Beat the Champ

The white sticker on the CD reads "THIS RIGHT HERE IS AN ALBUM ABOUT PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING." The album, recorded at Overdub Lane just nine minutes from my house and released last year on Merge Records, is the fifteenth album by the Mountain Goats, fronted by the mega-talented John Darnielle. This morning I bought the CD on whim at the newstand outside the Durham Hotel, where I went for breakfast. I had heard about the album when it first came out, but never remembered to look for it until I was faced with it while waiting for friends outside the hotel. (It's available on CD, LP, iTunes, etc.)

Alt.folk is not exactly my genre, but any album with 13 tracks celebrating 1970s regional wrestling is something I need in my life. Darnielle et al. use pro wrestling as a metaphor for life and death, choosing to handle these heavy subjects with a light touch. There's so much in the lyrics I relate to on a personal level. For instance, there's a line in "The Legend of Chavo Guerrero" that goes, "I need some justice in my life, here it comes." In a country where even far-left idealism is driven by ugly pragmatism, big money, and tapped-down hopes, this is the non-homoerotic message of pro wrestling that resonates most with me, as I have said many times on this blog.

There's more. The song "Choked Out" expresses my own cheerful brand of pessimism: "I can see the future, it's a real dark place."  Lines in "Heel Turn 2" would even be a fitting epitaph for me, were I ever to change my mind about cremation and go for a traditional casket-and-headstone sign-off:
Get stomped like a snake
Lie down in the dirt
Cling to my convictions
Even when I get hurt
Towards the end, the album achieves a kind of intimacy and transcendence in the song "Unmasked!" promising, "And by way of honoring / The things we both once held dear / I will reveal you." The lyrics echo the lingo of pro wrestling with slang like "pop," "gimmick," and "suplex" and haunted allusions to the lives and careers of Bruiser Brody and Luna Vachon, lending color and authenticity. (According to the liner notes, Darnielle's stepfather's father was a wrestling promoter in Indiana in the 1940s and 1950s.) For me the album is a true "find," no doubt deserving of further attention and contemplation.

the liner notes

The track listing reads "Southwestern Territory," "The Legend of Chavo Guerrero," "Foreign Object," "Animal Mask," "Choked Out," "Heel Turn 2," "Fire Editorial," "Stabbed to Death Outside San Juan," "Werewolf Gimmick," "Luna," "Unmasked!" "The Ballad of Bull Ramos," and "Hair Match"


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