THE BEAUTIFUL THING ASKS: FOR LOVE OR MONEY?
Personal Stuff and Opinions about Music, Feel Free To Skip:
There’s busy, there’s assiduous, there’s swamped, and then there’s yours truly the last couple of weeks. I’ve been the kind of busy that just makes you go numb. I think I’ve taken more 40-minute ferry rides in the last 20 days than I did in the first thirty years of my life. I did, however, manage to squeeze in an independent wrestling show, a symphony, and the Gang of Four reunion concert. I wrote a little about the wrestling show -and the chance to hang out with one of the world’s best wrestlers – two weeks ago. The symphony was mind-blowing. Vladim Guzman was the guest soloist, and he played the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with both a Heifetz-esque level of technical precision and a Perlman-like freedom and sense of showmanship.
The Gang of Four show was a knockout, as well. The band, formed in 1977, pretty much invented art punk. A lot of crappy younger band now namedrop the Gang of Four as an influence. As a result, some forward-thinking concert promoters convinced the four original members that now might be a lucrative time to re-unite and go on tour. I decided to go because it was a chance to hang out with one of my four remaining Vancouver-based friends, and because I could then check off “See Gang of Four live” on my list of Things That I’ve Done. Frankly, I expected it to be kind of a chore to sit through. I imagined that the musicians and most of their fans would be humourless hipsters, and I figured that the band were likely to either play a bunch of new songs that no-one wanted to hear or play tired and soulless versions of the songs that I used to love so much.
Instead, the audience were pretty much a fifty-fifty mixture of aging punks like myself and various younger people. Every conceivable body type, hairstyle, mode of dress, attitude, and sub-culture seemed to be represented by someone in attendance. The band themselves looked like dads or professors, but they played like young lions. They were obviously enjoying themselves, and it felt like they were playing from the heart, and so the crowd got caught up in it and in the end it was as good a rock concert as I’ve seen since catching Jane’s Addiction in 1988.
WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH WRESTLING?
I guess maybe this: Some people are artists and some are businessmen. Artists do what they do because they are driven by an insatiable inner drive to create. Businessmen are driven by the need for money and recognition. Many people don’t posses either drive. Some people have both. Sometimes, the two drives coincide, but that is a rare occurrence. Often, it’s necessary to choose which calling one will follow.
It was a business decision to put Gang of Four back together and take the act on tour. They are not shy about admitting that in interviews. The show succeeded, however, because the guys in the band are artists. It was pretty easy to see that playing together again was satisfying a very real need for the four musicians. Perhaps it was a need that they were not even aware existed until the businessmen brought them together.
I am sure we can all think of examples of bands that got together for a reunion tour who seemed to be merely going through the paces to pick up a quick buck. I’d take that as a pretty clear sign that the musicians in question are businessmen first and artists second, if at all.
As far as Pro Wrestlers go, I’d say that Brian “Spanky: Kendrick is an artist. A lot of people were shocked when he voluntarily opted out of his (presumably) big-money WWE contract to go back to earning his living on the indy circuit in North America and Japan. The only reasonable explanation is that Spanky is driven by a very real need to practice the art of Professional Wrestling. The WWE style is notoriously restrictive, and Spanky realised that he likely only had a window of a few years where his body would allow him to do the amazing things that he is capable of doing in the ring. He gave up a steady paycheque in preference for the freedom to create and perform at the best of his ability. Hats off to Spanky!
I’d say that American Dragon Bryan Danielson is an artist. At this point in his career, he’s had to face the possibility that he will never be on the receiving end of the big money contract and the international recognition that his talents so richly deserve. Still, he travels the world, putting on very good to great matches with everyone he faces, night after night. Hats off to American Dragon!
So, are all indy wrestlers artists? No. A lot of them are unrealistic businessmen, who think that if they keep plugging away they will get rich and famous some day.
Are all WWE “Superstars” merely businessmen? No. I’d say that Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero, to pick the obvious examples, are artists. Here’s what I don’t know: Are they among the fortunate few who have managed to simultaneously answer both callings?
