself and set the benchmark for how a 'Mania should be executed for several years to come. The myth-makers spun some great yarns at the Pontiac Silverdome, then-home of the once-hated, then pitied, now hated again Detroit Lions. The indoor attendance record! A superstar's revenge on the man who sidelined him for months! The World Champ vs. his former friend and (literally) larger-than-life special attraction who was "undefeated for 15 years (*cough*bullshit*cough*)!" To this day, the phrase "irresistible force meets immovable object" brings memories of the main event of WrestleMania III into my brain. And then of course, there's the David vs. Goliath drama...

...Of King Kong Bundy elbowdropping a midget wrestler named Little Beaver. Ok, now you're interested, aren't you? Oh yeah you are. Let's do this.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

WWE Network World Tour: WrestleMania 2

What needs to be understood about Vince McMahon is that he's one of the great risk-takers in all of show business. While a lot of people, including me, thought of the WWE Network as a slam-dunk no-brainer, there were a lot of questions surrounding it. How would cable companies react to PPVs included at $9.99/month? How would the Network affect the roster's PPV bonuses? Would wrestling fans be able to grasp the concept of a network not available on traditional cable?

It's not the first insane risk McMahon has taken, and it's not the first that he's struck gold on (at least, based on the WWE's stock hitting an all-time high not long after the Network's debut). The first WrestleMania, at the time, was a tremendous risk, as was his decision to up the production stakes the following year, holding WrestleMania 2 in three different cities: New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Sure, the lack of subsequent WrestleManias being held in multiple locations is evidence that this gamble went the way of the World Bodybuilding Federation and the XFL, but no one can ever say Vince McMahon's scared to roll the dice. Now, maybe the main issue with this show wasn't the ridiculous production, but the near-complete lack of quality wrestling. Who knows? But here's what happened in 1986, regardless.

Friday, February 28, 2014

WWE Network World Tour: WrestleMania I

So recently, in an effort to diversify my online wrestling reading from the jaded axe-grinders at Pro Wrestling Torch, i started checking out Cageside Seats, which has been very hit-or-miss so far--typical of a content farm blog, i suppose. Right now they have some chud recapping every WrestleMania leading up to number 30, and he's pretty atrocious. As my man Joey Pink pointed out, "This was a very entertaining and technical match, with lots of holds" = primo analysis.

With the WWE Network now online, i've been looking for an excuse to dig deep through the archives and get back into a regular writing mode, and realizing that i can write circles around some of the guys on this blog is motivation enough. So dig: i will attempt to also use the WWE Network to recap all 30 WrestleManias. I'm not saying i'll get through the previous 29 before April, but i'll do what i can. I do have a life, after all; i mean, there are so many non-WM things i need to watch on the Network, too, you guys.

Now, i'm by no means an expert on everything that goes into a wrestling match. While i've been watching pro wrestling since Randy Savage took on Bret Hart on Saturday Night's Main Event, i have probably a dozen friends who can break down a wrestling match with far more detail than i can. That said, i'm damn witty, so here i go. I've got my WWE Network on my Roku (network timeouts and all, damn you, Network), i've got my New Glarus Cabin Fever honey bock, and the fiancee is working at the bar tonight, so it's time. WrestleMania I, from what i remember from renting it from the local gas station along with a portable VCR(!! the 80s!!), was by and large dogshit, so this will be interesting. I told the dude at the corner store tonight that i probably wasn't going to drink all these beers tonight, but David Sammartino vs. Brutus Beefcake is on the card, so this could get ugly. Let's see what happens.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

My 2013 Put to Music

Well, i can't say that 2013 was uneventful. A lot of killer records, and a lot of...stuff. Family, work, pretty much lead to me not even being able to type this until now, on New Year's Day when i am fighting off a cold and have nowhere to be but my couch. So since i wasn't able to put together a top 10 records list until now OR recap my 2013 in writing, here's a little of both--a 2013 review peppered with my favorite records and songs of the year. Strap in, if you're so inclined.

January was possibly the most eventful month in my recent life, period. May as well start with the big one: On January 23rd, i lost my father to a decade-plus-long battle with throat and mouth cancer. I've written thousands of words over the years about how much of my personality i attribute to my dad; it's because of him i grew up a huge sci-fi nerd, discovered a love for the stars, and felt empowered to blaze my own path in life--one that ended up immersed in music rather than any of the subjects in school i was actually good at. His absence was felt for the rest of the year, and will be felt forever. I've had few legit heroes in my life, but he was the biggest. And now i get to be my own.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Pete's Eulogy

My uncle (and confirmation sponsor) Pete wrote and delivered this beautiful eulogy at Grandpa's funeral. I just wanted to post it here for posterity.

