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INSIDE THE ROPES    
Wrestling with Literature VI:
The Undiscovered Foley

April 11, 2007

by the Canadian Bulldog    
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com

 

Since I began this "Wrestling With Literature" column last summer, one author's name has been noticeably omitted: The Hardcore Legend himself, Mick Foley.
 
That's been done on purpose. Not only is Foley my favorite wrestler (as I describe in great detail in this DVD review), but one of my favorite authors as well. And by that, I don't mean "wrestling authors", because he blows his peers out of the water on that count; I mean, favorite authors in any genre.
 

Why? For beginners, his writing style is unique. It's almost a stream-of-consciousness technique, where the reader hears what's going on his mind. Foley is brutally honest as well; he doesn't oversell the importance of his career (e.g. the Hulk Hogan or Rowdy Roddy Piper autobiographies) and you get the sense that he's just been happy to be a part of the wrestling business and watch it evolve. And yet, he's not afraid to criticize the industry and even his own employers when the situation calls for it.

Finally, and most importantly, Foley establishes a tight connection with his reader that I've never come across before. After reading "Foley Is Good", for example, you could find parallels in his legendary Triple H feud to later programs with Randy Orton and Edge. Simply put, the reader feels like they're an active part of Foley's career, which is a tremendous gift for a writer to have.

One of the greatest compliments I've ever been given as a writer was when a friend said that my style in certain things (read: not ITR) attempts to emulate that of Mick Foley's. I'd never put myself anywhere remotely close to Foley's class, but I will say (and you knew this was coming) THANKS FOR THE COMPLIMENT!!!

But getting back to my original sentence: I purposely left Foley's books out of "Wrestling With Literature" until now so that I could tackle all five of them at once (excluding the children's books, which I'm sure are great, but I've honestly never read). And once again, here's the patented, often imitated but never duplicated, Canadian Bulldog Ratings System(tm): 

The Best There Is, The Best There Was, The Best There Ever Will Be = Self-explanatory. This rating is reserved for my absolute favorites, ones that I could read through over and over again. 
Oh Hell Yeah! = While not the top of the line, there's enough good stuff in here to make me want to recommend it. 
Transitional Champion = Not an urgent read, by any means. If you're starting up a collection, or if you're a big fan on the subject matter, go for it. 
Bowling-Shoe Ugly = More bad than good here. Hey, if you can pick it up for a few dollars at a used bookstore or borrow it off your friend, fine. But you've been warned. 
You're FIRRRRRRRRRED! = Why on earth would any publisher approve this crap? What were they thinking? Only valuable if you're the type that likes reading total and complete train-wrecks. 

Have A Nice Day: A Tale Of Blood And Sweatsocks



 
Published: 1999
Pages: 544 (hardcover)
Synposis: The first of three autobiographies of Mick Foley, this one covering the bulk of his in-ring career.


Whenever I speak to someone who scoffs about my love for wrestling, I take this bad boy off the shelf, hand it over, and challenge them to read through this and have them not at least be mildly interested in the WWE afterwards.

Okay, the technique rarely works, but at the very least, they concede that Foley is a fantastic writer, and is definitely "above" what they perceive wrestling to be. That has to count for something.

Big brownie points to Foley for not only telling his complete story in book format, but handwriting it himself. Too often (as I've complained in this space before), wrestlers, and other celebrities, for that matter, talk into a tape recorder for a few weeks and THAT becomes their "autobiography". But this is as legit a memoir as there will ever be, and you have to appreciate that.

Foley's humor -- the same brand of dark and often witty humor that you see in his WWE appearances -- is apparent here almost from the introduction, a scene in which he loses his ear in Germany. If that sounds like a strange contrast to you, it is; and it works.

Over the course of more than 500 pages, Foley goes into great detail about how he grew up a wrestling fan, how he stumbled into the opportunity to train with one of those people he grew up watching, and his trials and tribulations until he makes it to the very top of the business. That in itself is a tremendous success story.

But where Foley separates himself from the pack is hearing how his wrestling mind works. Unlike the bio of, say, The Rock, who was told to do this and that by the company's powers-that-be, Foley has an active part in developing his own storylines, which he continues to do to this day. Although not all of the angles he helps put together are an unqualified success, it's interesting to read his rationale.

