“If you subtracted all of the great artists who never drank, who never went to excess, you wouldn’t have any more art left. What kind of poem are you gonna get out of a glass of iced tea?” (David Lee Roth)
I must admit I enjoy obscure references and learning what makes outrageous people tick.
In earlier days (1960s-1980s) there were over 30 territories that most of the wrestlers of that era travelled by car. I grew up in El Paso and Houston and got to learn about the trips as I got in the business and heard all the war stories.
I wish I could have worked the West Texas territory back in the day. The stories all get better and are romanticized as time goes by but I still think it would have been a great time. Think about it…Hours in cars with friends and people you got to perform in front of every week was truly life on the road.
The stories of Dick Murdoch and Terry Funk buying a couple cases of beer and icing them down so they’d be just right after wrestling in a hot, dirty Lubbock arena, with 300 miles to go doesn’t appeal to everyone. But the thought alone puts me in a great mood.
In the days of traveling by car (and at times planes) made for an interesting life. How do you spend your time and how many cassette tapes (CDs now) can you sing along with until you go crazy?
Some guys could travel for hours and talk about everything and the weather without touching a drop of alcohol or drugs. Others needed some extra added ingredient to help the time pass.
When I first started it seemed like the code of the road was we smoked, drank and took pretty much anything anybody gave you to enjoy the trip. I’m not saying everybody partook in this ritual. But there were a lot more who did than didn’t….
I remember thinking at the height of consumption that something really bad was in place to happen. We were literally runnin’ with the Devil, livin’ life like there’s no tomorrow; living at a pace that kills…
I don’t need to go into the grim realities or the price many people , not just wrestlers , paid during the 80’s and 90’s. WWE finally took it upon themselves to institute a wellness program and extend the courtesy to any performer who worked for the company at one time or another. I think that’s a great step in the right direction. Addiction is a disease that’s not easily understood. Especially by people who think it’s easy to “Just say No!”
That’s like telling a manic depressant to “Just cheer up!”
But I digress…
Riding in cars, planes and whatever mode of transportation got us to our destination seemed to always be an adventure. It didn’t always turn out like we planned but we got to where we needed to be. Most of the time anyway.
I remember riding down Interstate 40 with Steve Austin (not yet Stone Cold) coming from Nashville, heading to some God-forsaken town when we decided it was time to stop for a cold beverage or 12…
We each bought a six pack and headed back down the road. At this time we were both working the Western part of Tennessee (AKA Memphis; run by Jerry Jarrett and Jerry Lawler) and the payoffs were pretty famous for not being quite that extravagant. Memphis was more of a “learning” territory I guess. I learned I sure as hell didn’t want to stay there too long!
But at the same time I was having fun and working every day, living the dream. At this time we were driving a friend’s car who was wrestling in Puerto Rico at the time and he saw fit to let us use his car on our road trips. It was a turd brown colored Toyota Turcell with no air conditioning and we never knew when the engine was going to decide not to cooperate.
As we’re going down the road with Steve driving and a big chew of tobacco in his cheek, shirts off, windows down, music blasting, hair blowing in the wind, it just hit me…
A red Pontiac Firebird with four gorgeous ladies passes us and as they do, they’re checking us out. As they pass, they start laughing their asses off and speed away!
I looked over at Steve and said “Yep, here we are, big time ‘pro rasslers’ headed to Bumsnatch Tennessee and we’re stylin’ and pro-filin’!” We laughed about it but at the same time I thought “My god! We can’t even afford a decent car with air conditioning and at least look like we’re the wrestlers or people they see on TV!!!”
That was one of the best rides I had though because we got a laugh out of it too. We knew how ridiculous the whole thing was. After a few cold ones we were going to stop at a drive thru to grab something to eat when one of us said something and we both started laughing so hard we couldn’t get our order out! So we had to wait another half hour down the road to get food and if I recall, maybe we got one or two more cold ones to go…
I don’t remember solving the world’s problems that day but I do remember making the best out of what could have been a miserable, hot trip.
