A quick note before we get started: Two of the authors this week happen to write for World Wrestling Insanity and have recently released books (three guesses as to who; first two guesses don't count). Am I going to b.s. you guys by claiming to be more than a little biased? Obviously not. These are individuals whose work I respect tremendously, but whom I also communicate with "behind the scenes" at WWI.
So, granted, I'm not the most impartial observer in the world. But at the same time.... I wouldn't be bringing attention to these books if I really didn't truly feel they deserved it.
And now, on to this week's portion of Bulldog's Bookshelf™!!!
Controvery Creates Cash
Author: Eric Bischoff, with Jeremy Roberts
Synopsis: The autobiography of Eric Bischoff, who led WCW during its most-successful era.
I was five-eleven and two hundred pounds. I looked like King freaking Kong to these people. And not only was I a westerner - probably the first and only one many of them saw in person in their lives - I was dressed in strange, bright red and yellow clothes. You cannot imagine the horror on these people's faces. They parted like the Red Sea as I ran through downtown Pyongyang.
While the Eric Bischoff character we've seen on television (and the backstage WCW power broker reported on in the dirtsheets) wouldn't have thought twice about badmouthing everyone in his path, the real Eric Bischoff does anything but.
Surprised? I sure as hell was.
Now... some of that might just be diplomacy. When this book was published in 2006, Bischoff was still under contract to WWE and had just finished up a lucrative run as Raw's figurehead commissioner.
But I can't help shake the feeling that, the real Eric Bischoff is closer to this guy than he is the arrogant ass dirtsheet writers have said ruined wrestling in the 1990's.
For one thing, most of the people who have dumped on Bischoff in the past, including Mick Foley, Ric Flair, Jim Ross, Paul Heyman, Steve Austin and Chris Jericho, are spared the "payback" shots that have become so commonplace in wrestling biographies. He doesn't always agree with their assessments, but doesn't bury them when he has the opportunity to. Aside for some Turner Broadcasting suits, Vince Russo and Missy Hyatt, most subjects actually get off quite easy.
The whole thing comes off as awfully humble. While Bischoff doesn't own up to every single mistake that was made in WCW, he certainly takes the blame often enough and tries to explain the justification behind certain moves. I'm not sure how true it is, but it's a nice change from books where the subject blames everyone else for their troubles.
Another common misconception about Bischoff is that he spent Ted Turner's money with no regard for long-term planning. That's simply not true. Bischoff has a fantastic mind for the business and that's where he really focuses his energy in this book. For everyone who dumped on WCW's decision to move their syndicated television tapings to Disney/MGM Studios, for example, he offers a reason I'd never even thought of before - and it makes perfect sense. And the way he went about creating Monday Nitro is a lesson that those in TNA seriously need to pay attention to.
That's not to say the book is perfect. There are certain situations (the Gold Club trial, his WWE locker room fight with Flair) that go completely unmentioned, and I get the feeling he clearly holds back on some of the humiliating things he's had to do for Vince McMahon since working for his company. And even though there are only a handful of typographical errors (The Sterner Brothers, Rick Flair), as I've said before, even one is too many.
Rating: Oh Hell Yeah!
A fun read from one of the most influential people in wrestling not named McMahon.
Wrestling's Greatest Moments
Author: Mike Rickard
Synopsis: Details on some of professional wrestling's most famous feuds, matches, events and storylines.
Pro wrestling is about emotion and anger is a big part of the business. Wrestlers have never been known for their "live and let live" attitudes so it's no surprise things can (and often do) get out of hand. When the competition begins to get heated, you can expect to see men and women doing some terrible things to each other: all manner of attacks before or after a match, ambusges and gang warfare have become commonplace.
Behind the scenes, it's simple enough. One of the biggest motivators in wresting is revenge -- someone stole a title belt, someone betrayed a partner, that kind of thing. It's a sure-fire catalyst for a feud. And the bloodier the beatdown, the better the chance fans will want to see a wrestler get what's coming to him.
How many times have you heard about a crazy storyline that happened years earlier and wanted to know more about it? Sure, one can track down the footage on YouTube or on DVD, but it doesn't quite a hold a candle to actually watching it in the moment.
Want proof? If you were a wrestling fan in 1986, you'll remember Paul Orndorff turning on Hulk Hogan ("WON-DER-FUL! WON-DER-FUL!" - Bobby Heenan), and how big a deal that was to the business. For someone who starts watching wrestling now? It's meaningless, because wrestlers are now expected to turn on their "best friends".
