Saturday, December 27, 2014

On The Book-Burners' outstanding Christmas record, The Ghosts of Christmas Past

I work in customer service, so believe me when I say that for some of us, the Christmas season is a war of attrition. It's long hours, stress, and human beings who've forgotten to acknowledge humanity in others. Lots of “where's my stuff?” and “you ruined our holiday” and the like. But it's also camaraderie, cooperation, and the bonds forged in the pressure cooker of the Christmastime call center between co-workers and those customers willing to let themselves be helped, to work together to make this season the ideal everyone hopes for as the calendar is turned past Black Friday.

But mostly, the attrition thing.

As I write this on Christmas Eve, my newly-minted wife is chopping onions & garlic for rolling meatballs to slow-cook for the friends we'll watch Home Alone with tomorrow while noshing on dips and cookies and laughter and relaxation. She loves Christmas and does me a great service in reminding me that the day is separate from the season, and that it's worth all the trial to get to the food, the revelry, and hell, even the music. Not that I've ever been big on Christmas songs, especially with how vapid they've gotten in recent years. “Christmas Shoes?” What the hell, man.

But that's why The Book-Burners, a collective of friends surrounding our Great Lakes, convene every year to produce a new collection of original Christmas music that shies away from all that cloying faux-sentiment and gets to the real goods. Curated by Burners Bradley R. Weissenberger (late of rock band .22) and Isaac Turner (also of Kalamazoo's Minutes), The Ghosts of Christmas Past was released today as a free Bandcamp download, in true egalitarian, share-and-share-alike Book-Burners fashion. They're very much about the people, you see, and it comes through on Christmas Past, as Brad and Ike have recruited comrades from Minutes, Small Awesome, The Family Ghost, and the rutabega to join them (and regular Book-Burners Jon Terrones & Eliza Rohr) in a triumphantly ambitious collaborative effort. Files have been shared, tracks have been swapped, and the end result is 14 tunes (“but Bandcamp says 13!” Ghosts, y'all) of haunting, meditative, and joyous reflection on a holiday that is equal parts celebration, contemplation, and consternation—cheesy movies, slow-cooked meatballs, hot-tempered customers.

Songs like “The Book of Love” and “Brothers and Sisters” take stock in relationships lost while looking forward to the next year's possibilities, while “Kindness” is a collective cheer for a forever friend that went through life's pressure cooker and came out shining like a diamond on the other side. This one's a standout, by the way—just about everyone who plays on it sings, and the chorus is as close to church as you'll get on this collection. (That being said, the rutabega's Josh Hensley contributes three instrumental versions of traditional Christian seasonals that somehow manage to revitalize them while playing 'em relatively straight. Think you've heard enough versions of “Away in a Manger?” Think again.) Some of the tracks borrow from pre-existing material (“Book of Love” features lyrics from “American Pie” while the fuzzed-out “The Departure” re-appropriates from Kafka), driving home the universality of the subject matter while expanding the Christmas sourcebook with new, re-contextualized traditionals.

There's ambient noise all over these tracks, and I don't mean that in an incompetent lo-fi way, even though there's a distinct “home recording” vibe to the whole collection (“The Book Of Love” is an iPhone demo with vocals layered on top, after all). No, what I mean is that when you put on a pair of headphones and let the ghostly slow burn of “Brothers and Sisters” drape over you like a sheet, you can feel the room it was recorded in. You don't hear it so much as feel it, and it's organic and welcoming and warm, and—seriously, can we talk about this song for a minute? There aren't enough synonyms for “haunting” and “beautiful” to fully convey the exquisite aching of this track, so let me just say it's haunting and fucking gorgeous. If one of these songs deserves inclusion in the Great American Christmas Song Pantheon, it is this one—the tape loops and backing vocals from Faiz Razi push this over the edge into would-be-classic territory.

