I have a Randy Savage story to pass along. Up to you if you think it is blog-worthy. Thank you in advance for reading, with my apologies for its length. I've wanted to write this down for years; the Macho Man's death, sadly, has finally prompted me to do so.
It's October 1979. I'm 23 and finishing up my last semester at the University of Wisconsin. I'm also starting to come out. Waiting until the end of my undergraduate senior year to own up to this was typical; I have procrastinated many important things in my life. It was an exhilarating and scary time for me personally, and no doubt for the countless GLBT folks who were witnessing the unfolding of new freedom and the inevitable backlash at the time.
The end of that month--Halloween, of course!--I was scheduled to attend my first coming-out support group meeting: Sitting in a living room with about a half-dozen other gay men in an off-campus apartment to at last release and talk through this long-suppressed stuff. Building up to this wasn't easy. I remember walking around the block at least twice in early October before screwing up the nerve to walk into the gay community center--located in a huge Methodist church of all places--and meeting a kind, older man at the desk. God, he must have been at least 50! David R. kindly heard me out, pegged me for the bewildered novice/virgin I was, and told me about the group. I signed up.
For the next couple of weeks I was excited, apprehensive, uncertain. Increasingly, though, I was understanding myself better from within. Beneath all of the worries was an emerging foundation of self-awareness that I still can't describe. It manifested itself in small ways. One of those ways was boldly walking into Pic-a-Book on Madison's State Street, arguably one of the best magazine and journal selections in the country at the time, and looking at Playguy, The Advocate, and Christopher Street. Standing in the aisle, thumbing through an issue was a bold act for me, even in the relative anonymity of a huge campus, a home I was newly carving out for myself. (I had transferred to Madison just 2.5 years before.) Ironically, as graduation loomed, I had never felt more settled and at home than late that year in Madison. Separation anxiety in a couple of months would be yet another issue for me to face, but at that moment I tried not to think about it. I had more immediate concerns on my mind.
While the gay magazines interested me, I really went for the pro wrestling slicks which contained, as I discovered, delicious photos on pulp, sandwiched inside the glossy front/back ends. Pro wrestling matches on TV had intrigued me since I was about six or seven. (Channel 7 in Waterloo, IA, hosted a show in its studio every Saturday for years with the likes of Handsome Harley Race, Rufus R. Jones, and, in the early 1970s, a very young Greg Valentine. Yum.) But it never occurred to me there were actually magazines that detailed these hunky soap operas, and from all over the country. And there must have been at least half a dozen different titles on the Pic-a-Book rack.
Once I discovered this, there was no end. Until some time after the Web arrived, I periodically visited magazine stores with thoughts of nearly-stripped-down in-the-ring in-front-of-crowds showdowns. Most of my allowance money for the next twenty-plus years would be spent on magazines with particularly choice photos. (Al Perez! pre-1983 Kevin Sullivan! Wolfie D in the 90s, when I went for the street cred look!)
None of those many, many images that I accumulated in my collection for more than two decades compared, however, with one of the first I ever laid eyes upon during that coming-out autumn: an irresistibly hot photo of a young, 27-year-old Randy Savage locked up in an abdominal stretch, executed by the hated Raymond Rougeau. One of my first masturbatory encounters turned out to be one of the most enduring. I remember even thinking of this image during my first sexual encounter the following spring. (Virgin until I was 24. See, I told you I was a procrastinator.) While I discarded the magazine a long time ago, I couldn't bear to part with the photo, so I taped it to a sheet of typing paper for safekeeping and for future pleasure.
So in the Pic-a-Book aisle I encountered Randy for the first time, locked up and in pain. It captured everything I found attractive in a man at the time, and still do: smooth-skinned, thick luscious beard, longish hair, muscular but not bodybuilder-excess, vulnerable, willing to be handled--humiliated?--by another man in front of an appreciative crowd. A lumberjack/Kenny Loggins combination, a bit pumped up but not overbearingly so. Silently strong, willing to go mano-a-mano, no matter what happens in the end.
Certainly the image alone made this personally memorable and enduring, but I would submit (pun intended) that it's all the more powerful because it coincided with a challenging and exhilarating time for me. I was just starting to come out, and there he was. Wow. Kind of like associating a lame but very popular Top 40 tune with a particular event in one's life, except that, in this case, it was a most pleasurable visual piece.
If this particular shot hadn't appeared in that particular edition on the newsstand, perhaps another would have instead. Maybe today I would be writing about a similar shot of Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, or Andre the Giant. But I doubt it very much. No, it was Randy Savage, years before the "Macho Man" moniker, who brought me to exhilarated fantasy, the first to bring it to the next step early the following year, who has remained ever since.
The news reports Friday said Randy Savage "burst upon the pro wrestling scene in 1985." But he was in the game long before, a hard worker who was in it for the long haul. I am glad I discovered that 1979 match moment. Thank you, Macho Man. RIP, dude. I'll always remember you.