Friday, April 11, 2008

Eighth Time Lucky


It had been an incredible two hours. She'd got me to tell her things my grandmother had said about my father, she'd got me sing along to GnR's "November Rain" and, impossibly, she'd got me not to care that there was a Ferrari one-two in the offing.

"That's five-one," she reminded me.
"Yes, it is," I said, without really knowing what she meant.


It wasn't the fact that I would've been dancing off the charts on a blood-alcohol meter at that point in time. It wasn't the fact that I'd probably sprinted a hundred yards and back in next to no time. It wasn't even the fact that I'd been to the restroom and splashed my face with water, in order to remind myself to keep it real. It was just that I knew that I hadn't had this much fun in a long, long time.

"Can I make it six-one?" I asked, speculatively.
She smiled.
"See, now that wasn't really six-one," she said, reading my mind, "that was more like five-two."


I waited for a second, maybe two. In that sliver of a moment, I was flooded with feelings. It wasn't something I'd been expecting at all. I was afraid I was going to end up being embarrassed by a show of emotion. I was afraid I was going to ruin a perfect day. I was afraid because I hadn't felt like this in ages.

"Can I try again?" I asked, more in hope than in expectation.
She smiled again, compellingly.
An instant later, I knew I'd remember it forever.

For so long, I'd believed that I wasn't a natural at reacting to situations. That I wasn't capable of realising the specialness of a moment even if it slapped me in the face. That I wasn't ever going to show anyone who meant anything to me, that I could be everything they wanted me to be.

"I love you," I said, softly, reassuringly.
I meant it as much to myself as I did to her.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Best There Is, The Best There Was, The Best There Ever Will Be

There goes that resolution.

After having solemnly vowed not to go a calendar month without posting something...I just did. It's not even as if it's a particularly cheerful time to break the duck but I find myself caught in the middle of an all-pervasive writing rut and a rare moment of (dare I say it?) self-doubt, so I'm really only doing this in the hope that since words don't seem to be flowing academically, words may at least flow generally, in life.

I'm going to write about my favourite professional wrestler of all time--Bret "The Hitman" Hart. The sudden motivation actually finds its origins in some late night Facebooking where I chanced upon (and subsequently posted a link to) Hart's autobiography released in Canada last fall. I believe the book is scheduled for a mid-2008 release in the US and I, for one, am hoping that it actually does fulfil its promise eventually and finds its way to "a bookstore near you." I've read the first few pages by way of a free excerpt online and though he appears to have a huge ego while writing (something I sympathise with entirely anyway), I think it's about as unique an account of professional wrestling for that period of time as you're likely to get from anyone in the business.

There's so much to write about Bret Hart. I'll confess that none of what I'm about to write will be unbiased in any way, shape or form. I absolutely loved him as a wrestler and I genuinely believe in the goodness of the guy, which is a claim I can't make for literally dozens of other wrestlers who I've seen as much of and have had gimmicks a thousand times better than his. More important that that, he was a true influence on me while I was growing up and during his babyface run through most of the 1990s in WWF, he did more to benefit the general reputation of wrestling in a wide variety of people's eyes--everyone from the Parents Television Council in the US to my parents.

Bret started his wrestling career in the infamous wrestling "dungeon" which his father Stu built as a training ground for his wrestling promotion, Stampede. In fact, across the rosters of all major wrestling promotions in the 1990s, you could draw a clear line in terms of technical wrestling ability and ring general-ship among those who came from Stu Hart's dungeon and those who'd been trained elsewhere, including prestigious territories at the time, such as the CWA in Memphis. It is in the dungeon ("where screams of pain were as much a part of the scenery as the furniture") that Bret Hart the wrestler was born. And he didn't have it easy at all, just because it was his father's promotion--he was one of Stu and Martha's thirteen kids and, in Stampede, when his dad asked him to step aside, to do a job or lose a title to another man, there isn't one recorded complaint that Bret ever made. In fact, his introduction to the professional wrestling scene was far from dramatic in terms of impact and it was only when he began to consistently team with brother-in-law Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart (who, incidentally, shares a birthday with yours truly), that he started to be recognised as one of North America's best tag team wrestlers. Opportunities began to open up and with Davey Boy Smith and brother Owen Hart (both of whom were to die so young and so tragically) joining the mainstream American wrestling scene as well, the four jumped ship to Vince McMahon Jr.'s WWF in the early 1990s.

It was here that Bret's wrestling character was given a push, with a King of the Ring victory and a controversial Royal Rumble finish involving Lex Luger being major highlights. He also engaged Owen in a memorable match during the same time as well, which he cleanly lost. The brother vs. brother rivalry is something that the then conservative wrestling community had never imagined would be popular but the Hart brothers shattered that myth and it was extremely ironic that it would be credibility issues with respect to how far the envelope should actually be pushed when it comes to character development that would be a huge factor in Bret's departure for WCW in 1997. By the mid-1990s, Bret was the WWF's talisman and very evidently its best wrestler. This despite the fact that he didn't have much of a character--in fact, the only time that there was a discernable overtone to what he did in the ring and in interviews was his pro-Canada stance during the Hart Foundation angle. Indeed, for most of his stint in the public wrestling eye, his ring attire was modeled on the modern punk movement, he initially even referred to himself and The Anvil as "The Pink and Black Attack", which, going by current gimmick standards in wrestling, would be distinctly weak if not entirely laughable.