* * *

Good morning. Welcome to the celebration of the life of Raymond P. Mueller Sr. For those of you that don’t know me, I am Peter, the youngest of the Mueller children. Dad was born on September 1st,
1917. He was born again to eternal life on April 16th, 2012.

Dad was born and raised on a dairy farm near Sherwood, which is a small town not far from here. He wasn’t able to attend school as long as he allowed his children to, due to other obligations, but you wouldn’t know it by his ability to be successful during his lifetime. When Dad was in his early twenties, he began to court a young lady from nearby St. John, Rita Mary Kees. Dad would drive his car a couple
of miles to visit Mom. Mom’s younger siblings would see him coming up the driveway and sing a song to Mom that started with, Ray-Ray come, Ray-Ray come. The courtship lasted until May 3rd, 1944 when Mom and Dad were married at St. John the Baptist church in St. John. That is when the fun started.

Mom and Dad bought a dairy farm about 5 miles out of Chilton, where they farmed for 52 years. They have 11 children. Raymond Jr., Richard, Ann Marie, Ronald, Theresa, Glenn, Gail, Carl, Karen, Connie
and me. From those 11 children, we have 30 grandchildren, 24 great-grandchildren, and still counting. Dad was busy.

We lived on a small farm, so Dad had to work outside jobs along with farming. Dad was a hard worker.

It was during one of these jobs, driving a milk truck, when Dad came across a tractor rolling in a field with nobody in the seat. He jumped out of his truck and stopped the tractor shortly before it was about to run over the driver that had been thrown from the seat. Dad was a hero.

It wasn’t all work for Dad. He enjoyed Sheepshead, dancing, putting puzzles together and bean bagging. They played in a number of card clubs over the years and we as children, would watch and learn. I apologize in advance if some of you don’t understand the sheepshead terms I am about to use. It was just a few short weeks ago, when his grand-daughter Christine was having her baby shower that Mom attended, some of the brothers and I joined Dad for some sheepshead. Though he couldn’t see or hear that well, his mind was still as sharp as ever. He was sitting to my left, which means he was behind me when playing, and he would get a little grin on his face as he kept trumping me and taking tricks. Don’t know who won or lost money that day, don’t care. It was a great day playing cards with him. Dad was a card shark.

The other game Dad enjoyed was bean bags. He played for a number of years for Brant Inn in a local league. Growing up, we would go along and pick up the bags for the players to earn some spending money. A few years ago, some of my brothers and I thought of playing in a bean bag tournament that the Stockbridge Lions club sponsors every year. We thought it would be great if Dad would play with us and he agreed. The team name we thought of was “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Now some of you might think we used the name because of a popular TV show. However, it was more because everybody loved Dad. I mean, what’s not to love? We had some success in the tournament, but I won’t rub it in. For today, we will consider bean bag a sport. If NASCAR is a sport, we can call bean bag a sport. Dad was an athlete.

The Mueller family isn’t big on public showing of emotion. When we gather, we aren’t big on hugs like some families. But in no way does that mean the love isn’t there. I think we learned this quiet respect
and assumed love from Dad. Dad was a man of few words, but when he spoke, people generally listened. Dad was very busy when we were growing up, but he would still take the time occasionally to take a couple of swings at the softball at night after milking. But for me, the love Dad had, really came out toward the grandchildren. After he was retired, he was able to spend time with them playing games and doing whatever they wanted. He would also give them hugs and kisses when it was time for them to go home. As far as respect, Dad was well respected in the community. I was often asked by people around Chilton who my parents were. After I would tell them, they would comment what nice people they are. My brother in law summed up community respect in this way, “respect for a man in the community is sometimes based on how he treats his wife.” Dad cherished the life he had with Mom, as evidenced by the many years they spent together. On May 3rd, they will be married 68 years. What great role models they both are for us. It was also a short time ago when Mom attended a funeral for a sibling, Sr. Anacile. She returned home after their normal bed time. Dad was still waiting in his chair until Mom returned home safely. Dad was a gentleman.

So as you can see, Dad was many things during his 94 years on earth. Among those was a great husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. He often stated how he would live to be 100, close
enough Dad, we’ll round up on this one.

We have a distinct advantage with our faith. That is we believe in everlasting life. We can all rest assured that Dad is up in heaven, sitting in a chair, Ronny on one side and Timmy on the other. Dad, have fun
reuniting with them and the rest of your family. Save us a spot up there so that we may be with you again some day. We will miss you and we love you.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Remembering Grandpa Mueller in Five Senses

In my mind's eye, I'm eight or nine years old, and Grandpa Mueller is letting me follow him while he makes the rounds on the farm. I see a coop of chickens scatter as eggs are collected; a line of cows regard me with ambivalence as Grandpa hooks them up for milking. In a small room in the front of the barn, a chilled machine mixes and churns a huge tub of fresh, raw milk. On the side of the barn, piles of hay bales are stacked as farm kitties get comfortable and corn waves in the breeze in the background.

