Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Attitude Era Podcast: The Cure For The Common Wrestling Podcast

It's a funny journey you go through as a fan of professional wrestling. For my generation, it was starting off as a kid in the midst of the era of Hulk Hogan, the Ultimate Warrior and only four pay-per-views a year. By the time we were 11 or 12, Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels were going 60 minutes at WrestleMania, but it wasn't long after that that we found ourselves in the midst of Stone Cold Steve Austin, D-Generation X, and, well, puppies. It was the Attitude Era in the WWF. (I don't mean to leave out the NWO, but for the sake of this piece, we aren't going "down South," as Jim Ross was so fond of saying.)

The Attitude Era... I never started to feel old at 30 until I realized that is now 13 years in the past. I continue to watch WWF/E today, and to say that the product today feels like its 13 years removed from the often dubbed "golden era" of professional wrestling is a gross understatement. There's also an easy trap to run into nowadays by being a snarky, bitter, asshole that falls back on "back in the day" comments in regards to how things were so much better in the Attitude Era. What a crock.

Anyway, this all comes together when I was switching from Apple to Andoid with my cell phone and started re-downloading my podcast subscriptions. Somehow in the midst of trying to find another unnamed wrestling podcast, I came across the Attitude Era podcast. It rang a bell because I remembered at some point following their twitter account. Cut to chase, I gave it a shot and pulled my favorite Aristotelian storytelling maneuver with an en medias res. Why not pull a random episode to see if this podcast was my flavor. I ran through the catalogue of episodes they had thus far and picked King of the Ring 1999 as I went to work on a slow Sunday. 

King of the Ring '99... Austin, McMahons, ladder match, briefcase raised out of Austin's reach. That's what I remembered from long ago. Only a few seconds into the episode of the Attitude Era podcast, I hear the promo for the show, the great reveal, "It was me, Austin! It was me the whole time!" Holy shit, the Higher Power reveal! And it goes on. The Rock and Undertaker for the title, Billy Gunn winning the King of the Ring tournament to a shrugging pomp and circumstance. Things I hadn't remembered in years brought back to the forefront. 

And then the men behind bringing this flashback to the forefront emerge in audio form. The Irish cadence of Kefin Mahon is heard first, formally introducing the episode, followed by his fellow Lincoln, England cohorts Adam Bibilo and Billy Keable. You can't help but immediately connect with the jovial nature of this triumpherant as they humorously take us back to the WWF in 1999. You almost wish you could pull up a stool with a pint and watch them chat in person, it's such a fun a lively conversation.

There's also an immediate unique perspective this podcast brings to looking back on the Attitude Era; an amazing storytelling tool that becomes a stand out as you start from the jumping off point of WrestleMania XIV. (It was a no brainer to start from the beginning after how entertaining the King of the Ring '99 episode was.) Mahon and Bibilo know the content they are about to re-examine as fans of wrestling since back in that era. Keable, however, is a relatively new wrestling fan, picking up the bug in the mid 2000's. He didn't watch wrestling during the Attitude Era, so thus, each of these podcasts focusing on the pay-per-views from 1998 to 2001 (and bonus episodes) are a completely new experience for Keable. Thus, as a listener who certainly hasn't been privy to the intricacies of the Attitude Era in quite some time, I can't help but experience the podcast vicariously through the fresh eyes of Bibilo and the revisionist/critical eyes of Mahon and Bibilo as they bring both the highlights and forgotten elements of that time period back for a comedic critique. 

And as a critique, it is more than fair to call it fair and balanced. It's easy to sit back and be an "arm chair booker" about what didn't work during the Attitude Era and play, again, the snarky Internet personality card of 2014, but each of the three refrain from doing so. For the majority of wrestling fans, there is a prevailing need to look at the Attitude Era through nostalgic and rose-colored glasses. It's inevitable when running down the PG era that exists now for WWE. But Mahon, Bibilo, and Keable beautifully refrain from falling into that territory. They praise what needs to be praised and satirize what deserves to be made light of.

Yes, newsflash, Attitude Era super fans, there were some very low points. Disgusting, misgonistic, low points, and combined with the trio's sharp sense of humor and impecable impressions (X-Pac's "let's make some noise," fuck me, is absolute gold), it makes for an entertaining 90 minutes.

What is also fascinating through the re-examination, are some of the characters and arcs that kind of fall by the wayside behind Austin, The Rock, McMahon, and DX; the easy buzz words for the three year run. Following the podcast from Over the Edge '98 through St. Valentines Day Massacre (1999), though, Mick Foley emerges as almost a beautiful tragic figure, well beyond the "OMG" moment of King of Ring where he went off and through the Hell in a Cell. From pay-per-vew to pay-per-view, we get to see Foley take the bumps but also develop an amazing character through a classic trio of matches with The Rock and multifaceted promos. The analysis Mahon, Bibilo, and Keable weave shows very accurately that Foley was more often than not the MVP and the highlight of what otherwise were some mediocre pay-per-views. It's not to say Foley is forgotten in the Attitude Era. Far from it. But especially during that first year from 1998 to 1999, he deserves credit for elevating many car-wreck inspired bookings. 

Another beautiful highlight from the Attitude Era podcast? Workers like Steve Blackman and Val Venis, even D-Lo Brown. Venis was an easy mark of popularity based on his character as an adult film star wrestler. But as a wrestler, he often doesn't get mentioned for being a strong worker. His output pay-per-view to pay-per-view shows the man could go with a variety of midcarders. The same for Blackman and Brown. Perhaps not the best on the microphone but damn good hands that if the chips might have fallen differently would have had different careers. But nonetheless, the podcast puts a great spin on guys honestly forgotten and swept to the side in discussions on the product back then.

As of this writing, I have gone through a gangbuster audio listening fest of the Attitude Era podcast. In a weeks time, I have gone from the beginning of the Austin era through the formation of the Corporate Ministry. I'm not even to the point of being caught up with the current episodes, but I'm not in a hurry. Because the bittersweet reality is, there will be an end to this era. Many have considered WrestleMania XVII the end of the era. I don't know what Mahon, Bibilo, and Keable will consider their swan song, but I know I'm enjoying every minute of going back in time to when I was 14, 15 years old and laugh until I cry remembering the good times of my wrestling youth and some of the less than memorable. 

These guys already have quite the following, so I'm not saying anything new to a lot of you. But just in case you haven't taken the plunge, subscribe via Itunes, Soundcloud, or Stitcher. Leave five star reviews and pass the word. To take a phrase from USA's programming from 1998, it is the cure for the common wrestling podcast. Damn fine job, gentlemen...

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