Book Club: Bret Hart’s “Hitman” (Introduction)

Posted on May 24, 2011

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Matt Houchin’s Book Club is kind of like Oprah’s Book Club, except with more books about 80’s pro wrestlers.  If you’d like to join this club, send me an email, or just read the book I’m talking about and comment below!

Yesterday I purchased a copy of Bret “The Hitman” Hart’s autobiography on sale at Barnes & Noble for 75% off the already discounted price of $7.98 (From $26.99 originally).  This 549 page, hardcover book cost me roughly 2 dollars.

Here are two reasons why I think this book wasn’t necessarily a best-seller (at least in America, where the author wasn’t once named one of this country’s top 50 people, like he was in Canada, as I discovered on the dust-jacket):

1) Bret Hart wasn’t a cartoon in an industry where you have to be.

The book’s full title is: “Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling.”  No other wrestler could ever title his autobiography this for the same reason truly crazy people don’t ever realize they’re in an insane asylum.  Charles Manson couldn’t write a book called, “My Normal Life Living Amongst Crazy People,” in the same way Rowdy Roddy Piper couldn’t.  I’ve heard recent interviews with Piper, and he still seems to be somehow under the delusion that wrestling matches are not staged.  Those outside of wrestling who have moonlighted as wrestlers, are already cartoons/crazies in their respective fields: Dennis Rodman, Donald Trump, Andy Kaufman, etc.  You don’t invite Joe Mauer to be a guest wrestler in the Royal Rumble because he’d probably just be pretty good at the athletic part — and horrible at the yelling-into-a-microphone part.  The latter is the most important part of wrestling.  Because wrestling is fake.  Just like in the movies, it’s more important when playing Will Hunting that Matt Damon is good at acting and less important that he actually knows how to solve the world’s most complicated math equation.

The most surprising thing about Bret Hart is that I remember him being one of the biggest wrestling superstars of the 80’s, but I don’t remember anything about him.  That might sound contradictory, but here’s the thing:  There are far less famous wrestlers who I remember much more about.  Ravishing Rick Rude used to make out with women from the audience — giving them the “Rude Awakening.”  The Bushwhackers would lick Mean Gene Okerlund on the face.  The Million Dollar Man wore a giant belt of diamond encrusted dollar-signs, and he would stuff hundred dollar bills in opponents mouths after defeating them.  The Genius Larry Poffo entered the ring in a cap and gown and read original poems off of a scroll.  POEMS!  OFF OF A SCROLL!!  All I remember about Bret Hart was that he was really good at wrestling (even though I can’t recall any of his specific moves or matches).  He never looked like he was having fun; he just looked like a guy doing his job.

My guess, before reading the book, is that Bret Hart never wanted to be a wrestler.  He just got into it because it was his dad’s business.  (His dad was Stu Hart, the ‘Vince McMahon of Canada’ in the 70’s).  Hart is like the guy in high school who was the star wide-receiver, but didn’t have the drive to go to college, so now he works for his dad’s drywall business and hates it.  Only instead of drywall, the family business happens to be the batshit world of pro-effing-wrestling.

2) This book is 549 pages long, and the font is extremely small.

I mean, look at this:

There is absolutely no need for this book to be this long.  Who is the target market for this book?  Wrestling fans, right?*  Call me stereotypical, but I wouldn’t classify most die-hard wrestling fans as “readers.”  This book is more than intimidating for someone just looking to hear some juicy behind the scenes stories (and preferably about his more entertaining colleagues as discussed above).  I read Hulk Hogan’s autobiography last year in two sittings.  Picking up “Hitman” at the bookstore is like committing to read “The Brothers Karamazov.”  Also, true wrestling fans will probably be more than a little disappointed to hear a wrestling icon shitting all over the sport they love, already referring to it condescendingly as a “cartoon” in the title.

However, the book’s epic length is ironically the main reason I want to read it.  This suddenly makes Bret Hart compelling to me.  If it was just 200 pages with oversized font (which it probably should be), and was written by “Bret the Hitman Hart with some guy who actually wrote it” (like Hogan’s book), I wouldn’t be interested because Bret Hart was never interesting.  But now I’m fascinated that this person who never had anything to say on tv, has so much to say now.  This book could’ve been a quick cash-in for Hart: just give a ghostwriter an extended interview and collect the check.  But this guy did the work.  To me this screams, “I’ve been misunderstood my whole life, and I have to set the record straight!”  He approached writing this book the same way he approached wrestling: as someone who wanted to excel at the art of it.  But tragically, no one really cares about the art of pro-wrestling or of wrestling autobiographies.  If you watch wrestling on TV now, it’s like watching a soap opera about the behind the scenes world of a wrestling league.  You see about as much actual wrestling as you see the actual “TGS with Tracy Jordan” sketches on 30 Rock.  When I was growing up in the 80’s, though, I had to sit through about 45 minutes of yawn-inducing matches in order to watch the only exciting 5 minutes where Wrestler A would suddenly turn on Wrestler B during a studio interview, like when Sean Michaels threw Marty Jannetty through Brutus Beefcake’s “Barber Shop” window.  Over the years, the market has spoken: “Less wrestling, more drama.  And if there has to be wrestling, there better be bodies falling from increasingly tall ladders through increasingly large folding tables while the ring is increasingly on g-ddam fire.”

My prediction is that Bret Hart was an artist who, due to freak circumstances, was trapped in the wrong art form and never appreciated by the fans for giving a shit.  And I can’t wait to read about that because I can totally relate.

These are only predictions, though.  He may just be a jaded egomaniac…

*So I don’t come off as hypocritical, I should clarify that I don’t consider my adult-self a wrestling fan.  I was 10 years old when I loved wrestling the most.

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