Tag Archives: United States

“A Lion’s Tale: Around the World in Spandex,” by Chris Jericho

4 Mar

“A Lion’s Tale: Around the World in Spandex,” by Chris Jericho (412p)

A Lion’s Tale is the autobiography of WWE wrestler and rock musician Chris Jericho (real name Chris Irvine). A Lion’s Tale tells Jericho’s life story from his earliest days growing up Winnipeg, Canada through the first half of his career in professional wrestling, traveling around the world, until his debut with the (then) World Wrestling Federation (Entertainment) in 1999. Jericho also happens to be my favourite wrestler.

One of the first things Jericho establishes is why he loved wrestling – his grandmother. He grew up in an athletic family in Winnipeg, Canada – Jericho’s father is NHL hockey legend Ted Irvine – and naturally gravitated toward show business. Growing up, Jericho was always enamoured by films, comics, rock music and wrestling. He would watch the American Wrestling Association promotion on television and attend events at the Winnipeg Arena when the AWA would come to town. Later, when the AWA began to decline, Jericho began following the World Wrestling Federation as Vince McMahon was launching his takeover of regional territorial promotions throughout North America in the 1980s. When the WWF came to Winnipeg Jericho would go to all the shows, practically stalk the wrestlers at the hotel looking to get autographs and meet the stars of the WWF. At school he and his friends formed their own backyard wrestling group and performed matches at their high school. Jericho had set his sights on becoming a professional wrestler at the age of 17 and, when turning 19, he left home and went to Calgary to train with the famous Hart Brothers in their wrestling camp.

Wrestling training is notoriously brutal and Jericho doesn’t spare the details on the difficulties he faced. But he graduated (along with future star Lance Storm) and soon found himself wrestling in small regional shows in Canada, scratching out a simple living. He soon finds himself making his mark in Mexico as Corazón de León (Lionheart), winning championships, learning the ropes of the business and making lifelong friendships. He moved around the world and went to Germany for awhile, until landing his first real big paying wrestling gig in Japan with the Wrestle Association R company while also spending some time in the United States wrestling for Jim Cornette’s Smoky Mountain Wrestling. The stories of independent wrestlers are legendary, and Jericho happily tells of some of the “colourful” moments he saw in the US and in Japan, where he was becoming a big star in WAR’s junior heavyweight division. Most of his in-ring ability and techniques he learns there are the things we see today and it’s fascinating reading about the experiences in Japan.

The last part of the book deals with Jericho’s break in the United States. Jericho, through his connections in the late Chris Benoit and late Eddie Guerrero, debuted in the up and coming Extreme Championship Wrestling promotion based out of Philadelphia in 1996. He remained there through 1996, touring in Japan as well. Jericho remained in ECW until the summer of 1996 when he was signed by World Championship Wrestling, soon to become the number one wrestling promotion in the United States. He soon finds the promised land of the big time not to be what he thought it would be, and Jericho talks at length about all the problems he faced in WCW.

It makes for pretty fascinating reading if you have an interest in pro-wrestling to hear about the scattered and confusing way WCW was run, with multiple doing the same job and nobody seemingly knowing what the other was doing. Jericho’s time in WCW was blighted by this as he spent months doing nothing in the company until his one big run. There, Jericho developed the character he would later use so successfully in the WWF – the abrasive, cocky, whiny and cowardly bad guy who mocked everyone with witty and original insults and plays on their names – and tells the story of how he came up with some of the funniest and most original segments to ever air in wrestling as he feuded with Dean Malenko.

But Jericho felt himself stifled by the atmosphere at WCW and never able to progress in a company that was so dogged by internal politics and backstabbing. With the massive salaries being paid out to the likes of Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, Randy Savage and Sting Jericho knew he was never really going to be able to make it to the top there. So, he took it upon himself to make a move to the World Wrestling Federation and meeting with Vince McMahon. In late 1998 he signed with the WWF and debuted later in the year with one of the most memorable debuts in wrestling history. The Y2J Problem had arrived in the WWF and A Lion’s Tale ends with Jericho’s famous debut.

I probably should have prefaced this review by saying that, yes, I am a wrestling fan and still very much a child when it comes to this sort of thing. Jericho is my favourite wrestler so naturally I enjoyed his autobiography immensely. My recommendation below is hardly without bias. But the book actually is brilliant and very fun to read. It’s told in a carefree, relaxed and entertaining style. Jericho writes it in a way so it doesn’t come across as “and on August 5 1995 I went and did this …” like some people do with their autobiographies. Rather, he casually moves from place to place and moments in his career by telling (mostly humorous) stories about the people he met across his career, in particular and mentioning the unique and crazy side of the wrestling business. If you’re like me and find this sort of thing interesting anyway, it makes for natural entertainment and a great read.

I suppose this is a difficult book to recommend to most people. It’s probably only going to ever be read by wrestling fans, but all the same it is a great autobiography. Jericho is a natural writer and I can’t say I have any complaints about it. As far as entertainment and ease of read goes, it’s a true success.

8/10.

“Flash for Freedom!,” by George MacDonald Fraser

10 Jan

“Flash for Freedom!” by George MacDonald Fraser (332p)
1848-1849: The Atlantic Slave Trade and the Underground Railroad

The third instalment in the late George MacDonald Fraser’s popular Flashman series is Flash for Freedom!. Written in 1971, this third book, continuing the false-memoir of a Victorian hero who is a really a down right bastard, sees Flashman tell of his first visit to the United States in 1848. There, he deals with the slave trade and the difficulties in beating it with the Underground Railroad, meeting a number of interesting people along the way, like a young Abraham Lincoln.

