On Friday, I heard the news that the Macho Man Randy Savage had died. The news startled me in a way that the constant stream of celebrity deaths usually fails to do. This was a huge figure in my childhood and though I hadn't really followed him in years, it was still sad to hear that this figure had died near the place of my birth, Tampa, Florida.
As a kid, I was fanatically into WWF, would watch all of its various shows on Saturday afternoons and Monday evening, would save my money to order the pay-per-view spectaculars. I subscribed to WWF magazine, had a large assortment of WWF merchandise, figures and sticker books, and went to a couple of matches held nearby at the Capitol Center. My sister and I were both enormous fans and for a long while the Macho Man was definitely our favorite wrestler.
As an adult gay male, I can look back at this and reread all of this as a redirected homosexuality under closeted conditions. I can look back and say of course I would love watching shirtless, oiled up men roll around with each other in sequined and fringed outfits. I could do that, but I think that would be an incredible misreading, too easy of one. There is something a bit ridiculous about the Macho Man looking back on him as I have been doing during the last couple days, watching YouTube videos of old matches and interviews from those golden years when the WWF was still the WWF, before it became WWE, when it was still an assemblage of regional wrestling circuits and wrestlers that had come up through them (when they still existed), of wrestlers who had learned to play for the crowds, for the stage, rather than the screen. I can still watch these and be transported to those years as a small boy incredibly wowed by these strong men, their He-Man abilities. Macho Man's grizzled voice sounds a little silly to me now, but as a kid, it was mythic action-figure stuff. I would mimic his husky voice, the drawn-out Oh Yeahs, and do flying elbow drops on to the couch, imagining an arena full of fans cheering me on.
This man had such charisma and such a presence in the wrestling ring. Listen to interviews that he gave back then and marvel at this man's verbal nonsense, an on-his-feet poet, potentially coked out of his mind, saying absurd rhymes and insane analogies, often at rapid-fire pace. Some of it is beautiful, beautiful stuff. He is clearly in love with language and you can see him take pleasure in his constructions, body twitching as he pulls each word inward toward the back of his throat, neck pulsating, and Mean Gene Okerlund looking on flummoxed. There is a cadence and a rhythm to everything he says; you can almost hear the line breaks. Watch him in the ring, how fearless and excellent a performer he is. He plays for the rafters. Appropriately entering to "Pomp and Circumstance," in his neon spandex and glittering attire, he was impossible not to notice. Proto-Gaga and Kayne sunglasses that allowed him to both hide something and project something even larger, he was an enigma of a man that never broke character. All of his actions were huge and forceful; all had the effect of neon fringe. Watch his match with Jake the Snake where he is bitten by a cobra snake and keeps going, how he "falls" off the stretcher as he is carried away from the ring, the point at which most performers would have been happy to exit the match, but instead after "falling off," he goes barreling back to the ring, knocking down people along the way, all to happy to give the fans more of what they want, giving everything he has in the performance, not ready for the show to end, him taking as much pleasure as we fans got from it all. It's actually incredible how good he was.
By comparison, today's WWE is composed of a bunch of oiled-up amateurs. The star wattage isn't there. These were outsized performers who were incredible at what they did. They had my sister and I enthralled. They had my friends from school enthralled. We would act out matches in backyards and gather at houses to watch big matches. Those days have been over for a long time. Childhood ended a while ago. Still, the passing of the Macho Man reiterated that fact that sometimes gets blurred amongst all the eighties and nineties nostalgia. Hearing that Randy Savage died of a heart attack behind the wheel at the age of 58 was a slap into the present with a layover in bygone days. A headline on a news site, brief news curio to most, sent me spiraling backwards and then staggering back to the present, aware of all the time that has passed, aware that things end, ended a while ago.