Love in the Time of Macho Madness

One boy-man’s journey from the  sycophantic purgatorial dungeon of maudlin syndication of self to the freedom of fandom afterlife

“Heck you hurt my friends and you hurt my pride, I gotta be a man, I can’t let it slide” – Real American (Hulk Hogan’s theme song circa 1988)

I’m not going to lie to anyone: 1988 was a big deal to me. I was the undisputed champion of my own childhood, relishing the completion of my Late French Emersion Program at Cosburn Middle School, awarded with a brand new 18-speed banana yellow and electric blue Norco mountain bike, heading into the summer with my best friend and cottages and bike rides and slumming around our well manicured neighbourhood until the onset of me beginning high school lay blurry ahead in the hazy summer weeds, something intangible,  false and unreal.

As I handed my yearbook around for signatures that late June afternoon, I knew with acuity, I was one of the most watched, talked to and rotary phoned thirteen-year-olds of all time.

For the era, I was extremely cute, reddish-brown Ferris Bueller style hair, rosy cheeks, preppy clothing, and I had impeccable taste in Top 40 music (as well as some oldies such as The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel and Alan Sherman) television and film properties that churned in my ears, eyes and cerebral viaducts while Mountain Dew / Cream Soda blend 7-11 Slurpees churned in my stomach. In my mind it seemed, I was an invincible champion, socially flawless.  And in the magnificent magnet of popular culture, my two top-tiered glam heroes were poised to continue to dominate 1988 the way they had since January:  George Michael’s faith album was burning up the charts and reducing the grade six girls to tears as they signed their yearbooks and cleaned out their lockers on the second floor, his fourth single One More Try pouring down the hallway through the canvas of two hundred pairs of converse high tops, treetorns or leather sandals, while Randy “Macho Man” Savage had captured his first ever WWF championship at a tournament at Wrestlemania IV in March with the help of former champion and his new best friend, Hulk Hogan. He was sitting high on life, in a spread in WWF magazine, sitting pretty beside his big belt, tye-dyed shirt, bandana, sunglasses, jeans and cowboy boots as the sun set on the beach, with the caption “His first 100 days as champion” in distinct yellow font.

About a week before school finished, a few of the local schools met up for a track meet, and my classmate Juan Miranda, who I called The Juan Man Gang (cribbed from The One Man Gang) began to toss me around in front of a few of my friends. Suddenly I heard a big crash on the fence. Juan stopped shaking me around.

It was Andrew. “You better stop that,” he said.

In my mind of course, remembering it now, or even a few weeks after it happened, there was grand posing, there hand handshakes, and thousands of screaming fans and interviews after the fact.

It breathed life into the skeleton of my fantasy friendship with Andrew. He was aware we were friends, just not how I saw our friendship. The cracks however, were months away from showing themselves.

The summer of 1988 and all its pastel possibilities presented itself before me as I stepped down and pumped the pedal and crank of my new Norco bike and headed over to the park with Andrew.

In WWF wrestling storylines earlier in the year, Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan had formed a hyperbolic union of ego, body and soul called The Mega-Powers, and since I was shorter and dark-haired and Andrew was taller and blonde, I started to refer to our friendship as The Mega-Powers, Macho Madness and Hulkamania coming together to overcome all odds.

The timing seemed perfect: though I had partially outgrown my affection for wrestling, (I had seen Savage face Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat at a house show at Maple Leaf Gardens in the summer of 1986 with my brother and father, which included an appearance by Jake “The Snake” Roberts, the Junkyard Dog and the Elvis-inspired Honky Tonk Man) Randy Savage’s WWF title win and his subsequent friendly and highly enchanting interactions with Hulk Hogan set things up for to dive right into celluloid altitudes and sugary excitement, glancing at glossy photos of Hogan and Savage at the corner store while loading up on over-processed supplies. When Savage announced his tag team partner for Summerslam he said “I’ve got me a tag team partner. Andre The Giant and Ted Dibiase, I got me a tag team partner, and he’s the greatest tag team partner that anybody in the world could ever have. And here he comes right now…”

Hulk Hogan’s music played and he came out with a big nodding smile, and I was so grateful the little red REC dot was on my groaning VCR.

Back in reality/Leaside, Andrew and I would spend hours together watching horror movies, playing Dungeons & Dragons, biking, shopping, and occasionally would play wrestle with local kids in the neighbourhood. Once we dressed in matching clothing, (white Polo golf shirts and purple plaid shorts) his father calling us Fric and Frack and us having no clue as to what that meant.

We’d add the occasional WWF-based catch phrase and hand gesture for good measure to our budding friendship – up to a point. Reality always swerved things from ending, from being infinite between Andrew and I. Sailing lessons, a family dinner I wasn’t invited to, a weekend trip to Florida.