Other things I like (and you probably get the impression by now that is a review filled with positives): His constant knocks at Al Snow, written down for the simple reason that he can; his ability to not take venomous, unnecessary jabs at his colleagues (with the possible exception of Ric Flair); his re-telling of the legendary "Hell In The Cell" and other big matches; and the level of detail he gets into when discussing the love of his family.

This is not to say "Have A Nice Day" is a major ass-kissing session: Foley criticizes Vince McMahon and others when the situation calls for it; for example, he was critical of Vince's actions in the Montreal Screwjob. But these are certainly exceptions rather than the rule.

Rating: The Best There Is, The Best There Was, The Best There Ever Will Be. This should come as no surprise, I suppose, but "Have A Nice Day" is the gold standard that wrestling biographies, and even biographies, period, should be held to. I don't think I could possibly give out a higher recommendation to read this.


Foley Is Good: And The Real World Is Faker Than Wrestling



Published: 2002
Pages: 608 (Paperback)
Synopsis: A look at Foley's final year and a half as an active wrestler/his thoughts on wrestling's detractors.


Surprisingly, I didn't rush out and buy the sequel to "Have A Nice Day" when it first came out. I just didn't think there was a lot of ground for Foley to cover after he'd captured the bulk of his career so well.

To an extent, I was right, and Foley admits as much. Yet, that's only the first half of this book, covering his programs with The Rock, Big Show, Al Snow and Triple H, taking hilarious jabs at The Mean Street Posse and Test, and jamming the pages with funny stories, top ten lists and even the hurdles he had in writing his first book (WWE had initially commissioned a ghostwriter to pen "Have A Nice Day"). His anecdotes about Britney Spears and the "penis suplex" aren't to be missed.

And as the book title suggests, Foley sets out to prove that other industries are just as phony, if not more, than the business he loves. Sometimes his points are valid, sometimes not so much.

The second half of the "Foley Is Good", however, is where its real charm lies. Tired of the public drubbing that the then-WWF took from the Parents Television Council in the late-1990's and early-2000's, Foley launched his own research project to counter their claims. Now... it's one thing for a wrestler to give their thoughts on their career, but to actually RESEARCH an issue? Outstanding!

Foley also poured through literally dozens of books and makes arguments that a university professor would envy. His shots at the mainstream media are valid, and proven by the fact that no one read his book and attempted to balance out earlier reporting they'd taken from university studies and the PTC suggesting wrestling = bad.

In addition, the paperback edition of "Foley Is Good" features a bonus chapter on why Foley eventually cut ties with the WWF, his reflections on the book itself, and a special section about his meetings with Katie Couric.

Rating: Oh Hell Yeah! While I wasn't as blown away here as I was by the original, this sequel packs quite a bit of information in there. Plus, it keeps with the Mick Foley style that you've come to expect, so it's all good.


Tietam Brown



Published: 2003
Pages: 243 (Hardcover)
Synopsis: Foley's first novel tells a coming-of-age story of a boy with a troubled, violent past.


I was as thrilled as anyone when Foley announced he was pursuing his dream of becoming a legitimate novelist, but I guess this wasn't what I was expecting. Yet at the same time, it was exactly what I expected. Confused?

The story is told in the voice of Antietam "Andy" Brown, a teenager living in upstate New York, having to deal with a string of tragedies and unfortunate events as he grows up. While it's an interesting premise, it's hard to shake the voice of Mick Foley in this book, because the characters are similar.

For example, the romance between Andy and his girlfriend Terri is reminiscent of Foley's failed attempts at love in "Have A Nice Day", while his feelings that he doesn't deserve such a beautiful girlfriend mirrors what he's said about his wife Collette. Also the fact that the boy is missing an ear.

These may be unfair criticisms, but it makes the story less believable when I hear Mick Foley's voice in my head telling the tale of someone who is supposedly a different character. Not to say these are identical stories - not at all - but it's hard for me not to draw the parallels.

In addition, it seems as though Foley holds back on the darkness we know he's capable of thinking up (both in his wrestling promos and his next novel). Perhaps that was intentional, but "Tietam Brown" really needed something to set it apart from other fictional works, and that's where it falls short.

One saving grace is the character of Andy's father, Tietam Brown (Andy is only of several characters named after the civil war hero Antietam Brown). Between his naked exercises between rounds of marathon sex and his gruff, yet oddly protective relationship with Andy, the father is easily the most compelling character in the whole book.

