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...