Beginning almost immediately where Royal Flash finished, Flashman is back in England after his nightmare in Germany with Otto von Bismarck. All he wants to do is do what Flashman does best – drink, gamble, whore and enjoy himself and his wife’s pregnancy. But his malevolent father-in-law has other plans and wishes to have Flashman elected as a member of parliament to push his own agenda. So he arranges for Flashman to be taken to a party of political types, including Benjamin Disraeli, to meet and greet and make an impression. He does this as he always does and bluffs his way through, putting on a show for members of the Tory party that he could be a possible MP. But as is often the case for Flashman things go wrong, and so one night during a game of cards an old nemesis returns to get some revenge on him. Outraged, Flashman strikes out and almost kills the man, thus creating a scandal that would need him to be out of England for awhile again. So Morrison, his father-in-law, sees him placed on a supposed merchant ship as a worker and is whisked out of England within a matter of days of the scandal.

However, Flashman is in for a rude surprise when he settles into life aboard the merchant ship, captained by the eccentric Latin-sprouting John Charity Spring. The ship, the Balliol College, is no ordinary ship – it is a slave-runner. Flashman is thrown into the world of the still thriving Atlantic slave trade and becomes complicit in all those crimes. He is forced to accompany them to the Dahomey coast (modern Benin) where Captain Spring has arranged with the local tribal king, Gezo, a purchase of a few hundred slaves in exchange for a number of European goods, namely weapons. But during the meeting Spring tests the patience of the king’s famed Amazon warriors too much and they react violently when he tries to buy six of them, and a bloody chase sees Flashman and the rest of the crew of the Balliol College run for their lives to the ship. They escape, just, and head for the Mosquito Coast (modern Nicaragua) to unload the slaves and receive payment. Along the way Flashman details the horrors of life aboard for those slaves and creates an image of the dirty, cramped and stinking hell those people endured before more of the same on land. Flashman finds himself hating it more than he has ever hated anything else and is beyond relieved when the slaves are unloaded. The journey is almost over and only requires the transport of less than ten slaves-turned-prostitutes to the United States, which is illegal, when they are spotted and captured by the United States Navy.

As ever, Flashman thinks on his feet and immediately assumes the identity of a secret Royal Navy agent on board who had been spying on Captain Spring. He bluffs his way out of capture and is taken aboard the American vessel, immediately being taken to Washington. In the American capital he bluffs his way through a number of glaring eyes, save for one, belonging to Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln can sense Flashman isn’t who he says he is, but lets him go anyway, and allows Flashman to be taken to New Orleans for the adjudication of the Balliol College as a witness. But that would almost certainly reveal Flashman’s true identity and so he does what Flashman does best in that situation – he runs! Holding up in New Orleans for a few days, he is soon taken in by members of the infamous Underground Railroad, for his assumed identity is plenty well known. Flashman is roped into smuggling a former slave on the run, a slave who is also highly educated and whose intelligence is valued highly. He tries, but it, as usual, goes wrong and he flees to a secluded plantation in northern Mississippi where he takes work as a slave-driver for a few months, but that also goes wrong when the owner of the plantation catches Flashman in the middle of something (or, rather, someone) and he is forced to run again. This time he has another running slave with him, a woman named Cassy, and the two flee across the southern states, creating even more trouble, to the Mason-Dixon Line and Ohio.

They almost make it to Ohio via paddle steamer until they are spotted by slave-catchers and forced to run again, fleeing across half-frozen lakes and rivers and into friendly territory. In Portsmouth, Ohio they find refuge with Lincoln, in town for a debate on abolitionism. Lincoln sees Cassy a safe passage north and out of the United States to Canada, but does Flashman a real turn and orders him to return to New Orleans and be a witness against Captain Spring, which would almost certainly reveal Flashman’s complicity in all those crimes as well. With no way out he returns to New Orleans and sits the trial, only Flashman doesn’t exactly play ball with the United States government this time and ruins their case against Captain Spring. The story is later continued in Flashman and the Redskins.

This is a truly great novel and one of the best in the Flashman series. It is full of twists and turns that leave the reader flying through the pages at a very quick rate. The supporting cast in Flash for Freedom! is excellent, though. Fraser went to great lengths to create a supporting cast with so many interesting distinct personalities that are fleshed out. Each person Flashman meets has their own voice which gives the novel a fulfilling touch. In many ways Flash for Freedom! is a social commentary on pre-Civil War America and heavily covers the slave issue and abolitionism. I don’t doubt Fraser spent an immense amount of time researching to properly construct the pro/anti-slave sentiments throughout the novel and he certainly had a very good understanding of the system and how it worked. So in that respect is an enlightening look into pre-Civil War America told within the scope of a simple yet very enjoyable plot with a wonderful cavalcade of supporting characters helping Flashman along his way. I very much loved it.

Lastly, with the novel’s subject being the Atlantic slave trade and, in effective, a social commentary of a country hurtling toward a civil war over the slave trade, it is little surprise that during Flashman’s time aboard the slave-ship and in the American south there is a hell of a lot of racist dialogue. “N****r” appears throughout, as it should. As good as Flash for Freedom! is I would not recommend any person who becomes uncomfortable with that word and the sort of racism to be expected read this, for it will most definitely put you off it. It doesn’t bother me because “n****r” doesn’t have that impact on me due to where I was born and raised, but I completely understand why some people will not like hearing it. All the same, Flashman explains the hell that those people would have endured aboard the ship and then hears it himself from the runaway slaves he meets in his travels, and it is an eye opening experience for him and the reader. When he meets slave owners, slave runners and slave catchers it gives readers an idea of what life must have been life in that part of the world then and the sort of people who happily committed such violence against fellow humans, despite them not being considered human. He sees the racism they receive and it changes his character a little, but all the same it is very much there and will probably upset people sensitive to it.

9.5/10.