Thursday, January 10, 2013

Lucha Libros

An indy promoter who visits this blog from time to time recommended a book on the wrestling biz, Inside Out: How Corporate America Destroyed Professional Wrestling, by former NWA wrestler Ole Anderson (with Scott Teal). It now sits on my bed stand, with some Ian McEwan and Colm Toibin I haven't got to yet, but it reminds me how much I've enjoyed reading about wrestling and fighting, their history, their cultural relevance, and the stories they inspire. My musings led me to list-making, as they often do, so I thought I'd post the titles of some of the books that have struck me as essential to my library and invite you readers to share books on the subject that have similarly influenced your take on the sport we love. I have not read everything yet, so please let me hear your recommendations.


Wanna Wrestle? by Greg Herren (STARbooks, 2005): Nineteen short stories that explore the bumpy, sweaty homoeroticism of wrestling, with an introductory shout-out to BG East. "The Challenge" is my favorite of the lot. Greg had also edited Full Body Contact: Sexy, Sweaty Men of Sport (Alyson, 2002), with 25 stories (none by Herren himself), including a pro wrestling story called "Johnny Laredo" by Aaron Travis and Hank Edwards' "Pinned."


The Queen of the Ring: Sex, Muscles, Diamonds, and the Making of an American Legend, by Jeff Leen (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2009): Probably the best wrestling biography I have read so far. It's about lady wrestler Mildred Burke, and it opens with a description of a 1954 "shooting match" (i.e., not faked) that gave me serious wood.


Gorgeous George: The Bad-Boy Wrestler Who Created American Pop Culture, by John Capouya (Harper, 2008): Another really fine biography that also makes a case for the assertion in its subtitle. Given George's ubiquitous influence on the makers of pop culture (Bob Dylan, James Brown, John Waters, Liberace, Andy Warhol, and Muhammad Ali, not to mention Ric Flair and Jesse Ventura), this wrestler may indeed have invented the world we live in today!


Lucha Libre: Masked Superstars of Mexican Wrestling, by Lourdes Grobet (DAP, 2005): My office mate at work gave me this book of wrestling photojournalism for my birthday last year (along with a DVD of Santo versus the Martian Invasion). Grobet's camera captures the greats (Santo, Blue Demon, Solitario) and the gaudy, musty milieu of Mexican pro wrestling, as well as the cinema tradition it spawned.


Bob's World: The Life and Boys of AMG's Bob Mizer, by Dian Hanson (Taschen, 2009): Big old coffee-table book collecting Bob Mizer's photos and notes surrounding the fascinating history of the Athletic Model Guild, purveyor of 8-mm homoerotic fantasies, most involving wrestling, from 1945 on. It comes with a DVD with sixteen short AMG films!


Physical Chess: My Life in Catch-as-Catch-Can Wrestling, by Billy Robinson with Jake Shannon (ECW, 2012): Autobiography of UK pro wrestler Billy Robinson, including some great vintage photos of wrestlers and wrestling from the 1960s, '70s, etc. He recalls work as a Roman soldier in the film King of Kings to hijinks with my first pro wrestler crush, Jack Brisco.


Lucha Loco, by Malcolm Venville (Therapy, 2006): Venville photographs luchadors Irving Penn-style against a blank backdrop, capturing their color and grandiosity and presenting the wrestlers as works of art in and of themselves.


Say Uncle! Catch-as-Catch-Can Wrestling and the Roots of Ultimate Fighting, Pro Wrestling, and Modern Grappling, by Jake Shannon (ECW, 2011): Libertarian talk-show host gives his take on the history of catch wrestling, illustrating just how far WWE've strayed from its roots in real exhibition wrestling by greats like Karl Gotch. Its anecdotes and argument are compelling, and you learn how to execute a snap mare too, among other maneuvers.


SlapHappy: Pride, Prejudice, and Professional Wrestling, by Thomas Hackett (Ecco, 2006): This was the first book I read that attempted to portray the behind-the-scenes drama of small-time independent wrestling (it's one of the reasons I fell in love with the indies) and to analyze the wrestling subculture. It also features some terrific candid and action shots, from the author's own camera.


Shooters: The Toughest Men in Professional Wrestling, by Jonathan Snowden (ECW, 2012): A history of the great shooters of pro wrestling--the guys who really knew how to fight and did so almost as much outside the ring as in. The book includes great pictures of some of the best (in his youth Danny Hodge was quite a stud!) and concludes with MMA and Brock Lesnar's attempt at crossover fame. 


Outcast: David Hurles' Old Reliable in Living Color, by David Hurles (Green Candy Press, 2010): Color shots of Hurles' rogues gallery of San Francisco rough trade, including six pages of naked wrestling. Nothing Bruce Weber-y about this stuff. Seedy, crass, a little scary even, it's for certain tastes only.  For several years I was fascinated by Old Reliable wrestling vids--hard-up punks willing to kick each other's ass for fame and a hot meal.


El Borbah, by Charles Burns (Fantagraphics, 2005): Again, for certain tastes only. Five perversely silly but funny and artfully drawn tales featuring a detective who dresses as a masked wrestler. It's sort of Dick Tracy meets El Santo.


Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk (Norton, 1996): The classic. And it goes without saying that I wish I had written it. Still, even more I cherish the "Gladiatorial" chapter of D. H. Lawrence's Women in Love  (1920)--nothing, not even Ringside at Skull Island, has captured the eroticism of wrestling so well.


Wild Boys, edited by Richard Labonte (Cleis, 2012): I'd be stupid not to plug an anthology that features one of my own stories--the last one, "Mr. Lee's Men." The theme is rough trade and rowdy boys who must be taught a lesson--or else wind up teaching their wannabe masters a lesson. Check it out. It may not be art, but it's what I'm capable of.

I owe some honorable mentions, too, to Fat City (1969) by Leonard Gardner, a novel set in the world of boxing, which I read as an impressionable teen, and to the novels of James Ellroy, especially The Black Dahlia (1987) and The Big Nowhere (1988), which romanticized the noir world of 1950s boxing as male bonding, thus inspiring my initial approach to this blog. I once wrote a fan letter to Ellroy, praising the implicit homoeroticism of his books (as I read them, anyway), and he kindly replied, telling me that he was pleased that I had made the books my own, but the homoeroticism was never his intent.

3 comments:

  1. The only one I've read and kept on my bookshelf is "Slap Happy." I should check out "Inside Out." Thanks for the tip!

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  2. Thanks for these suggestions Joe. In John Waters' book "Role Models," he interviews John Hurles about Old Reliable and his casting strategy - fascinating stuff.

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