I never got to live in a world where wrestling was real.
It was the first prerequisite to be able to watch wrestling with my dad. Before I even saw one match, I was let in on the secret that most kids have to figure out on their own, or the thing that ruins their ability to love wrestling entirely. It was fake. The people in the ring knew how to do moves without hurting each other, everything was predetermined. The person with their hand raised didn’t get there by some triumph of the human spirit, by being the best in their craft, by having the most devastating finishing move, but rather because it was how the script went. I was in on the joke of wrestling and I loved it anyway.
None of my other friends were into wrestling, save for when we’d play WWF games on my Nintendo 64. I’d always chuckle to myself as they picked wrestlers that were clearly inferior to my favorites. They just didn’t know any better. I took the advantage and smiled. I wasn’t the kid who ran around in branded merch talking about wrestling with anyone who would listen. It was something for just me and my dad
My dad and I spent every Monday night watching these larger-than-life characters throwing themselves at each other as if the fate of the world depended on it. We never ordered a single pay-per-view, but I’d wait with baited breath for my dad to come home the next day with a stack of printouts with the results from the show the previous night, trying to piece together what it must have looked like for one of my guys to win the title after working so hard.
My hero was Stone Cold Steve Austin, the surly redneck stand-in for every working man who hated his boss. When the bad guys would try to rig the story to go their way, I would almost shake with anticipation knowing that at any minute the sound of glass shattering would burst in through the sound system and Stone Cold would be on his way to the ring to dispense with some comeuppance. He wasn’t afraid to stand up to anyone and he never backed down from a fight. As a goody-goody, I was drawn to the way that Stone Cold Steve Austin was a BAD DUDE without being a bad guy. I may or may not have been grounded once or twice because I thought a friend needed a Stone Cold Stunner at a sleepover. I would get so mad when things didn’t go Austin’s way, even though I knew it was in the script. Even though I knew that everything would eventually end with my hero’s hand raised high and a title belt around his waist. Without fail, those moments came, and glass would shatter, and there he’d be. The winner and the champion. Dad and I would celebrate wildly. Well, mostly me, but Dad was never sad to see me enjoying myself. And in those moments, maybe wrestling had been real.
I write all of these old memories because one new song by my favorite band in the world just brought them all rushing back. The Mountain Goats just released “The Legend of Chavo Guerrero” from their upcoming pro wrestling themed album Beat The Champ. John Darnielle tells the story of his childhood hero Chavo Classic, and most importantly, of himself watching Chavo bring justice into a world of uncertainty. Chavo, for Darnielle, was someone who would never let him down, even though others always did. In a triumphant 3 minutes that I’ve listened to probably 40 times since it was released this morning, Darnielle weaves a story of the importance of heroes, of hating everything that stands in their way, of the anticipation of triumph when you see someone you love ascend to the top rope, ready to win in spite of everything that says they shouldn’t.
Darnielle says that he wrote Beat the Champ “…to re-immerse myself in the blood and fire of the visions that spoke to me as a child, and to see what more there might be in them now that I’m grown.” If this one song can take me back to jumping on my parents’ bed watching grown men in underwear pretend to beat the hell out of each other, I can’t wait to hear the rest of it. You can listen to “The Legend of Chavo Guerrero” below and you can get Beat the Champ when it releases April 7th.