And now, on to this week's books!
Arn Anderson 4 Ever: A Look Behind The Curtain
Author: Arn Anderson
Synopsis: A look at the life of career Four Horseman Arn Anderson, published shortly after his retirement, but before WWE's purchase of WCW.
Every day, we'd park our Mercedes at Butler Aviation in Charlotte, wait for the Captain to grab our bags and board the Falcon 20. We'd fly to a town, get off the jet into a waiting limousine and go check in to a hotel. Whenever possible, we'd stay at the Marriott. The Marriott was our hotel of choice because they are always the finest hotel in any town.
For three straight years we lived like the Hollywood stars. There was no finer lifestyle in the wrestling business. First class catering in every arena, parties with dignitaries, fine champagne, caviar, luxurious suites and Hawaiian vacations, it was always the best for the Horsemen.
Throughout his wrestling career, Arn Anderson was known as a great talker, an efficient, hard-working hand; straightforward and talented -- not always the best match on the show, but definitely never the worst. He was someone that didn't have to delve into backstage politics, as many of his colleagues had.
"The Enforcer's" book is remarkably similar to his career. There's something refreshing about reading through a life story without having to endure endless amounts of bragging, overbearing ego and outright lies. Instead, you get kind of a plain-Jane story about a guy who just wanted to wrestle, and was quite successful at doing so.
Credit where credit is due: Only a handful of wrestling bios out there are actually written by the author, instead of showing up as "By Arn Anderson with…", "By Arn Anderson featuring…" or my personal favorite, "By Arn Anderson, as told to…". This is apparently one of those few. Extra credit because this was published in 2000, right near the start of the modern wrestling book era, so kudos to the charter Four Horseman member for writing this while The Rock and others were simply talking into a microphone.
Anderson goes into quite a bit of detail about his broken home growing up, and how his grandparents ended up raising him instead. This could be just personal taste, but I'm generally appreciative of a wrestling biography where family is mentioned prominently throughout the book (Mick Foley) instead of treated more as less as a footnote (Jimmy Hart). Arn delves into his family in spades, from his rough early days to his granny's last day on earth. Tremendous detail here.
Unfortunately, there's not a ton of substance beyond that. His wrestling career, while impressive, never had a lot of controversy to it. His most remarkable out-of-the-ring incident -- the infamous U.K. hotel room scrap with Sid Vicious -- is downplayed because of legal concerns. The "nightlife" stories during his time as a Horseman are there, but they're not in vivid detail the way, say, Ric Flair wrote about them. Add these things up, it doesn't make for terribly exciting reading.
Oh, and one interesting point: The book is mostly written in kayfabe! Kind of rarity for wrestling biographies, and you can't help but groan a little when he describes when the Horsemen dumped Club WWI favorite Ole Anderson as if it was a real-life event.
That's not to say this book is useless; it's not at all. Arn has positive things to say about almost everyone in the business, and doesn't take the low road in attacking Vince McMahon and/or Eric Bischoff the way some of his colleagues have. Plus his story isn't one that gets told very often, so there are some new details here for sure.
The book does everything right, format-wise; it just doesn't wow you in doing so. Kind of like the wrestler who wrote it.
Rating: Transitional Champion
. If you're a Double A fan, or a wrestling-bio completist as I am, you wouldn't be wasting your time tracking this down at a used bookstore somewhere. But it's certainly not a "must read".
Beer, Blood and Cornmeal: Seven Years Of Incredibly Strange Wrestling
Author: Bob Calhoun
Synopsis: A behind-the-scenes look at the punk rock/lucha libre tour quite popular in Southern California in the 1990's.
There's an old comedy adage that cancer is never funny. ISW did nothing to change that. The match began with N.A.M.B.L.A. groping The Chemo Kid. Chemo stood there and cried like a lost little child. The crowd around the ring stood slack jawed. I heard people in the audience say "Somebody help that kid - please!"