As we entered the final days of the summer of Macho Madness, complete with George Michael’s new upbeat single Monkey, (a special non-album version of was remixed for the radio and subsequent music video, a version Andrew convinced me he and his brother had remixed one afternoon. I beamed, ‘Wow you guys should send it to the radio’, a quote for which I’d be mocked over the next six weeks), I realized Andrew and I would be spending another year apart as he’d finish at his junior high graduating from grade nine then coming to Leaside for grade ten, while I’d be starting without him. We wouldn’t be riding the bus together everyday to our different schools, which were now not ten minutes but an hour away from each other.

One night in August we rented Wrestlemania IV on VHS and watched it in my basement bedroom on a small television Andrew brought from his house. We walked together from his place to mine, (it usually took 13 minutes, six by bike, 3 by car) carrying the television, pretending we were burglars, eating Reese peanut butter cups and carrying more snacks and bountiful supplies of excess.

We watched the over two hour event on video, taking turns lighting fireworks and cherry bombs around the corner or in my backyard.

The emotional and domestic heavy final shot of Wrestlemania was a teary-eyed virginal white gloved Elizabeth on the shoulders of her man, Randy Savage, as Hulk Hogan, clearly the third wheel, milking in the limelight just a little bit, pointing to the new champion and wrestling’s romantic “it” couple (only couple actually), setting up a dramatic third act for the rest of 1988.

Tensions and sexual innuendo fueled the summer as Hogan and Savage known as the Mega-Powers teamed up and defeated a variety of opponents. Throughout the summer, Hogan was positioned to get just a little too close to Savage’s real-life wife and on-screen manager the lovely Miss Elizabeth. In our own bizarre world of Mega-Powers, the closest thing we had to a woman breaking up our bond was either my mother or Andrew’s sister, or more reasonably, pornography.

School began and my nervous invisibility bloomed, I challenged the Macho Man once more, this time using him in grade nine drama class with a boy named Bobby, in which we had to pretend Macho Man was visiting his doctor to see what was wrong with his various moves. I can’t remember if I played the doctor, or if Bobby did, all I know is in rehearsal and in the hallways, I hated his imitation of Randy Savage, he sounded like he was drunk, talking in slow motion and was about to have a stroke. It wasn’t cool, it looked like Bobby’s head was going to explode, that he had some physical disability, or was possibly imitating someone with a disability, or it could be construed as such, and made me very uncomfortable because his manner of speech would attract people, people who didn’t know if he was exploding. They certainly didn’t think he was Randy Savage. The main thing was that he sucked at doing impressions of Savage and to me there was so much more to his character than his voice. I liked his body, his strategy and the things he’d say. He was intense but calm, passionate and never indifferent. Macho Madness was the subculture to Hulkamania, it was mysterious, psychedelic and crazy. There were no Macho Maniacs, we are all a part of “the madness”. It was grammatical, somehow.

People waited for Macho to finish speaking because he did it so often and so oddly. I admired that. Later on Arsenio Hall Savage would compare Hulkamania and Macho Madness by describing the former as a grain in the sand of the Sahara desert and Macho Madness being the whole desert. When Macho Man spoke I listened. When Hogan garbled on about training and vitamins and the earth splitting open whenever he walked down the street towards the arena, I thought it was too much, too inflated, too obvious. Macho Madness was about subtext and a nuanced approach to communication.

As fall 1988 unraveled, the creative team continued to push the Mega-Powers as the go-to source for storylines and marketing, putting Hogan and Savage at the top of every event and television segment. For many years the WWF up to this point had been centering story arcs around Hulk Hogan, using homosocial bonding and friendly narratives that would bend into jealousy and betrayal. 1988’s biggest storyline was whether or not Hogan and Savage could remain friends, as they were, in retrospect, the two biggest byproducts of white male entitlement in the history of ’80s wrestling.

I remember watching a passionate interview with Randy and Hulk that summer, my father playing solitaire beside me on the coffee table. When Hogan stuck out his arm to signify the handshake between the Madness and the Mania was about to take place, and said “the handshake that will unite us as one being…” my father snickered and snapped his tongue against his teeth, shook his head in dismay, perhaps solely for the fact that these television evangelists were making themselves out to be bigger than God almighty.

Things fell apart in early 1989.

On a major televised event, Randy Savage betrayed Hulk Hogan backstage by attacking him with the championship belt, the very belt Hogan had helped Savage win some nine months earlier. I immediately called Andrew, and we set up a friendly two dollar wager to see who’d win at Wrestlemania 5 in April.

