Scott Williams’ Hardcore History – The Extremely Unauthorized History of the ECW

88679A36-D1C1-4235-84A5-86CE09B0AFA8Back in graduate school, I was friends with a guy named Roy who had grown up in a working-class family in Kansas City. Roy was the first in his family to go to college. After graduation, he decided to learn something about the arts scene in K.C., something that he’d never had the chance to do.

Over the next few months, Roy went to “the usual places” on the arts circuit – the symphony, plays, art museums, and other highbrow events. He enjoyed doing something different.

Then he saw an ad for a pro wrestling show that was coming to Kansas City. He decided to go. Roy told me that during the wrestling he found himself thinking, “This is MUCH better than anything else I’ve done the last few months.”

50-Cent Book

Pro wrestling is sort like your “fun uncle” – you might not brag about the time you spend with him, but it’s an awful lot of fun. Last weekend, I was in the Big Fish Thrift Store over in Foley, Alabama, and I saw Scott Williams’ Hardcore History on sale for 50 cents. Reasoning that you can’t go too far wrong for 50 cents, I bought it. While I enjoyed reading it, I can’t give it more than 5.5 out of 10. 

The last couple of weeks were killers for me at work. By Thursday night, I needed a light book that wouldn’t tax my brain. I finished Hardcore History’s 261 pages by the time I went to bed Friday night. The book is a blow-by-blow chronology of Extreme Championship Wrestling’s brief life from the early 1990s to 2001.002651F3-636B-4D49-8AF3-E22AB7E36F39

Strong Material

The book begins with some of its strongest material – an account of ECW’s low-rent beginnings. In the early-1990s, ECW was one of many regional wrestling federations operating in the shadow of the much-larger WWF and WCW. However, largely through the ability of Paul Heyman, ECW succeeded by adding an edge to its matches and also by capitalizing on the 1990s youth culture. The result was a much-beloved challenger to the big boys.

When Hardcore History is good, it’s very good. Williams has gathered some fantastic old war stories from ECW’s people. Some of the best include –

  • Brian Pillman, a former Cincinnati Bengals player and largely-unsuccessful wrestler, who conned the various wrestling leagues into bidding for his services.
  • Beulah McGillicuddy, a former Penthouse model, who used her connection to pro baseball’s Ron Gant as a way to meet the ECW’s Raven. Subsequently, Beulah became one of the ECW’s biggest female stars (though Williams does not seem to have gotten an interview with her).
  • There are some excellent stories of the wrestlers’ many injuries and their rampant abuse of prescription painkillers. Williams was prescient with his focus on wrestlers’ health in his 2006 book, as just a few years later the mainstream press would pick up on the prevalence of injuries among athletes.
  • Perhaps my favorite anecdotes involved the low-rent lifestyle of most of the wrestlers around the ECW. Williams tells of wrestlers sleeping fifteen to a motel room and enjoying their time with “ring rats” (wrestling groupies).

Unsatisfying Aspects

So, why doesn’t Hardcore History rate any higher? The biggest problem is “flow” – the book is choppy – the chronology is difficult to follow. Too often, the tale bogs down into a series of “Wrestler A beat Wrestler B, then – 8 days later, Wrestler C beat Wrestler B, only to be beaten…”. The text just makes your head spin.

The book needs a center, a main figure through whom Williams can tell the ECW’s story. That person existed in Paul Heyman, who was to the ECW what Colonel Tom Parker was to Elvis Presley – promoter extraordinaire.

The problem seems to be that Heyman didn’t participate in the book. The flaw is severe because so much of Williams’ story centers on Heyman.

A lesser issue is Williams’ refusal to analyze the ECW on a deeper level. The ECW’s appeal was based on the fact that it was indeed extreme. For instance, during matches, the ECW permitted male wrestlers to attack female wrestlers – this was not allowed in the larger WCW and WWF.