World Wrestling Insanity Hall of Famer Mike Rickard isn't able to physically bring you back to those moments (unless he has a time machine that I'm simply unaware of), but he does the next best thing, by setting the stage and providing narratives that will still be relevant decades from now.
As someone who has followed the "sport of kings" for 23 of the past 35 years (but who's counting?), I fondly remember a lot of these historic moments, shows, feuds and matches. But even then, there's a lot of context I'd forgotten about, or just hadn't heard of at the time. In addition, there are several topics that were brand new to me.
Magnificent Mike is a fantastic storyteller (as those who read his WWI columns are no doubt aware), and a virtual encyclopedia of wrestling knowledge. Sometimes, when the media and even certain wrestling websites are dumping on the industry you enjoy, it's just tremendous fun to sit back and be allowed to be a fan again.
One minor suggestion: I would have loved to see these sections organized into "top ten" type rankings -- best turns, best supercards, etc. Sure, it would strictly be the author's opinion, but half the fun with a book like this is being able to debate those choices, either against your own picks, or with other wrestling fans.
Rating: Oh Hell Yeah! As I mentioned, I definitely have some WWI alumnae bias here, but this is a great resource that any serious wrestling fan would be happy to have on their bookshelf.
Mouth Of The South: The Jimmy Hart Story
Author: Jimmy "Mouth of the South" Hart
Synopsis: The autobiography of WWE Hall of Famer Jimmy Hart.
You see, I was caught in the middle of something, and I didn't know it. At the time, I guess Jarrett and Lawler were almost feuding. And in this particular instance, Jerry Jarrett wasn't just mad because I wasn't in Blytheville, he was made that Lawler wasn't there either. "I want people who work for me to love wrestling first," he said. "If Lawler wants to do his music thing, that's fine. But it's wrestling that made him, not music. And if he had been in Blytheville we would have done about $3,000 instead the $800 we ultimately drew."
So, even though Jarrett was really mad at Lawler, there was nothing he could do to his partner and biggest star. And then he took it out and me. He couldn't fire his partner - but he could fire his partner's accomplice.
Tears rolled down my cheeks. In a flash, I was being exiled from the world I'd come to love most - professional wrestling. It truly broke my heart.
No story on the history of professional wrestling, at least over the past 30 years, would be complete with ample mention of
Jimmy Hart . From Hulk Hogan to Bret Hart to The Big Show to Jerry Lawler, "The Mouth Of The South" managed more top names in the business than arguably anyone else.
Behind the scenes, he's a force to be reckoned with, too: managing Hogan's real-life business dealings, composing classic theme songs such as Shawn Michaels's "Sexy Boy" and working backstage for WCW, the XWF and even the CMT show Hulk Hogan's Celebrity Championship Wrestling. Plus,
how many old-school fans remember Hart's high-pitched voice screaming "Come on, Hammer!" into the ever-present megaphone?
So I really thought I'd enjoy this book, but with all due respect, the autobiography falls flat. It was almost as if Hart was too busy with another project to give this project the attention it needed.
The first thing that struck me was the timeline. It was published in 2004, yet he starts the biography sometime in 2000 when he was orchestrating those "DJ Challenges" in WCW. Thus, the demise of WCW and his XWF project are never discussed. So fine, I figure, perhaps he'd just been shopping this around for a long time and it hadn't been updated since. That's certainly an acceptable reason.
Yet, halfway through the book he refers to WWE (which didn't make its debut until 2002, I believe), and then he alternates with the name WWF repeatedly. He also mentions the deaths of Crash Holly and Curt Hennig, which happened in 2003. And in the photo section, he has pictures that were clearly taken at WrestleMania XX.
The other thing that bugs me is that there are several spelling and factual errors. Maybe he didn't know how to spell "Arnold Skorlind" or "Sherri Martell". But certainly he should know that he DIDN'T manage Smash and Crush to the tag team championship (he may have been in the corner for a match against the Hart Foundation, but Demolition had already won the tag titles by then, and at that... it wasn't even the Smash and Crush version!). And that the song he wrote for Honky Tonk Man was NOT called "Hunka Hunka Honky Tonk Man". It's called a proofreader, Jimmy; get one.
I can't say there's a lot of new information in here. Lawler covered off a lot of the Memphis material in his book (which came out first), and a lot more descriptively. Maybe that's not Jimmy's fault -- I mean, they're his stories too -- but when that's a good 80 percent of your book, the stories should at least be slightly different.