Like I said before, it's been a rough Christmas season, this December Twenty-One-Four. It's positively healing to hear a band of Midwestern snow-bound scruffs put together a collection that captures the sting of the December air while wrapping you in a blanket by the fire. It's Christmas Eve and I can hang up the phone, put away the grumps, and hang out with my lady while The Ghosts of Christmas Past dance in our heads. As gifts go, this one arrived just in time. Thanks, friends.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Ranking the top ten matches of the first ten WrestleManias

So, we're a third of the way through the history of WrestleMania at this point. I can guarantee you i won't make it to WMXXX before WMXXXI comes along, but i still see getting through the first 10 as some sort of accomplishment, albeit one that doesn't come with any validation other than my own sense of accomplishment. Not a lot of people are reading these and that's ok, because i'm having a great time doing this. But for those who are following along, WrestleMania X seems like a great time to take stock and look back at the matches we've seen so far. Here's a list of my top 10 matches from the first 10 WrestleManias. Huzzah. (You'll notice by some of the bottom entries that overall, we've dealt with more bad matches than good. I have a feeling the top 10 for WMXI thru WMXX will be stronger overall.)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

WWE Network World Tour: WrestleMania X

Can we talk more about my unabashed Hart Family fanboy-ism? After the debacle that was WrestleMania IX, my wrestling viewing stuck almost exclusively to WCW when i happened to be in front of a television, only hearing occasional channel-surfing updates or news from the Apter mags about how Yokozuna took back the WWF Title from Hulk Hogan at the first King of the Ring PPV (because, it's been rumored in later years, that Hogan refused to drop the title back to Bret "Hitman" Hart at SummerSlam, claiming that Hart's size made a victory over him improbable to his precious fanbase). After Hogan left the WWF to retire to television, filming a cheesy crime-fighting beach show called Thunder in Paradise, the WWF attempted to turn "The Narcissist" Lex Luger into a patriotic babyface and, they hoped, the future face of the company. This led to a goofy "body slam challenge" on an aircraft carrier on Independence Day, where Yokozuna declared that no american athlete could bodyslam him...until Luger completed his face turn by standing up for his country's pride by bravely slamming the evil Samoan Japanese grappler. Meanwhile, my man Bret Hart was given the consolation prize of winning the titular King of the Ring tournament at the same PPV where Yoko regained the strap, setting off a bitter feud with Jerry "The King" Lawler that lasted the remainder of 1993 (how dare the Hitman declare himself "King of the Ring" when Lawler was the real king of wrestling? I mean, logically, wouldn't Lawler's beef be with the WWF promoters who named the tournament? Eh, that would have made sense, and this is wrestling we're talking about). In addition, a grudge was starting to develop between Bret and his brother Owen, who was becoming resentful of living in his older brother Bret's shadow.

So as WrestleMania season 1994 rolled around, the top two babyfaces in the company were the corporate-anointed face of the company--muscle-headed "patriot" Lex Luger; and the guy who, thanks to consistently putting on entertaining matches with anyone he was put in the ring with, refused to step aside as the fans' true favorite--Bret Hart. Which man would go to WrestleMania X to face the diabolical Yokozuna for the belt--the guy ostensibly standing up for his country, or the guy who got screwed out of the title last year and still had unfinished business with the sumo giant and his devious manager (who, if you'll recall, threw salt in Bret's eyes to cost him the title)?

Well, that's what the Royal Rumble match is for. The storyline angle of the Rumble winner earning a shot at the WWF World Title at WrestleMania was a hit with the fans in '93, and proved so compelling in subsequent years that every Rumble winner since has left the PPV with the title shot in their back pocket. In 1994, though, the Rumble ended in controversial fashion, when the last two men in the ring--Luger and Hart--fell out of the ring together, hitting the floor at the exact same time. Shades of Hogan-Orndorff in the steel cage on Saturday Night's Main Event!


These days, the WrestleMania main event would immediately be booked as a triple-threat match between all three wrestlers, but this was 1994, and the triple-threat had not yet entered the WWF consciousness. So it was decided that both men would receive separate title shots during the show, with a bonus match added to ensure that Luger and Hart each wrestled twice. A coin was flipped; if Hart won, he'd wrestle Yokozuna first, and the winner would then face Luger later in the night. Luger would, in turn, wrestle Crush earlier in the show. However, Luger won the coin toss and got the first title shot, meaning Hart would open the show against his brother Owen, who turned on Bret after their tag team title loss to the Quebecers at the Royal Rumble pay-per-view.

