Harper Torch, 2001, 592 pages, C$10.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-06-103241-7
I’m not a wrestling fan. And yet, thanks to the pervasive turn-of-the-century pop-culture complex, it’s nearly impossible to avoid even a cursory knowledge of sport-entertainment superstars. Vince McMahon? The Rock? Chyna? Yup. I’ve never seen a single wrestling match, but I’ve read Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s autobiography, seen Chyna on “Third Rock From the Sun” and enjoyed the BEYOND THE MAT documentary. Knowledge of the small wrestling pocket universe seems to be spreading by osmosis, without any conscious effort from my part.
I even think that Barry W. Blaustein is right in BEYOND THE MAT when he says that wrestling is real. Yes, the outcome of matches is fixed. But so are movie fights, and that doesn’t take away anything from the talents of stunt people. What’s more, stunt people aren’t usually asked to create characters, and do live fights in character every second evening for weeks at a time. Injuries are real, and so is the talent of the performers, however unusual that talent may seem to you.
So that’s how you could find me in September 2005, reading the second autobiography of a wrestler. In one of those “oh, what the heck” second-hand book purchases gone horribly amusing, the book’s time in my to-be-read pile was up.
And you know what? I really enjoyed it. Mick Foley’s writing skills may or may not be artificially enhanced by a team of copy-editors, but his raw honesty is real. A follow-up to Have a Nice Day!, Foley is Good (a slight deformation on the “Foley is God” fan posters) tells the story of Foley’s last few years in the wrestling world. (If “last” is a concept that applies in a universe where one can have a dozen retirement matches.) At a hefty 592 pages, this book aims to tell all and then tell a little bit more. This isn’t just an autobiography, but also an answer to media critics decrying wrestling. In enjoyable but overlong segments, Foley takes some pleasure in disproving conservative groups’ charges against wrestling (hard task, that…) and doesn’t miss an opportunity to point the finger at other sports in the violence department. While his points are often over-articulated (don’t be surprised if you start flipping the pages after muttering “enough is enough”), it makes for an interesting position paper. Foley, of course, has been through the media wringer a few times, and he doesn’t shy away from claiming that “the real world is faker than wrestling”.
You may or may not want to take that last affirmation with a grain of salt, but what’s far less disputable is Mick Foley’s joy in being, well, Mick Foley. In spending time with his family, indulging in theme-park rides, talking movies and ragging on his usual gallery of comedy targets. BEYOND THE MAT showed him as a reasonable family guy doing an unusual performance job. This book does little to dispel this impression, crammed as it is with scenes from Foley’s home life. It’s intended to be very likable, and it is.
What’s not as likable, but perhaps more honest, is the description of how wrestlers are just ordinary schmoes with regular jobs. Travelling from hotel to hotel for weeks, away from family, being forced to deal with constant pain and injuries –wow, no thanks. To add fiscal insult to real injury, the wrestlers themselves aren’t particularly well-paid, certainly not at the level their fame would suggest. At some point, Foley shrugs off soft-drug consumption by saying essentially –they’re bruised, they’re alone and they’re not even home: what do you want them to do? Ouch.
Non-wrestling fans may feel a lot of this material flying well over their head. The lingo is specialized, the feuds are layered and the basic assumptions are… unusual. Compounding the difficulty is that Foley is Good is a sequel to another book. And yet, despite the lack of background knowledge, this is a very accessible autobiography. Better yet, it’s impossible to stop reading once you’re into it: Foley’s chatty style is enough to make you want to read just one chapter before calling it a day. At the end of the book, I’m still not much of a wrestling fan… but darn if I don’t find the whole circus a lot more interesting.