Sunday, January 4, 2015

Book reviews and some stuff

It's 2015. What have I done so far? Nothing productive. But that looks to be changing. I've joked around that 2014 was the worst year of my life. If you know anything about my life (or listen to my podcast), then you know what I'm talking about.

I'm going to start driving again soon. The plan is to not get pulled over for driving drunk again. I guess I'll just drive more back roads. No, that's a joke. The idea is to not do that anymore. I feel like I'm in a good enough place mentally to not do that anymore.

The 6-part "Adventures In DUI Class" series I'm working on for Thought Catalog is still in the works. I just have to finish writing those and make sure they're good. I've written the first four and have let a couple read the week 01 article. They seem to like it. The theme I'm looking for is funny, somber, serious, but heartwarming at the same time.

A blog I did a couple months ago had a short preview of the week 01 article. Search the archives for that one if you're interested in reading it. 

What else have I done? I did read two books in the last week. I don't get people who think that e-readers are something bad. I read books electronically, and I also read hard copy editions. I read these two on the Kindle app of my generic RCA tablet.

Here are some book thoughts:

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"Wrestlers Are Like Seagulls" - From McMahon to McMahon ... For most casual wrestling fans, JJ Dillon is best known as the manager of the famous "Four Horsemen" group from the 80's led by Ric Flair. He had a much larger career than that, with stints as a traveling wrestler from the old territory days, to backstage management positions with WWE and WCW.

Dillon is mostly famous for being an on screen manager; a mouthpiece, a guy who talked. I knew he had done some wrestling before getting out of the ring and becoming a character. What I learned from reading the book was how extensive his in-ring career actually was. He went through a lot of territories and wrestled for over a decade.

As the 80s came to a close, Dillon took a backstage position with Vince McMahon, ultimately working his way up to becoming one of McMahon's closest confidants. He then left WWE in 1996 to take a similar position in WCW, where he stayed until the company went out of business in 2001.

It's one of the better wrestling autobiographies out there. JJ Dillon - whose legal name is actually Jim Morrison, like the Doors singer - has a great memory of his career and life. He doesn't try to shock people and tell outrageous stories. He tells the truth. Sometimes it involves things about other people that doesn't put them in a great light.

His relationship soured with Vince McMahon. Vince did some things that JJ writes he will never forgive Vince for. He goes into detail in the book. At the time of the printing, JJ had not spoken to Vince since 1996. JJ did finally make a WWE appearance in 2008 and spoke with Vince.

Dusty Rhodes is another guy that JJ lost a lot of respect for. He goes into why. Eric Bischoff, Vince Russo, a lot of people from the end of WCW aren't high on Dillon's list. There was a lot of turmoil there at the end of that company. It's crazy to think about how Dillon's tenure ended there.

The title of the book is interesting. JJ worked as a referee in the 1960s for Vince J. McMahon aka Vince Sr. The Vince McMahon that we know today - Vince K. McMahon aka Vince Jr. - bought the company from his dad in the early 80s. The "wrestlers are like seagulls" line is a quote from Vince Sr. It makes sense once you read the book.

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The Todd Glass Situation: A Bunch of Lies About My Personal Life and a Bunch of True Stories About My Life In Stand-Up Comedy ... The title is a mouthful, for sure. But, it's definitely something you should check out.

Todd Glass is a 50-year-old comedian who made the decision at age 47 to finally reveal that he was gay. That's what a lot of this book is about; keeping a large portion of your life a secret and struggling with that. That's where the title comes from - his personal life was largely a lie to most of the people he knew, but his stand-up career was where he felt like himself.

Todd writes about a rough childhood growing up; not necessarily his family life, as that was stable. He had difficulties in school and ultimately didn't graduate. It wasn't until later in life that he was properly diagnosed as dyslexic and having ADHD. And he also realized from an early age that he was gay.

The book begins with Todd having a heart attack after a comedy show. He is found slumped over on the floor by his friend Sarah Silverman. Fellow comedian Jeff Ross wants to call an ambulance, but Todd is certain he's just having a panic attack. Nope, it's it's a heart attack. The first chapter ends with Todd looking back and wondering how his life got to that moment.

Midway through, it picks back up in the hospital. As he's laying in his hospital bed recovering from his heart attack, he realizes that he and his boyfriend showed no real intimacy in that moment due to keeping their relationship a secret. He thought that had he died, that's not how he wanted his last moments with the person he loved to be like.

It's really a sad story. I feel like times are different now, and that's one thing Todd talks about in the book. He held onto his secret for way too long and it just got to be too much of a lie to keep up. He finally had enough and "came out" on Marc Maron's "WTF" podcast.

One thing Todd writes about in his book is how he would change up his stand-up act to hide his secret. He would tell funny stories about his boyfriend, but would say on stage that it was his girlfriend. Click here to watch a set where he does that. Todd writes that after he came out, he initially kept that up, but would say it with air quotes - my "girlfriend." Most of his audience knew, so they were in on the joke.

Todd then goes on to talk about language and issues with gay marriage rights. He mentions that there has never been a point in history where we gave a certain group of people rights - women and black people as examples - then 50 years later wished we hadn't done it.

I laughed when Todd responded to a friend who justified his grandmother's racism by saying that she was old and lived in different times. Todd replied, "Is she older than Abraham Lincoln?"

He spends a lot of the later parts of the book talking about language that is used today that will not be politically correct in the future. One word getting there right now is "gay" to mean something lame or stupid. Todd says that was one of his initial reasons for not labeling himself as gay, because he always heard it used as such a negative word. He mentions stand-up acts from the 80s who used words like that, specifically mentioning Eddie Murphy and Andrew Dice Clay. He said that they were brilliant comedians, but Eddie Murphy said "faggot" a lot in the 80s. The audience laughed then, but they would cringe if he said it today.

It's a great book, a look at one man's private struggle to find the acceptance that he has always wanted. It looks like he's finally found it. The Todd Glass story has a happy ending.

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A couple related notes:

I posted a blog last year (a couple days ago) in my weekly "Norm MacDonald Clip of the Week" series that was Norm interviewing Todd Glass on his podcast. It was part 02 of a 2-hour interview they did. The clip talks a lot about the issues of words and comedy as a whole. It's a really insightful talk. Click here to check that out.

Also last year (actually the end of 2013), I wrote a review of Chris Kanyon's autobiography. It is similar to Todd Glass' story, in that Kanyon was a professional wrestler who realized at age 10 he was gay and kept it hidden until he was 40. Where it differs is that there was no happy ending for Kanyon. He had a long history of mental illness and ultimately killed himself in 2010. His book had been finished for a month and was posthumously released in 2011. Click here to read that. 

That's all for now. I'll check back in with more later.

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