I turned to the fans to taunt them. I was going to shout something really tasteful like "I'm gonna f*ck you 'til your bones crack!" But then I saw them. There were several kids no older than nine watching the wrestling. I looked at them and froze. It was a rare moment where I was speechless. I went back to dry humping and bodyslamming Chemo Kid as if that was somehow going to comfort those kids.
Just in case you hadn't already guessed.... this ain't your typical wrestling book. Incredible Strange Wrestling isn't your typical wrestling promotion. And author Bob Calhoun - who moonlights as the company's wrestler/announcer Count Dante - does an excellent job of conveying this.
A combination rock concert, wrestling league and freak show, ISW is a campy, ironic production that is based in San Francisco and apparently, has quite a huge following. While they haven't booked many "name" wrestlers on their shows (Vampiro being an exception because of his ties to the music world), their fans would rather apparently watch homegrown heroes such as El Homo Loco and Macho Sasquacho. There are also Scientology-based tag teams, masked chickens and dozens of other gimmicks that would make Vince Russo blush.
Watching some of the company's clips on YouTube (I just had to after reading this book), the wrestling is beyond garbage match quality, with excited fans whipping tortillas into the makeshift ring. Yet it's been popular enough for rockers including Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong and Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst to join in on the action.
Calhoun does an excellent job capturing the promotion's bizarre history, its rabid, ECW-like fans, the death threats he received over the Counte Dante name, and even backstage politics ("It's in my contract that I don't get pinned by the guy in the Chewbacca costume unless someone throws a tortilla at me first!"). At times, it reminded me of reading something out of Rolling Stone.
Rating: Oh Hell Yeah! I want to make perfectly clear that this book isn't for everyone, and it may not even be for a lot of casual wrestling fans. But if you enjoy Insane Clown Posse's JCW, for example, or you just want to read something that's quite different, give this one a try.
I'm Next: The Strange Journey Of America's Most Unlikely Superhero
Author: Bill Goldberg
Synopsis: The early career of Bill Goldberg, running until shortly before WCW closed its doors in 2001.
I showed up for the match and Hogan attempted to calm me down. He told me to relax and leave it all up to him. What an honor to be in the ring with the man who made wrestling what it is today. There was a stipulation that in order to face Hogan, I first had to beat Scott Hall.
Scott and I concentrated on trying to have a good match. But Scott is Scott, and sometimes it's difficult to communicate with him. Unfortunately, we got to a certain point in the match and I got lost. I just went blank. He was lying on his back, and he accused me of not wanting to run the spot. That's not what happened - I just totally forgot it. I was young and green and it was unfortunate. But anyway, somehow we finished the match. I beat him, and I was tired - exhausted physically and mentally. But this was only the beginning.
Bill Goldberg is one of those wrestlers that pretty much everyone has an opinion on. He burst on the scene in 1997, at a time where World Championship Wrestling desperately needed to create new stars. He was given the push of a lifetime and, to his credit, made the absolute most of his initial success.
After that success (and namely when his legendary "winning streak" ended), Goldberg's career took a hit -- it had to -- from which he never recovered. Sure, he made an impact in WWE and briefly held the World Title, but it wasn't the same thing. His comments about the pro wrestling industry since then haven't helped to cement his status as a legitimate "legend", either.
That said, I wondered what value there was in a book about Goldberg's career - particularly when it was published in 2000. Turns out, not much.
Sure, his career as a football player was interesting and ended prematurely, but I'm assuming most wrestling fans want less football and more wrestling in their wrestling autobiographies. And while "Da Man" is a decent-enough storyteller, there's not nearly enough content to keep you satisfied.
The biggest gripe: Goldberg treats his wrestling career as a shameful afterthought, something he got into because he could, not something he got into because he wanted it. That's his opinion and it's totally fine... but how many fans are going to feel happy about that kind of response for someone they liked so much?
