Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The state of professional wrestling

I am a pro wrestling fan. Have been since I watched Wrestlemania III with my Daddy Hoyt (my grandfather) back in the day. I was instantly hooked. Watched it as a kid through the early 90s doldrums into the Monday Night Wars.

But ever since WCW and ECW folded and WWF WWE became the mega-brand it is today, the product has been lacking. The post-Attitude Era has largely been a disappointment, with lackluster matches, ill-developed storylines and an overabundance of ego to blame.

It all started with the ill-fated and horribly botched Invasion angle. What had the potential to be one of the most glorious storylines ever in wrestling history, instead became one big dud. The WWE failed to sign all of the big name WCW wrestlers, granted some were due to contract obligations with Time Warner. But why not wait until they could be signed? Vince McMahon rushed into the angle, and ruined it with his ego. The WCW wrestlers were treated like second-rate stars, and the angle ended up being another McMahon-fest. Shane "owned" the WCW, and Steph took over ECW. You know what? That's fine and all, but at that point we had seen enough McMahon feuding. Why not bring in Eric Bischoff (which eventually happened) to head the WCW team and use Paul Heyman, who was already with WWE at that time, to run ECW?

Then we had the Brand Extension, which I have mixed emotions about. On one hand, there's a lot of talent in the WWE, and splitting the roster gives us a chance to see more wrestlers (not to mention, it gives them a lighter travel schedule). But, at the same time it can make things stale -- which is precisely why they hold the draft every year, so the rosters can get shaken up and new rivalries can develop.

Eventually, the stars that led the WWE during the Attitude Era -- Steve Austin, The Rock, Mick Foley -- retired. New stars emerged, others stepped up from their mid-card roles to become main eventers. But, the product still lacked. From about 2002-2007, storylines were largely underdeveloped. They came about randomly, and even worse they dissipated without much satisfaction.

Titles have been treated more like props. Belts change hands far too rapidly. Last year, the World Heavyweight Championship changed hands seven times. The Intercontinental and US titles used to stand for something, and were great belts to put on up and coming stars. Now, they get passed around like a joint at a Phish concert.

And don't even get me started on the atrocity the tag team division has become. There are multiple episodes of Raw and Smackdown that don't even feature a single tag team match. Pitiful.

Also, while I'm not a big fan of it, the Cruiserweight division has been completely forsaken. The matches are quite popular with the general fanbase, and can be entertaining.

However, all is not lost. Last year showed some major promise, and it has continued so far into this year. There are a plethora of young stars that are showing promise. The tag team division has been getting some more attention lately -- although not enough. And we have amazing heels right now in Randy Orton, Chris Jericho, Edge and JBL.

Of course, I haven't even talked about TNA yet... maybe it's better that way. They are suffering from the same pitfalls that led to WCW's downfall: too much reliance on older stars, not pushing younger guys, lame storylines. But, there's something good hidden in there.

So, how can they keep improving? Well, to reiterate what I said above, start pushing the tag team division again. Tag team wrestling has been the foundation for some GREAT single careers. Shawn Michaels started in the Rockers. Bret Hart had the Hart Foundation. And there have been some legendary tag teams. The Road Warriors, The Dudley Boyz, Demolition, The New Age Outlaws, The Steiner Brothers. Why not let some new legends develop? TNA was on the right track for awhile, but they've neglected the tag teams lately. WWE is getting something started, with teams like Miz and Morrison, the Colons and Cryme Tyme.

WWE needs to bring back the Cruiserweight division. TNA's version of it, the X Division, is extremely popular. If the WWE brings back the division and its title, it has a place to put stars like Rey Mysterio and Evan Bourne -- a place that's not the stereotypical David vs. Goliath matches those stars get stuck in.

Continue to let the younger stars develop. Randy Orton is hitting new heights, and can only go higher. Guys like CM Punk, John Morrison, Ted DiBiase, Cody Rhodes, AJ Styles and Samoa Joe are the future of the industry. Let them get mid-card and tag titles (or in the case of TNA, let them win the World title).