The summer of 1989 was the bizarro summer of 1988. No cottage trips with Andrew. Strange family meltdowns with many neighbours watching and passing judgment. No matching outfits or memorable music. Macho Man was still on television, but was a bitter ex-champion poised to lurk in the sad shadows of Hulkamania forever.

Over the next four years, Andrew and I would rekindle and fall out of contact with each other, and my spiraled fanaticism into Macho Man’s identity became a symbol of my loneliness. I even built a makeshift ring jacket, the one he’d wear later in his career, less popular, with the fringe coming from the arms. I even spray painted a straw hat bright orange I had received as a gift from a relative who was in Cuba. I made video diaries dressed as Macho Man, challenging Andrew to a match, any excuse to hang out. I’d write him letters in Macho’s voice, and when I saw him would begin to speak in mannerisms of the Macho Man. To this Andrew would shake his head, reticent to participate in the fantasy I now lived in and go, “There goes Nate, Nate’s gone. You just disappear.”

In 2000 my mother called me and said she had found my “Macho jacket” and wanted to know if I wanted it or if she could send it to Good Will. I imagined someone buying it for a job interview, or even me for that matter putting it on and wearing it out of the house. Why had I chosen someone, who, in one regard, wore the brightest clothing and tried so hard to get the most attention on himself, when I had absolutely nothing to say? Was I a wrestling fan in the worst way possible? Was it all about me? Was my dedication to Macho Man Randy Savage a self-diagnosis for terminal depression or detachment from responsibility?

The two men’s trajectories into the zeitgeist are nearly inseparable. Countless videos and photographs demonstrate the longevity of their likeness in homemade costumes for both men, usually worn by men who were not even alive when Hogan and Savage wrestled each other for the first time in late 1985.

As for my video collection in storage, dozens of tapes have home video montages of me and Andrew and Hogan and Savage posing and posturing, playing road hockey and hanging out to a variety of miserable tunes including Bridge Over Troubled Water and All Those Years Ago and When We Was Fab.

One of these tapes is marked Death of the Mega-Powers. Andrew has a copy, or did.

Strangely the only mentions of Andrew I’ve ever heard over the last fifteen years were a citing by a mutual friend at Toys ‘R Us, and my mother telling me he was married with children and saw them all at Church one year.

In the fabric of popular culture, the sands of internet time if you will, fan sites and parodies show these two men still as buddies shaking hands and play fighting for all time despite the fact that Savage broke things off with Hogan about ten years ago over paranoid delusions of bad business.

Losing large in a nasty divorce with his wife Linda and settling out of court for his son Nick’s infamous car crash suit in which a passenger’s injuries resulted in permanent brain damage, Hogan has had more real life crammed into his life in the last four years than any hyperbolic wrestling storyline could provide, while save for a few appearances at local charities, getting remarried last year and a toy endorsement for Mattel, (not to mention a cameo in Spiderman in 2002) Randy Savage has been the JD Salinger of pro wrestling up to his death.

One of Hogan’s recent video messages regarding his fallen comrade Savage was touching, full of regret and maudlin sentiment. “The last time I walked down this beach with Macho Man we had our cell phones with us and they rang the whole time we tried to walk from here all the way down to the pier at Clearwater, and we laughed about it, saying we’ll probably never get to walk down the beach again, and that was about 15 years ago. We remained friends when we did the whole crazy WCW/nwo thing and had the world on fire again, but we never got to do that beach thing again.”

Hogan concludes the video clip by saying he would see his friend in the future, and knew exactly where he was and who was with him in heaven.

This detour from the scripted world of wrestling into a Youtube-posted video (not licensed by any wrestling property) shows that despite the script reading “friend” or “enemy” that these men did have an emotional bond that transcended the plastic world of commerce and gimmick, and in many ways, their friendship which has been mimicked and remembered, re-watched and dissected by super-fans for years, comes full circle and is commemorated by the ultimate fan, who just happens to be half of the subject and object himself, Hulk Hogan, posted on a media synonymous with “tribute” “fan video”.

After Macho’s death I tweeted to Hulk Hogan and thanked him for all he’d done for everyone over the years in Canada when he’d visit. I was reaching out to the closest thing I could to the man himself, to my real hero Randy Savage. Hogan tweeted back, “Thank you brother.”

Nathaniel G. Moore is the author of WrongBar and Let’s Pretend We Never Met among others. He is at work on an autobiographical novel called Savage and curating his first art show also called Savage this fall in Toronto where he lives. 

Edited by K Sawyer Paul

Originally posted in Fair to Flair September 23 2011.

SAVAGE: CULT OF PERSONALITY, PURE MEDIA & THE ART OF MACHO MADNESS

Opens Saturday, November 12 at 7:00pm – November 15 at 10:00pm

at the Whitehouse, 277 Augusta, 2nd floor.

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