So heading into WrestleMania X, the big question was: who would end the night as WWF Champ? No heel had yet emerged victorious from the final match of a WrestleMania (although Yoko came closest), so would it be the all-American, company-approved muscle man, or would it be the smaller technician--the better wrestler of the two? (If this storyline premise sounds awfully familiar to this year's main event storyline, it makes an interesting coincidence, doesn't it?) On with the show--we have a friggin' Bret/Owen match to get to, so we already know this show is gonna be worlds better than last year's! Also, there's something about a little ladder match between Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon that should be at least watchable.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

WWE Network World Tour: WrestleMania IX

Before we get into this, it's important to note that Bret "The Hitman" Hart became my favorite wrestler sometime around the dissolution of the Hart Foundation and the beginning of his solo career. If i were to pinpoint the exact moment when i became a lifelong Hitman supporter, i'd probably go with the closing seconds of his Intercontinental Title win against "Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig (who was getting ready to take time off to recover from myriad injuries) at SummerSlam '91. Hennig drops a second leg on a prone Bret Hart, who blocks Perfect's foot and reverses the legdrop into a sharpshooter out of nowhere, getting an instant submission victory. Still one of the best finishes in a match i've ever seen.


During his two IC title runs, Bret continued to have stellar matches with anyone the WWF would put in front of him (including his WMVIII title victory classic over Roddy Piper), eventually dropping the WWF's secondary belt to his brother-in-law, "British Bulldog" Davey Boy Smith, in yet another brilliant performance at SummerSlam '92 in London's Wembley Stadium. I was bummed that Hart had lost in such an obvious manner (the IC title match headlined SummerSlam that year because the home country hero, Davey Boy, was in the match, so duh, yes he was going to win), but what Bret was being groomed for was something beyond what i had even expected him to be pushed toward.

In October 1992, i was visiting an old hometown pal when we were watching WWF Wrestling Challenge, which we joined in progress. Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan were discussing Ric Flair and the WWF Title, and Heenan sounded perturbed, if not downright angry. It became plainly obvious that they were discussing Flair losing the title (he had only regained it one month earlier immediately after SummerSlam by taking advantage of a beatdown that Razor Ramon had laid upon now-former champ Randy "Macho Man" Savage) at a house show. When i heard Heenan say, "when i get my hands on Bret 'Hitman' Hart..." i embarrassed myself by having what today would be a viral YouTube freakout in my friend's living room. I was ecstatic. My man Bret was World Champ! Unreal!

Things were looking up in the WWF as the calendar turned to 1993. While Flair lost a loser-leaves-town match against his ex-buddy Mr. Perfect and left the company, a scientific ring master was still World champ, and after WrestleMania VIII, Hulk Hogan was scarcely seen on WWF TV. Monday Night RAW had recently premiered on the USA Network, and as Hogan was becoming de-emphasized, the major storyline beats were shifting from the Saturday morning shows to prime time on the USA Network. Eventually, the Hulkster made his way back to television in February to join forces with his hanger-on buddy Brutus Beefcake in a tag team feud against champs Money Inc, but he was no longer in the main events, and as WrestleMania IX approached, that suited me just fine. The Hitman was preparing for a title defense against the first man to ever earn a 'Mania WWF title shot by winning the Royal Rumble, a gargantuan "sumo wrestler" by the name of Yokozuna (actually a Samoan named Rodney AnoaŹ»i, a member of the famed wrestling family that has produced the Wild Samoans, The Samoan Swat Team, Umaga, Roman Reigns, the Usos, and their cousin Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson). Unfortunately for me, i was in my first year of college and at the time had no access to pay-per-view, making WrestleMania IX the first 'Mania that i missed live since number V.

Now, before we begin, it's important to note that as i write this, i have still never seen WrestleMania IX. If you know how it ends, you might understand why hearing the result of the main event caused me to quit watching WWF wrestling for a full year. If you don't know how this show ends, well, sit back and relax as i brutally hate-fuck my way through a steaming shit-pile that nearly everyone considers one of the worst WrestleManias of all time. We're about to witness first-hand proof that while God exists, he's a cruel asshole that loves tormenting hardcore wrestling fans. 

Also, Doink the Clown is in this shitshow somewhere. Strap in, assholes.

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


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?"


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 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 ' John Cena. Parallels!).

OK, should we get on with this already?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


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.

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.