Speaking of which, I love what the WWE is doing with their "new superstar initiative" on ECW. Using the weekly hour long program to promote new guys like Jack Swagger, Tyson Kidd, The Miz and Ricky Ortiz is a great idea. Look what it did for CM Punk and Kofi Kingston. They'll get key on-screen experience that they'll need down the road.

On the topic of ECW... please change the name. It's not ECW anymore, nobody's fooled. If you're gonna have a show called ECW, dammit make it Extreme Championship Wrestling. Give me tables, chairs, barbed wire and all kinds of crazy shit. So if we're gonna have regular wrestling, change the name.

Bring back factions and stables. It gives the roster some organization and creates new rivalries and storylines. TNA has a good thing going with the Main Event Mafia/TNA Frontline angle. The WWE is getting there with The Legacy. So create a few more, give mid-carders something interesting stories. Just don't overdo it. Remember what happened with the nWo after half the WCW roster joined it.

Personally, I think elements of the Attitude Era need to come back. Give me edgier storylines and wild matches. Maybe you don't need another "Pillman's Got a Gun" angle, but nothing's wrong with a little scandalous material.

Pro wrestling is cyclical, there will always be low periods and high periods. Hopefully, we're about to start the next great period in wrestling.

Oh, and Vince, it is professional wrestling, not sports entertainment.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Where did radio go wrong?

OK, so I'm going through one of my major musical revelations again. This one started about a year ago. Since then, it's gained a ton of steam.

I've always loved country, I grew up on artists like Alabama, Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson. When I got into rock & roll later in life, I leaned towards the more bluesy artists like Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Rolling Stones and The Black Crowes. In college, I got back into country, only this time it was older artists, mainly from the Outlaw movement. Now, those loves have driven me into Cosmic American Music, where I've discovered and fallen in love with acts like Drive-By Truckers, Ryan Adams, Uncle Tupelo, Steve Earle, Shooter Jennings, Robert Earl Keen and many others.

Now let's start getting to the point. It is in my findings that the general consensus is that radio fucking sucks now. I agree with this. Somewhere along the way DJs lost the power to play what they wanted, and computers started picking playlists. "Hit" stations started popping up playing anything from Britney Spears to 50 Cent to Kenny Chesney -- whatever was deemed hot at the time. At some point in time, someone decided Nickelback and Fall Out Boy should get airplay.

Why?

Maybe it's been this way forever, but we just don't know it. I mean, there are plenty of older bands that are underrated (MC5 comes to mind), so they must not have gotten the spins they deserved. But other than a few exceptions, it seems like everyone who should be known is.

There are so many artists that the masses have no clue exist; and it's a tragedy because they blow away the bands that dominate airwaves. Now, I know I'm not exactly the first person to notice this. But I've never seen any answer as to why it happened.

At what point did the radio stations stop caring about the quality of music being played? When did the masses get lazy and accept the shallow playlists that consist of the same 20 songs? Did video really kill the radio star?

I know it's easy to blame the major labels and corporations like Clear Channel or Infinity. But again... why?

That's a tough question. One major blame lies on the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which lifted restrictions on the number of stations one company could own. I also blame Disco and the 1980s, which I view as the roots of the superficial music of today.

I've often heard people say Radiohead is one of the most important bands of my generation. Well, why don't the bands on the radio reflect that? Why is the Hollywood Undead getting airplay over The Whigs? Why does Rascal Flatts even exist? And who seriously thinks they're better than Son Volt?

Look at modern music. Country is now just pop with an accent. Rock has been relegated into three and a half minute blocks of no talent punks whining about their feelings. Hip hop is about money, bitches and... well, that's all the studio gangstas can come up with.

Yes, there is great music out there. But why do we have to search for it? Why are forced to go to MySpace or satellite radio? Why can't I simply get in my truck, turn on the radio and hear a Whiskeytown song? Yes, there are ways to discover new music, like Pandora, but why can't commercial radio help us with that?

Maybe that's the wrong question. Maybe I should ask why won't they help us? More importantly, will radio ever be good again?