Rating: Transitional Champion. Hey, an A for effort - how many wrestlers do YOU know that can become accomplished novelists? You can see he was trying hard to create something different, yet it still seemed like the same old Mick, in many ways, to me.


Scooter



Published: 2005
Pages: 302 (Paperback)
Synopsis: A young man endures a life of violence in New York, broken families, and baseball fanaticism.


Now this is more like it. Remember how I said Foley was holding back on the violence (come on, I just said it a few paragraphs ago)? This is what I was getting at.

Scooter Reilly is a fascinating character because of the conflict in his life. Early on, he just wants to live the American Dream (not the wrestler), be part of a close-knit family and grow up as a typical youth in the mid-1960's.

Yet, a series of personal and family tragedies not only ruin said dream, but with each new event, push him further and further over the edge. In wrestling terms, Scooter isn't exactly a babyface by the time he becomes a teenager, but he isn't a heel, either. WWE writers only wish they could write "shades of grey" type characters this brilliantly.

In one of the more interesting twists I've read in any book, Scooter meets a legendary wrestler (whom some of you may have heard of) while trying out for a high school baseball team. I have to admit, it was the one point in the book I sat up with a grin on my face, thinking "What a brilliant idea".

That said, Scooter isn't for everyone. It gets dark and twisted as hell at points, and you're not really ever guaranteed a happy ending. But in doing so, Foley took a much-needed risk, and I think it paid off.

Rating: Oh Hell Yeah! While my belief that Foley could be a great novelist faltered with "Tietam Brown", this book certainly restored my faith (in Mankind?). If you want to see what he's capable of accomplishing in a fictional setting, I'd check this one out for sure.


The Hardcore Diaries



Published: 2007
Pages: 371 (Hardcover)
Synopsis: A journal of Mick Foley's life, from April 24 to June 15, 2006


You may be asking yourselves why anyone would think it was a good idea to publish memoirs that span not even two full months. A valid question, but one that pays off in the end.

This was the period of Mick's life where he planned his heel turn after WrestleMania 23 leading up to a tag team match with Edge and ECW's One Night Stand. Still, you might be thinking, so what?

It turns out that Foley put a lot of thought into what, for viewers, ended up being maybe 90 minutes worth of programming in total. Yet from the minute he walked into Vince McMahon's office with his concept, he had planned out everything right down until his departure last summer. If only WWE's Hollywood Writer Monkeys(tm) put this much thought into long-term planning, we might be somewhere by now.

What I like about "Hardcore Diaries" is that it's not an overly positive look at Foley's experiences. Hell, Foley openly says that his participation in the whole angle may have been a mistake, partly because of the WWE Hollywood Writer Monkeys(tm), and partly because the company's emphasis on the time, rightly or wrongly, was on the D-Generation X reformation. Plus, he openly mentions TNA, Ring Of Honor, Samoa Joe and other non-WWE topics, and not necessarily in a negative light, either.

At this point in Foley's career, he has nothing to lose by taking veiled shots at Vince McMahon, Triple H et al. After all, he chooses the types of storylines he'll participate in, and if it doesn't work out to his liking, he's got a lucrative writing career to fall back on.

Of course, I don't want you to think that this book is ENTIRELY about Foley's anti-ECW angle, because that's far from the truth. There are journal entries on his 2004 program with Randy Orton, thoughts on WWE Divas and porn stars (though not really in the same context), thoughts on Ric Flair, and lots on the charitable work he does outside of the ring to boot.

Because of the journal format, the book is a very light read, and is much better organized than, say, "Foley Is Good", which is guilty of jumping around a bit at times. And of course, Foley's true talent is making two months sound more interesting than most wrestlers can do for their entire careers.

Rating: Oh Hell Yeah! Even though it's probably my least favorite of Foley's three autobiographies, it's still very readable, filled with humor, information and a generous look at what goes on behind the curtain in modern-day WWE.


Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention Mick Foley's other books (I have a young child, but I'm sheltering from anything wrestling for now): Mick Foley's Christmas Chaos (2000); Mick Foley's Hallowe'en Hijinx (2001); and Tales From Wrescal Lane (2004).

Until next time, thanks for reading!

E-MAIL THE BULLDOG    
BROWSE THE ITR ARCHIVES

CANADIAN BULLDOG  is a wrestling fan from Dayton, OH.  He's been doing this since 1995, but enjoyed it best when the suckers from SportsLine were actually PAYING him to be a fan.


  
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