During this time Steve and I lived at a place called the Congress Inn in Nashville. We each had our own room but this was the side of town where if you didn’t hear gun shots, screaming or sirens you wondered what was wrong. Getting in at all hours of the night we got to see various “clientele” coming and going from the rooms further back. The Congress was a cheap, dirty place but we figured we wouldn’t be spending that much time there anyway so it worked for us. It wasn’t like they were going to steal the vault of cash we had stashed from making all those towns!
I had a lot of great road trips with some interesting people. Some drank and drugged. Others didn’t. Did I ever get some ideas while I was being sociable, having a drink or 6? Hell yeah!
One brilliant idea was having The Dirty White Boy attack me from behind, throw me thru the interview backdrop, handcuff my hands behind my back, put a noose around my neck, drag me about 50 yards to the ring and hang me!
Now that’s creative…
Except when it’s actually happening and there’s no way to let the guy know that you’re REALLY choking and about to pass out. I don’t think we actually thought the whole thing through looking back. But we did it and it’s on YouTube for the entire world to see. One thing that still stands out to me is while Tony is dragging me to the ring, a cop is just standing there calm as can be while people are screaming.
Why didn’t that cop arrest DWB for assault and attempted murder??
I guess he probably figured if I was drunk enough to come up with something like that, I deserved what I got… In a way he was right!
As time’s gone on and we’ve learned more about addition and how alcohol and drugs can destroy lives I have to wonder about the benefits versus the cost.
In no way do I advocate alcohol or drug addiction. But would we have some of the movies, music, books and entertainment and escapism today without some kind of altering of the senses? I’m only ASKING…
I hear there are studios in Nashville where artists come in and sit in a room and write songs all day, record them and send them out for airplay. Are they writing from their heart? Or is it a manufactured “this is what our ‘ideal’ song about life” is? Can you truly write or perform a song if it’s not real and coming from inside your soul?
Hell, I don’t know…Maybe some can. But there’s something sterile and phony about a group of people who pretend to be something they’re really not. That goes for ALL forms of entertainment in my opinion.
Gone are the wild men like Bruiser Brody, Terry Funk, Mark Lewin The Original Sheik, Abdullah the Butcher, Moondog Mayne, Roddy Piper, Randy Savage, Mankind and a host of others who were as real as it got in and out of the ring.
They had passion and loved what they did because they are who they are. Yes they turned the volume up when they performed but they were never that far away from what they were in that so called ‘real’ world. They were artists in every sense of the word and understood how to tell a story. Some didn’t know when to stop telling the story and might have gone too far…
I remember the first time I met Buzz Sawyer. If there ever was a maniac to be wary of, Buzz was it. I got along great with Buzz and wrestled him a few times in Georgia. I got more than one black eye and bloody nose when I worked with him but everyone (including me) believed he was the real deal.
Buzz was crazy and dangerous in a lot of ways. I saw him come straight from the Crystal Palace (after hours establishment in Atlanta) and get in the ring at 8 AM Saturday morning before the usual TBS tapings and stretch some poor college wrestler who wanted to get in the business. Buzz hadn’t been to bed and this kid was ready to go.
Next thing we knew, Buzz took the guy down and rubbed his face in the mat, forearmed across the face, bloodied his nose and mouth and beat the hell out of this guy for about two minutes before Ole Anderson called it off. I was just glad I wasn’t working with Buzz on TV that day because there was no stopping him after that. He was foaming at the mouth and ready to kill somebody…At least that’s how it came across.
I understood Buzz. Don’t disrespect him and he won’t disrespect you. I thought we had chemistry in the ring. He had an aggressive, physical style. Buzz understood how to tell a story and I was glad he liked me because he let me have a lot more than he did some in our matches.
It might not have been poetry. But it was storytelling. And I can attest to the fact that Buzz wasn’t drinking iced tea before our matches…
I know a transition is taking place and what people watch today is what they will believe pro wrestling/sports entertainment is. I still feel that good wrestling with compelling characters is entertaining. The problem is how do you teach passion? You either have it or you don’t. The young performers of today should learn and ask as many questions as they can when they are visited by veterans, whether at the PC or live events. Those that do will benefit if they apply what they’re told. Those that don’t need to pack their bags and be on their way.
Just my opinion…
Thanks for reading