When Eddie Guerrero’s drug problems forced him out of the WWF, he cleaned himself up and went on the indy circuit. Night after night, he put on wrestling clinics that ended with him putting his opponent over cleanly. Check out Ring of Honor’s debut show for a beautiful example of what I mean. Were those the actions of an artist who genuinely loves Pro Wrestling, or of a businessman who was trying to earn his way back into his employer’s good graces? I’d guess the former.
Among other reasons, Chris Benoit’s victory in the main event of WrestleMania was moving because it marked the point at which North American Corporate Wrestling’s greatest artist finally received the recognition that he deserved. Now, it might be fair to say that Benoit is being forced to compromise his art in order to keep earning a very good living. I am sure that I’m not the only one who has noticed that Benoit’s matches have started to fall increasingly into a kind of repetitive pattern, and that he no longer seems to be innovating or extending his range the way he used to. Is Benoit losing it, or has he been asked to tone it down in order that others might shine? I’d be inclined to guess that it’s the latter.
If Benoit and Guerrero’s creativity is being stifled in the current environment, and if they really are artists, why don’t they just quit?
Unlike Spanky, both Benoit and Guerrero have already had several peak years where they were able to create masterpieces with the best workers of their day. Benoit put on classics or near-classics with Guerrero, Liger, Ohtani, Kanemoto, Malenko, El Samurai, Hart, Sasuke, Regal, Angle, RVD, and many others when they were at their absolute peaks. Spanky and AmDrag have one another to work with, as well as Low Ki, Christopher Daniels, AJ Styles, Homicide, Samoa Joe, many as-yet lesser known indy guys, and in a perfect world perhaps Murahama, KENTA, Marufuji, CIMA, and others. Will they be able to create classic matches that stand the test of time like the ’94 J-Cup finals and the Owen Tribute match?
In my opinion, at least, American Dragon already has, and it genuinely bothers me that so few people seem to be aware of it.
On March 30, 2002 Bryan Danielson met Low Ki as part of Ring of Honor’s Round Robin Challenge, in a match that I consider almost perfect. They started out with 15 solid minutes of great mat wrestling alternated with stiff strikes, and built it into a series of huge moves that ended at just over the half hour mark when one man’s impact finisher was reversed into a suplex which in turn set up the other wrestler’s submission hold. The match has great intensity, solid psychology, tons of well-placed and properly built high spots, and it tells a good story. It may very well have been the first match ever contested in what is now known as North American Strong Style, so I’d count it as innovative as well.
If you really love wrestling, you owe it to yourself to try and see this match. It’s a work of art.
I really don’t know. I enjoy writing about wrestling, but I can’t guarantee that I’ll be able to get my columns done with anything close to regularity until mid-September or thereabouts.
I’d like to flesh out the ideas in this column some more, and I’d like to talk about Pro Wrestling’s businessmen, too. I still haven’t finished the series on wrestling psychology. I think I am just going to drop the WrestleMania column idea mid-stream. I want to do something to celebrate the upcoming Misawa vs. Kawada re-match, and I have a half dozen other column ideas, so I’ll do my best to find the time to get something done in a week’s time.
If you have written me in the last little while, I may not have gotten back to you. Sorry About that. My Inside Pulse account is being flooded with spam, more than a hundred pieces per day, and I just don’t have the time and the energy to do a decent job of sorting through it all. I hope we will have it sorted out soon, though, since I thrive on feedback and especially since I’ve been getting some really tremendous responses to this column lately.
THANKS FOR READING!
Congratulations to Alex Lucard, who had his review of a MegaTen RPG quoted in Atlus’ mainstream magazine ads!
The General Wrestling Forums have a great series of tournaments running right now. Sign up and participate, why don’t you?
What about Paul London? Is he an artist? Brad Barnes weighs in with his review of Please Don’t Die.
Obviously, I’m a big mark for “old” RoH. These guys know the score on what’s going on there now.
And no links for them, but a big thumbs up and a public thank you to Matthew and Widro for their understanding and support.