Sunday, 20 May 2018

Sunday Afternoon Reader, Part 8

Well, my local library had its annual clear-out sale this weekend. I bought a bunch of things, but these are the ones that will probably be of the most interest to you, dear reader. Let’s browse our way through the 8th instalment of Sunday Afternoon Reader!

Unscripted: World Wrestling Entertainment
Authors: Ken Leiker, Mark Vancil
Year: 2003

WRESTLING! I’ve recently returned to wrestling fandom after many years away, so this was a perfect find. Unscripted is a coffee table book, which ostensibly provides a bit of a behind-the-scenes (though still heavily curated) look at some of your favourite WWE Superstars.

“So what?” you ask. Well, in 2018 shoot interviews have been done to death, and pretty much every WWE star has mouthed off on social media at some point. But in 2003, this book would have been quite novel. Kayfabe was on the decline, but glimpses into the inner workings of the company were still rarer than today.

As with most coffee table books, the emphasis is on the images rather than the content. The photography is mostly quite good…but it is coupled with some exceptionally ugly early noughties graphic design and typesetting. There are some interesting tidbits shared within though – Matt Hardy and Lita at home together, Stone Cold with his hunting rifle, Ric Flair calling Triple H “the best performer in the business” (which exemplifies why I have never been a Flair or Triple H fan), Vince discussing his childhood and Undertaker summing up his experience in the industry.

Some of it rings a more than a little sad now. Undertaker has since divorced and remarried, Matt Hardy and Lita split over a decade ago and a number of wrestlers featured are retired or dead. Most depressing of all are the images of Chris Benoit, who was a big star for the company in 2003. Just four years later he would commit the most horrific crimes an already scandal-ridden industry had ever seen. 

Still, this was an interesting read for me, as it was published around the time I stopped paying attention to wrestling. I still played the WWE Raw Deal card game with friends occasionally, but mostly I was busy with the multi-layered commitments of senior high school. Wrestling necessarily took a backseat…also, John Cena was getting a big push by then, and I was entering some of my prime heavy metal years. White boy rappers were not my thing at all.   

Creatures of the Night: In Search of Ghosts, Vampires, Werewolves and Demons
Author: Dr Gregory Lee
Year: 2012  

Huzzah! Another addition to the ever-expanding paranormal shelf. I haven’t looked at this in great detail so far, so I can’t say much about it yet. I’ll have to come back to it once I’ve had a more thorough look. At any rate, Dr Gregory Lee has written a number of different books previously, all of them looking at esoteric subject matter.
Books on this kind of subject matter are becoming increasingly hard to come by, at least in my usual haunts. The supernatural publishing boom died off some years ago, and the older books from the 70s to the 90s really just don’t show up in second-hand bookstores as readily anymore.
Indeed, once upon a time I might have even passed this one over as it’s not expressly about UFOs or aliens. But times are tough, and you take what you can get – especially for only two bucks. Also, the cover is designed to look like an old issue of EC’s horror comics, which is a nice touch.

WWF WrestleMania: The Official Insider's Story
Authors: Basil V. Devito with Joe Layden
Year: 2001

Another wrestling book!

This time, we get an overview of the history of Wrestlemania, up to the year 2000. I’ve only skimmed it so far, but it seems fairly comprehensive and has some great photos from the mid-1980s onwards. Liberace once appeared a Wrestlemania? Amazing!

Importantly, you can really see the evolution of the company from cartoonish fun into the Attitude Era. The Attitude Era was still in full swing when this was published, and everything was ADULT and EDGY. Costumes get darker, matches get bloodier, stunts get wilder and the fanbase changes.

Your feelings about this transition will vary. The Attitude Era is apparently held in very high esteem these days, but I didn’t actually enjoy it much as a teen. Sure, it gave us some good characters and matches – but I don’t think it was inherently superior to what’s available today. I was never a big fan of The Rock, Stone Cold or Triple H (though I’ve come to appreciate them all to varying degrees) and the manufactured “edge” seemed contrived even to a wannabe goth kid like myself. 

Similarly to Unscripted, some of it makes for pretty sad reading these days. Given that it’s been more than 30 years since the first Wrestlemania, it’s inevitable that some of the faces you see are no longer with us…but it’s depressing to realise how young some of them went. Rowdy Roddy Piper, Miss Elizabeth, Macho Man Randy Savage, the Ultimate Warrior, Chyna… 

As someone once noted – maybe Matt from Dinosaur Dracula? – wrestling books are always a product of the time they were written. WWE plays pretty fast and loose with the kayfabe canon, but they’re just as happy to do it with their actual history. If you happen to be on their shitlist at time of writing, you’ll be written off as irrelevant, made to look terrible or simply excluded altogether. Given the controversy surrounding Hulk Hogan since 2015 – and the necessity of talking about him a lot in the context of early Wrestlemanias – WWE will probably want to save another instalment for the more distant future. 

The Ultimate Metallica
Author: Ross Halfin
Year: 2010

As I’ve noted elsewhere, I fall into the classic metal cliché of loving Metallica’s first four albums and not wanting much to do with anything after that. In 2018, belonging to their fandom can be slightly embarrassing, as many of their fans really seem to think they’re the final word in metal and this is in no way true.

I don’t say this to try and be trve or kvlt; I have a Master of Puppets poster flag on the wall of my office, I own a bunch of t-shirts and I even bought the Hetfield Funko POP a while ago. I was lucky enough to see them live in 2004 during a lightning storm, which was incredible.

But do I care to hear new music from them? Probably not. Still, for $5 I felt I couldn’t pass up this lavish hardback book, which no doubt cost at least 10 times that on initial publication.

Ross Halfin has been photographing Metallica on and off since the 1980s, so you can trace a course from their young and hungry days through to around 2010. How you feel about Metallica now will pretty much sum up how you feel about that, but either way there is some genuinely nice rock photography. Halfin is a talented guy, and it would be interesting to see some more of his work with other bands.

Interspersed among the photos there’s some notes from admirers and some thoughts from Halfin himself. But the real highlight was the obscenity-laden email on the very last page, which rips into Ross for a variety of perceived sins, including insulting “ROBB FLYNN of the TRULY LEGENDARY MACHINE HEAD” and being “the EXTREME epitome of POMPOUS BRITISH WANKERY”. This, dear reader, made it worth the price of admission alone.

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