I also wanted to know a bit about Jimmy Hart the person, not just the wrestling character, and that doesn't seem to come through. He mentions his family only in passing, and with less prestige or importance than he talks about, say, The Rougeau Brothers. I remember reading about his son, Jimmy Hart Junior, participating in Operation Desert Storm or something. Yet the only mention of him in the book is a photo of him gawking at a Playboy Magazine with Torrie Wilson on the cover. Classy.
One redeeming quality -- he at least seems like a decent, dependable guy, and he doesn't needlessly knock people the way Flair, Piper or Hogan have done in their biographies. That part is refreshing, but not nearly enough to give a recommendation here.
Rating: Bowling-Shoe Ugly. If you're looking for a nostalgia pop from a classic WWF manager, try Bobby Heenan's "Bobby The Brain". There's really nothing to see here.
World Wrestling Insanity Presents: Shoot First, Ask Questions Later
Author: James Guttman
Synopsis: The real stories and background to shoot interviews with some of wrestling's biggest stars, and the lessons that can be learned from them.
Great. Koko B. Ware just called my show little. The guy who sang Pile-friggin'-driver just did an anti-promo for "Radio Free Insanity". I thought about leaving it in anyway. What harm could it do? People would think that's funny, not a big deal, right? Ah, so many options to weigh.
As I began to ponder, he went on...
"Oh, oh... I don't know, I don't know. I don't mean to say you're little. You could be big... you can be the top-rated show on your radio station right now..."
That's when I stopped pondering and decided to cut the whole mess out. It's one thing when he says my show is small. It's another when he confirms he has no idea what the show even is.
All I needed now was for him to curse at me in Spanish and I'd have the best non-commercial for "Radio Free Insanity" ever!
What to say about the latest book written by the man who signs my paychecks? Or at least.... would sign them if I ever got paid for doing this. Hey, what the hell is up with THAT? I demand no less than a 50 percent pay increase!
We're veering off subject.
As wrestling fans, we love backstage dirt: Who's jumping ship? Who's getting a push? How does so-and-so interact with such-and-such (probably quite well, given that their names are so similar)? How much of what we hear "behind the scenes" is actually a work designed to build someone's backstage rep, or detract from others?
Club WWI members (and Radio Free Insanity listeners) have heard World Wrestling Insanity figurehead president James Guttman's interviews with everyone from Bobby Eaton to Bobby Heenan, from Jimmy Hart to Bruce Hart, and from Kevin Nash to Kid Kash. Most of the conversations are laid-back and genial, with each performer being allowed to clear up misconceptions, give their opinions on the current product and say what's on their mind.
But how, exactly, does one go about arranging these conversations? Does one just pick up the phone and say "Hey, what's up, Kamala? How do you feel about sharing your innermost secrets on an audio program being broadcast over the Internet?"
Turns out, it's not that simple. JG spends hours tracking down some of the industry's biggest (and some largely-forgotten) names, convincing them to talk to a relative stranger, with no compensation, to boot.
Some guests -- and ones you wouldn't expect -- are tremendous to deal with, while others -- same deal -- turn out to be Aaron Wood-level jerks. Seriously, his stories about dealings with Ole Anderson and The Wrestler's Ernest Miller are enough to make someone cringe, while still carrying JG's unique sense of humor.
But the "story behind the story" is only part of the charm to Shoot First. The Ayatollah of Insanity also shares with us how much his perceptions have changed since the first World Wrestling Insanity book (and, for the record, I enjoyed that one, too, though I personally disagreed with some of the points made).
There are so many untrue perceptions of professional wrestling registered not only by the general public, but by people supposedly "in the know". This book helps to set the record straight.
This is especially helpful in situations like 2007's Benoit family tragedy, where, as a fan, you're just not sure what to believe after a while. Instead of shying away from the topic like some, or profiting from it like others have, JG tackles the issue head on, speaking to people who knew Chris Benoit and didn't try to sensationalize the issue.
Shoot First... is for fans who want to dig deep into the business without getting a lot of the b.s. or hidden agendas that has become far too common in the so-called wrestling media.
Rating: Oh Hell Yeah! You've got comments from 100 wrestlers in here, some really funny stories, and analysis of the wrestling business you won't get elsewhere. Lots to love from the founder of this very site.
And if that doesn't get me a raise, nothing will.