But mostly, what i see and remember is Grandpa's overalls, his determined gait, and the twinkle in his eye. What i don't remember ever seeing is Grandpa not smiling.

Back at the house, i hear laughter--not an unusual sound in the dining room, or the front yard around a volleyball net. Grandma and Grandpa had ten kids (eleven, actually, but one died long before i was born), including my mom, and it was more likely that another branch of the family was visiting at the same time we were than not. When multiple family members gathered at the house, that meant outdoor volleyball or football on the lawn, or basketball as tennis shoes and knees skidded along the gravel driveway. Inside, it meant Sheepshead, with Grandma and Grandpa passing nickels and dimes back and forth with their kids, kids-in-law, grandkids, and whoever else happened to be along and understood whatever the hell "Schneider" meant (i thought it was a dude in a white t-shirt with cigarettes rolled into his sleeve and had no idea what he had to do with cards). One night when i was three or four, i sat on Grandpa's lap, excitedly showing off my reading skills. "Q! 8! 7! J!" I wasn't on his lap for long that night. I don't actually remember that story, but my dad loves to tell it. I may have actually been on Grandma's lap, now that i think about it. Either way, i know exactly what the laughter sounded like around the dining room table. It was warm, and loud, and gregarious. It sounded like family. It sounded like the Muellers.

Elsewhere in the house, i feel the temperature drop as my cousins and i go upstairs (the heat's not on upstairs. Why would it be? When you farm for a living you don't pay to heat parts of the house that are usually empty) to play with our aunts' and uncles' old toys--darts and dolls and tic-tac-toe boards and beanbag toss. In the living room i remember feeling the smooth plastic pegs of Grandma and Grandpa's Master Mind code-breaking game as i matched wits with my cousins Jeff and Wendy with 60 Minutes on in the background. Oft times we'd break out the kids' old Monopoly set, which i loved playing because its 1960s design looked so dated and quaint compared to our version at home.

This one? I think?

If i wasn't playing games with my cousins, i was back in the living room, holding the viewmaster up to the light and reading the Snoopy and the Red Baron story through its 3D viewfinder for the 82nd time. It only ever showed the Red Baron in silhouette, which i found crazy mysterious.

Snoopy never did get him, no matter how many times i read it

But mostly, when i think about Grandpa and Grandma, I remember the taste of fresh homemade bread; of the richest, creamiest, ice-cold raw milk i've ever put in my face. My god, milk has never tasted that good since. Apples have never been as sweet as the ones on the trees in the yard. No wedding cakes have ever tasted like the ones Grandma spent decades baking for her kids and her friends' kids. And of course, i remember all those farm smells. Hay and chickens and manure, all sweet and pungent and omnipresent. And at the end of the day, i'd remember a different kind of sweet smell--the sweet cherry tobacco of Grandpa's pipe as he relaxed in his favorite chair or dealt another hand to his kids at the dining room table.

My grandpa, Ray Mueller Sr., died this week after 94 years of hard work, deep faith, and tireless devotion to his family. He's the only grandpa i've ever known (my paternal grandfather got the hell out of dodge after helping conceive my dad), but he was twice the grandparent of most mortal men. He kept the same hours as the sun, milking cows, baling hay, gathering eggs, all with that same smile and twinkle in his eye that, for the life of me, i can't picture him without. As absent as my other biological grandfather was, Grandpa Mueller was even more present, through his laughter, his deeds, and through the ten children he raised and the dozens upon dozens of grandkids his children gave him.

The Muellers are a fabulously tight-knit family. For decades my parents, aunts and uncles have gathered on holidays, weddings, and summertime weekends, and adhere to family traditions of communion with a near-religious commitment, and it's all because their parents--my grandparents--raised them to treasure family before all else. I suppose it's hard to not be close-knit when ten kids are getting crammed into one station wagon to get to Church on Sunday, but hey.

This Sunday and Monday the family will convene again to remember the patriarch of this modest farming family from Chilton, Wisconsin. I know there will be plenty of tears, but i for one feel far more grateful than sad. After all, 94 years is a hell of a run. I prefer to spend my time remembering the sights, the sounds, and god, the incredible, time-stopping smells that the memories of my grandfather infuse me with. Thanks to Grandma and Grandpa Mueller, my childhood was richer and fuller than it would have been without them, and that's what i plan to focus on this weekend.

I am going to miss my grandpa, yes. But if the soul is in any way immortal, he lives on. And i'm not even talking about Heaven (although my grandparents' faith defined so much of how they lived their lives and how they raised their family). Whenever i hear an uncle or aunt or cousin of mine laugh, i hear grandpa's laugh, and i see that smile, and that twinkle in his eye.

Thanks for the memories, Ray.