But none of that seemed to matter, because he was just that good in the ring. I've never seen a style like his and I doubt I ever will. There are so many Bret Hart matches I can recall where the only thing that would seem to keep him alive would be his will to survive. One particular match against Davey Boy Smith is charred into my memory as being the first time I ever saw a wrestler bleed in the ring. Bret was cut open outside the ring when his head bounced off the ringpost and he got up from that and had a hell of a match despite that bump. I'm not going to insult your intelligence by telling you that there was a direct causal connection between the impact with the post and the three inch gully across the front of his skull but that match continued for ten minutes after that and the fact that it didn't suffer quality-wise at all was a tribute to the man and his ability in the ring. And unlike other top-card main-eventers of that time (read Shawn Michaels), his offensive moveset did not only consist of crossbody/kip-up/inverted atomic drop/body slam/elbow off the top/superkick. Bret Hart could win matches in so many ways and the fact that he won most of his matches with the sharpshooter only served to enhance the potency of that particular weapon. I was more than a little disappointed in later years when notable wrestlers such as The Rock and Chris Benoit used the sharpshooter to great practical benefit. The sharpshooter was Bret Hart's and it should've been left that way.

There is a sense of genuineness about Bret Hart that is embedded in my mind that is hard to explain. His character was always willing to go that extra mile for the fans, whether it be giving advice to people on a write-in show about how to eat right in order to become a wrestler or his trademark gesture of giving his eye-shades to a kid sitting at ringside--a tradition carried into the modern day by superstars such as The Hurricane, Rey Mysterio and (in a weirdly sexual way) Val Venis. It wasn't just that. He was believable as a character as well. When Bret Hart said something, you'd believe it. Even when he promised to beat the Undertaker at Summerslam 1997 and agreed that if he lost, he'd never wrestle in the US again. Jim Ross who was interviewing him at the time tried to reason with him and begged him to reconsider: "you're wrestling the Undertaker!" and Bret would say, "yes I know I'm wrestling the Undertaker." He'd given his word. He won the match. It was that simple.

Any piece on Bret Hart would be incomplete without a mention of the Montreal Screwjob and I've talked about this over and over and over again with a variety of people and I've analysed what happened that night thousands of times. My (admittedly biased) take on the situation is this: you don't do that to a guy like Bret Hart. You just don't. And if he "punched Vince right in the fucking mouth", well, then, Vince deserved to be punched "right in the fucking mouth." It is from this moment on, I fear, that Bret was never the same. He had been created to have an industry centre around him and he went to WCW at a time when there was a philosophy of back-stabbing rampant among an overpopulated roster of has-been's and under-achievers. The loss of Owen and his blatant under-utilization at WCW were possibly the two biggest reasons why he suffered so much mentally during his time there and the fact that he was still able to consistently steal the show (I recall in particular a bout between Benoit and him for the vacant WCW Heavyweight Championship which was so good it was untrue) despite such mediocre treatment and a less-than-respectful fan response only went to prove how much better he was than the rest of that company. And try as I might, I simply cannot forgive Bill Goldberg for that kick that effectively ended Bret Hart's career. And it's not just about the irony of him having been put out of wrestling despite never injuring anyone who'd ever been in the ring with him--it's about the fact that Bret had always been able to make a match so good that it would raise the stock of both its participants. Think back to Austin's face turn at Wrestlemania after he passed out due to blood loss and exhaustion. The biggest moment in his career came when he was unconscious. Think back to Shawn Michaels winning the Iron Man Match also at Wrestlemania (I loved how they promoted that match) in sudden death overtime with two superkicks. The reason Shawn Michaels achieved his "boyhood dream" is because the man in the ring with him was big enough as a human being not just to forget their locker room fight from the previous summer but to be willing to lose at Wrestlemania so that "The Showstopper" could have his time in the sun. That speaks volumes. Oh, and by the way, for the statistically inclined, Bret Hart is 3-0 against Goldberg, responsible for half of the singles defeats ever sustained by Goldberg in his career.

Since his retirement in October 2000, there have been major pitfalls as well, not least the stroke in 2002 that paralysed him, which, thankfully, he has recovered from almost completely. It was also incredibly classy of him to accept his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame two Wrestlemanias ago, even though his no-show at the PPV itself was completely understandable. He was also right inasmuch as a Hall of Fame honour by any other wrestling promotion would mean more to him than Vince's grudging acceptance ever will. I've also realised while writing this that I really need to get my hands on that autobiography. However, before I do that, there also has to be an appropriate ending to this heartfelt (if somewhat inconsistently written) tribute. So here it is:

To Bret "The Hitman" Hart, the man who made wrestling REAL to me.

Truly, the best there is, the best there was, the best there ever will be.

I'm not sure if there's a point to this story but I'm going to tell it again.

My photo
I've been wilfully caught up in the self-defeating quest to get to know myself for years. I've never expected anything beneficial to result from such a quest. I tend to evoke extremely polarised reactions from people I get to know in passing. Consequently, only those people who know me inside-out would honestly claim that I'm a person who's just "alright." It's not a coincidence that the description I've laid out above has no fewer than, title included, eleven references to me (make that twelve). I'm affectionately referred to as "Ego." I think that last statement might have given away a tad too much. Welcome Aboard.

IHTRTRS ke pichle episode mein aapne dekha...


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