Similarly, in one of the ECW’s more-infamous incidents, one of its wrestlers (New Jack) severely injured a minor who had lied about his age to get into an ECW match. Williams should have offered some thoughts on whether ECW’s “extreme” philosophy encouraged such incidents likely.

The “heavy” throughout the book is Vince McMahon and his family who run the stronger WWF (now WWE). It’s clear that Williams despises McMahon. But, McMahon was the unquestioned victor in the wars between the wrestling federations. Williams owes his reader some analysis of why the WWE outfoxed all of its rivals.

Williams Still Got Me

One thing I gotta give Williams – he got me thinking about seeing some pro wrestling. According to the ‘Net, the WWE may be coming to Mobile in August – and I just might have to get a ticket.

At the same time, Hardcore History is a middling read. I’m glad that I read it, but I walk away thinking that – with a stronger narrative based on a few more interviews – it could have been so much better.

 

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Finishing Sterling Hayden’s Wanderer (pp. 360-434)

AC266EE7-1CAC-4004-B365-EBFC6F9BB7EBBetter late than never? I hope so – I gotta be a more-diligent blogger. About a week ago, I finished Sterling Hayden’s Wanderer out at Orange Beach, Alabama. That Friday (12 April), my leggy wife (the Mojowoman) and I had driven west along the coast on the Florida panhandle. Once we got to O.B., I finished Wanderer as a way of winding down.

As I’ve already blogged several entries on Wanderer, I’m not sure that I have much left to say. The book’s narrative flows easily enough as it has a natural end and beginning with Hayden’s sailboat journey to and from Tahiti. Both for better and for worse, Hayden leaves his readers with no easy answers.

Clearly, he went on the journey as part of a mid-life crisis, an attempt to escape his unrewarding acting career and family problems. Predictably, he doesn’t find nirvana in Tahiti – wherever you go, there you are. At journey’s end, Hayden refuses to pretend that he’s found The Answer – but he doesn’t leave the reader without hope, either.

My reaction to Wanderer never really changed. The book was good throughout, but not outstanding – a solid 7 out of 10.

A final note – last Monday I returned Wanderer to my local library, where I’d borrowed it through inter-library loan. My special thanks to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Institute for sending their copy to Mobile so that I could read it.

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7- 8 April 2019 – Pages 283 – 360 in Sterling Hayden’s Wanderer

7- 8 April 2019 – Pages 283 – 360 in Sterling Hayden’s Wanderer

Sunday we came back from the beach, so I managed only a couple of chapters in Wanderer. But Monday night, I had some time and enjoyed my reading.

Here are a couple of observations – 

  1. Having finished most of Wanderer, I feel safe in concluding that Sterling Hayden was a chronic malcontent. Objectively, he had an interesting life and had more than his share of good fortune. But, in Hayden’s telling, he was always unhappy. 
  2. One odd aspect of Wanderer is that – while telling his story – Hayden shifts from first to third person quite a bit. This confuses the reader and – if it was done for any particular reason – it’s not apparent to me.

One of the best sections of the book, concerns Hayden’s service during World War II. To his credit, he does not portray himself as a hero – he admits that he pulled strings to get the assignments that he wanted. At the same time, he was a Marine Corps officer assigned to the Office of Strategic Services (forerunner to today’s CIA). Hayden served in Italy, sailing across the Adriatic to aid the Yugoslav partisans. If, in his description of military service isn’t at all glamourous, it certainly is exciting.

The passage below captures both Hayden’s self pity and his strange use of third-person narrative to describe his life – 

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P. 311

I’m sticking with my 7 out of 10 rating. 

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Saturday, 6 April 2019 – Pages 220 – 283 in Sterling Hayden’s Wanderer

Saturday, 6 April 2019 – Pages 220 – 283 in Sterling Hayden’s Wanderer

Early Saturday evening, my alma mater (Auburn University) flamed out in basketball’s Final Four. Saturday night, I nursed my hurts with a couple of Ying Yang (Yuengling) Lights and Sterling Hayden’s Wanderer.

