Today is a sad day to be a fan of two very different, very specific things.
I woke up this morning and walked across the bedroom to turn on the light. My phone was blinking. I looked at it and the very first thing I saw was a link from my YouTube app telling me that “Wrestling With Wregret” had posted a new video about the death of Joanie “Chyna” Laurer.
I’m going to get it out of the way. Yes. I know wrestling is fake. You know what else is fake? Game of Thrones. And Star Wars. And Big Bang Theory. And the Tonight Show is largely scripted and timed out. And SNL is rehearsed. And frankly a lot of the “legitimate” sports you watch feature guys who are cheating on their drug tests. So stop telling me what I already know.
I was a WCW fan at the height of the “Monday Night Wars.” I missed a lot of Chyna’s body of work when it happened live. But I’ve come up to speed on it since. It would be wrong to call me a Chyna fan. It would be wrong for me to talk about how much I appreciate her, etc, etc… I’m not the guy to talk about having a decades-long appreciation of Chyna as a performer or person… But I do know an icon when I see one.
Chyna presents a difficult conversation when you talk about iconic wrestlers. Her demons were well known. The drug problems. The mania. The accusations she’s made about others. The porn career. (I’d like to clearly state I’ve never investigated the porn, by the way.) The word that keeps popping up in the tributes is “troubled.” Some even say “tortured.” She had a hard personal life.
And people get hung up on her appearance. Yes, we all know she was in many ways masculine. Well, some women are. Who says it’s a bad thing? Not the WWF…they made her the one and (so far) only female to ever hold the Intercontinental title, considered her for a run with the WORLD title, and didn’t even CONSIDER putting the women’s belt on her because she’d have broken Sable or Sunny in half the second the match started. The women’s division wasn’t in her LEAGUE. (It still might not be.) It took me a long time to understand that having her wrestle mostly men and hold what is traditionally thought to be a “man’s” title wasn’t a commentary on her looks… Those things were part of her career because icons know no gender. In some ways, the most egalitarian character to ever grace WWF programming was Chyna. Because it wasn’t an issue. The message of her wrestling career was, “A woman can do this.” Her appearance was rarely even addressed. She looked like herself, and kicked any ass in her way. If her personal life had been a little cleaner, you could easily paint her as the most positive female character in the industry.
…but… “Troubled.” That’s the word for it. And we don’t know that drugs killed her, at this point…but we do know that in the weeks leading up to her death, people were talking about throwing her an intervention (again). We do know that she was working on a documentary of getting her life back together, which implies that it wasn’t together when the filming started. We do know that she’d burned a lot of bridges to the point that the WWE had previously outright stated they didn’t plan on her going into their Hall of Fame, despite her above listed accomplishments. (Most speculate that the main reason for this is that they would not want to give a live mic to a woman who has in the past accused HHH, X-Pac, and Vince McMahon himself of raping her, while in the next breath asking why she’s not in the Hall. As a note, I do not claim to have knowledge of if the allegations were true or not.)
We know that Chyna’s story is complicated, it’s sad, and it’s unfortunately over after only 45 years. In a world where we’re watching the resurrection of the health of Jake the Snake Roberts and even Scott Hall, it is very, very sad that we do not get to see the resurrected Joanie Laurer. Regardless of her past, she deserved a future with a smiling, laughing, celebratory Hall of Fame induction. She’s almost a LOCK to get a posthumous induction now that they don’t have to risk giving her a microphone. And that’s sad. And it’s sad that in an industry I’ve loved for as long as I can remember, another iconic personality is dead before she turned 50. I am tired of that headline. Wether it’s a series of poor life-choices made by individuals or if it’s something systemic to the industry, I’d almost prefer that the whole business go belly up than to keep watching the stars do so.
Chyna had many demons. I hope that the angels found her in the end.
And… The rest of this post should really be in a purple font…
I was at work. I went to the restroom and walked back in to see the president of my company walking toward me with a serious look on his face. I thought we had a serious problem with a client or some sort of major office issue… But then he told me that he’d heard on the radio that Prince had died. He said TMZ had reported it–I said I needed a better source, and the office manager a few seconds later said it was all over CNN. “Well THIS is what it sounds like when doves cry!” I exclaimed… Then we talked about Purple Rain and 1999 and Let’s Go Crazy and Raspberry Beret and goddamn BATDANCE. And I declared how great Art Official Age and Plectrum Electrum were in 2014. And more than a few times throughout the remainder of the day I’d randomly blurt out, “Man…Prince is dead.”
I’m not Bowie-levels of sad… But I’ve made no secret of how much I loved Prince. I don’t remember exactly where it started. I know that when I was in college, I bought about a half-dozen Prince records and ate up most of a paycheck from my church-job with it. The clerk at Best Buy thought it was weird. I know that when he played the Superbowl show, I was trumpeting how great it was going to be to all my friends for about a week leading up to it and most of them thought I was nuts… Almost to a man, those same friends have since told me that it’s STILL the best halftime show they’ve ever seen (and they’re right).
And I know that Prince just makes me smile, man. His music is almost synonymous with joy to me. He might not immediately jump into my mind if someone says, “Who are your favorite bands?” (although he would make my top 5 guitarists list without hesitation). But only Prince could write a song that name checks both Michael Brown and Freddie Gray that still makes me want to dance. I hear his stuff and I cheer up. Can’t say that about most of the bands I like.
If you’re looking for a place to start with Prince, it’s easy enough to pick up a best-of…or just the “Love Symbol” album is a good entry point. But, I recommend Googling his 2014 SNL performance. It’s mind-blowing. It’s an example of a guy who is already an icon, who should be able to rest on those laurels, choosing to instead completely up his game and move the whole field, not just the goal-post. It’s 8 minutes of genre-bending, guitar driven, jaw-dropping power. Or Google his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction and watch him at his best as a guitarist. His solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” will rip your heart out, paint it purple, slap your ass a couple times, and make you believe in Baby Jesus.
I don’t know what ended Prince’s life. I know a couple of days ago, his plane landed for a medical emergency and he was described as having “flu symptoms.” God, I hope it wasn’t drugs. It would be a waste for this to have been drugs, after he’d hit a new artistic peak and gotten his life reportedly so in-order. Prince was reportedly a Jehovah’s Witness in the last several years…I hope he was leaning on that and not on a substance. It sucks to say it…but please, God, let it have been his heart.
My brother wrote in his Facebook status, “The world just got a lot less funky.” Yeah. And less uncompromisingly fun and artistic and celebratory of music as sheer, pure, unadulterated ecstasy. But Dave’s status is more catchy.
So goodnight, sweet Prince. I’m sorry you had to leave the party so early…but thanks for showing us how to throw one.
…oh, and happy 90th birthday to Queen Elizabeth, I guess.