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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Time to Pay the Piper

Like many a young lad of my generation, I went wild for the spectacle of oiled up muscle men in spandex grabbing at each other. Yup, WWF was the unintentionally homoerotic order of the day, and in the ‘80s I bought into it hook, line and leg-lock. I went to the matches when they came to town, watched the cartoon, wore the T-shirts, read the magazine, practiced all manner of dangerous moves on my beleaguered younger brother (notable the Figure Four and the Overhead Press) and even bought an absurd amount of potato chips in order to collect WWF stickers. On a VCR larger than your house I’d tape the The Saturday Night Main Event, which came on after midnight, just to see the likes of Hulk Hogan, Randy “Macho Man” Savage, The Hart Foundation, Junkyard Dog, Andre the Giant, Greg the Hammer Valentine, The British Bulldogs, Big John Stud, Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake, Hillbilly Jim and the Ultimate Warrior grapple in the squared-circle (“squared circle” – how’s that for wrasslin’ logic?!).

No one in this steroidal Mardis Gras was quite as entertaining as Rowdy Roddy Piper, however. The “Hot Rod”, as he was also known, was the original bad guy, going up against Hulk Hogan in the first Wrestlemania. Playing the ill-tempered Scotsman to the hilt (and the kilt), this Saskatoon-born prairie boy was a sputtering, cussing, vein-popping ball of red-faced fury, and never boring for a minute. Naturally, when Rue Morgue booked him for the Festival of Fear – he starred in John Carpenter’s They Live – I jumped at the chance to host his Q&A.

Piper is now in his 50s, a bit pudgy and somewhat wrinkly, but man did he fire up the crowd. He was a genuinely nice guy, funny as hell and has a lot of crazy stories – many from the bad guy WWF days when crazed wrestling fans would try to attack him, once nearly tipping his cab over. And I got no small amount of joy giving him a huge arena-style intro (“Put your hands togethurrrrrr…”). The pic above is from the Q&A – I stole it from the Rue Morgue message boards, from “Velvet Kiss”.

Sunday evening when we were doing tear-down I found his price list sitting on the table where he was signing autographs. Now, I don’t have a problem with charging someone for an 8x10, but $20 to sign something else, and $20 to get a picture with your own camera? That’s lame. I assume the badly overpriced They Live gift pack is the same one for sale on his website. If you buy the $30 prize pack, you get the $20 signed pic, the $10 cheap plastic sunglasses and two little pieces of gum (a reference to his famous line in the film: “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I'm all out of bubblegum.” Are the pieces of $0.05 Double Bubble really all the incentive the average wrestling fan needs to go for the gift pack? Man, I’m glad I grew out of that shit. (It doesn’t bode well for North American society that pro wrestling has become more fake, yet more grown men wear WWE T-shirts.)

Of course, if you look way down to the bottom of the Piper list, you’ll see the funniest item. I wish I would’ve noticed this while I was there. I think the call would’ve been to my brother, and it would’ve gone something like this: “This is the Hot Rod, Rowdy Roddy Piper, reminding you to check yourself daily for testicular cancer.”

Maybe that wouldn’t have gone over so well, really. On a side note, I wonder if he was ever choked that Randy Savage became the spokesman for Slim Jim, but he didn’t land the Hot Rod gig?

In closing, I’d like to point out that although Piper may be a pseudo-athlete in a dress, at least he’s not trying to be a comic book superhero in spandex. Behold the convention mutants – they live!