After almost 300 pages, I feel safe in concluding that I like the sections of Wanderer where Hayden discusses his path through life. At the same time, the sailing sections tell me “more than I wanted to know.”

Saturday evening, I read some sections covering Hayden and crew’s arrival in Tahiti. To his surprise, he finds that his voyage – on which he took his children, in defiance of a court order – has become something of a media sensation. Hayden finds himself melancholic, thinking of a letter he once wrote to tell a Tahitian woman that he was breaking their engagement –

p. 247 Wanderer

p. 247

The passages also recount the beginnings of Hayden’s acting career. I found his anti-Hollywood sentiments to be unconvincing. He wants the reader to believe that he never liked Hollywood, but clearly he’d reaped the rewards – and would eventually return to acting. At the time, Hayden does a good job of explaining why he wanted to write Wanderer

p 247 Wanderer

p. 260

Wanderer still rates a solid 7 out of 10. But I’m starting to think of what I’ll read next.

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Friday, 5 April 2019 – Pages 146-220 in Sterling Hayden’s Wanderer

Friday, 5 April 2019 – Pages 146-220 in Sterling Hayden’s Wanderer

So, I continued with Sterling Hayden’s Wanderer Friday and managed a few more pages than I had on the preceding days.

At the beginning of Friday’s readings, Hayden and company reach the Marquesas. Rather than feeling enchantment, Hayden can’t wait to leave –

p 151 - Wanderer

The bad feelings lead to a reckoning with the crew, in which everyone airs his or her complaints. At the close of the reading, nothing had been resolved. But Hayden does have at least one realization – “I stare at the stars and I know that this is my final voyage – this is the end of a long sea-road that I started to tramp as a kid” (p. 163). Then, Hayden recounts some of that long road.

Friday’s reading had the same virtues as the preceding sections. It’s a good story with some terrific passages that sneak up on you. Consider –

p157 - Wanderer

p. 157- nice passage ends with a tease

Around 8 or 9 p.m., I just flaked out on reading. The latter sections of these passages didn’t hold my attention very well. In this material, Hayden gets deep in the weeds on what goes into working as a merchant sailor and I don’t have the requisite background to appreciate his discussion.

Still, I’m glad that I’m reading Wanderer. So far, it gets 7 out of 10.

 

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Thursday, 4 April 2019 – Pages 96-146 in Sterling Hayden’s Wanderer

Thursday, 4 April 2019 – Pages 96-146 in Sterling Hayden’s Wanderer

FE9B237D-885A-4E92-A81F-63E80AB2C6FBThursday night I was in a better frame of mind for reading. After my disappointing session Wednesday night, I had thought of not reading any more of Sterling Hayden’s Wanderer. But I decided to give it another chance, and I’m glad that I did.

 

The section that I read Thursday night again focused on Hayden’s childhood and not so much on his voyage on the Wandered. But, I thought that the digression started to pay off – the reader started to see how Hayden came to be obsessed with sailing and the oceans. Chapter 22 in which Hayden explores some derelict ships and finds a cabin on a Maine island was particularly good.

One passage toward the end of my reading was well written and also provides a good overview of Hayden’s tone –

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Hayden describes the residents of a boarding house (p. 140).

So, I’ll upgrade my rating of Wanderer to 7.5 out of 10.

 

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Wednesday, 3 April 2019 – pages 73-96 of Sterling Hayden’s Wanderer

Wednesday, 3 April 2019 – pages 73-96 of Sterling Hayden’s Wanderer

Wednesday I have very little left after work. I tried to read more of Wanderer, but I got nowhere. The section that I read abandoned Hayden’s 1959 sea voyage, and focused on his memories of his childhood. Hayden told of growing up in New Jersey and of his father’s death when he was nine.

It probably was just me, but the material didn’t hold me, I had trouble getting into a groove as I read. Soon, I decided to wait for another time.

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