Adding to that - he doesn't have a lot of nice things to say about most people, outside of Hulk Hogan, Sting, his coaches, and a handful of celebrities. Again, that's fine.. but you'd think someone who had just been in the sport for less than three years would have a tad more respect for the people who brought him to the dance.
One interesting thing - celebrities such as Jimmy Buffett and former Raw General Manager Shaquille O'Neal add their two cents to Goldberg's story, mostly reinforcing how popular he was in the day. Had WCW published more autobiographies (I believe this was the only one presented under the company's banner), it would have been an interesting direction to take things in.
Rating: Bowling-Shoe Ugly. It's not that the book is terrible on its own, but when there are so many biographies out there that are better.... it's hard to recommend this bad boy. WHO'S NEXT?
It's Good to Be the King… Sometimes
Author: Jerry "The King" Lawler with Doug Asheville
Synopsis: The autobiography of Jerry Lawler and his thirty-plus-year career in wrestling.
As the crowd started to file out of the building, Jim (Carrey) sprinted to the center of the ring and grabbed the ring mike. "Listen! Let me tell you people something! I wanted to take the suplex and I wanted to take the piledriver, but Jerry Lawler is so afraid of the movie studios that he won't do it. He went and told...." And at that point, someone cut the power to his microphone. Carrey's standing there yelling into a dead mike and no one's hearing a word.
Now he was really mad. His face turned a bright red and the veins were popping out on the side of his neck. He threw the microphone on the floor and screamed at the top of his lungs, "I HAVE WORKED ON BROADWAY AND I DO NOT NEED A MICROPHONE TO BE HEARD!!"
This book is probably one of the most underappreciated among the WWE-published autobiographies. I say that because, in recent years, Jerry Lawler has become an oversexed caricature of his himself, and therefore his book never saw the success some of his colleagues had.
Lawler has a fascinating story to tell, if you think about it. He never had any formal training. His physique (for the wrestling business) was always average at best. He was never given a break on the basis of who he knew or was related to.
And yet... Lawler is a geniune icon in Memphis and may become the city's next Mayor. He's faced most of the biggest names in the past four decades. And he's largely responsible for one of the longest-running territories in recent memory
He has some fantastic anecdotes to tell about his life and really, the entire wrestling business. Many of them are about the wild Memphis promotion he ran along with Jerry Jarrett, some discuss early interactions with legends such as Hulk Hogan, The Undertaker and Andre the Giant, and others detail his infamous womanizing. Yet Lawler approaches the subjects with a surprising level of wide-eyed innocence. Many wrestlers that have been around as long as he has tend to be bitter towards certain promoters, or wrestlers, or even aspects of the business. It's not evident here.
Of course, Lawler goes into great detail about his career-defining feud with comedian Andy Kaufman (and the odd continuation of that, years later, with Jim Carrey). I remember CNN and other news outlets reporting right after this book was published that Lawler had finally admitted that the feud was fake, as if that was a surprise to anyone who had read Bob Zmuda's book on Kaufman. Or to anyone who'd seen the "Man on the Moon" movie. Or to anyone who's watched even two minutes of professional wrestling in their lifetime.
One uncomfortable aspect of the book: I don't like how much he harps on his relationship, marriage and subsequent divorce to Stacy Carter (a/k/a The Kat). Sure, I feel tremendously sorry for the guy, and I understand from personal experience how awful infidelity can be.
Yet his accounts just become pathetic after a while -- how much he misses her, how he gave up a plum career for her, and how a Hollywood friend tried to help him find female "companions" to replace her. An editor really should have trimmed these chapters down a bit, if for no other reason than to preserve Lawler's dignity.
Rating: Oh Hell Yeah! I honestly became a bigger Jerry Lawler fan by reading this. True, it's not as gripping and dramatic a tale as, say, Ric Flair's or Mick Foley's, but it's definitely worth a read.
Canadian Bulldog is a borderline journalist who writes weekly for World Wrestling Insanity and has published his own book of nutty prank e-mails to wrestlers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed at http://twitter.com/canadianbulldog