Saturday, November 14, 2015

Dusty: Reflections of Wrestling's American Dream by Dusty Rhodes with Howard Brody

Why I Read It: I've been kind of stuck on memory lane, reliving my childhood, all the way down to Saturday morning television.

Summary: The life and times of one of pro wrestling's unlikeliest heroes.

My Thoughts: I took two things away from this book. Dusty Rhodes had a huge ego, but he balanced it with a self-deprecation that sprang from his own awareness of that ego. Second, there was an overall sadness to the book that stemmed from the fact that late in life Dusty lived in the past and couldn't shake it.

But what a fun ride.

Dusty's career spanned the 1960s to the 2000s, and as such he crossed paths with all the greats of the last half century. He moved from the territorial era to the modern day in which the industry is generally controlled by one man. He likened the old system to one run by the mafia - an idea I've since seen echoed on a film about World Class Championship Wrestling. Each local boss was a don, and you didn't cross him whatever you did. Ironically, a second theme - itinerant wrestlers being screwed out of money by local promoters - was echoed in a book I read by a stand-up comedian who lived the same sort of travel-by-day, perform-by-night life. Perhaps it was his simple upbringing in Austin, Texas (a place of dusty roads) or maybe that early struggle to collect what was owed to him, but Dusty definitely sticks to the theme of money throughout the book.

The most beautiful aspect of this book for me is the voice, and I don't mean that in the traditional artsy way of an author searching for one. Dusty had his speech patterns and mannerisms (and his lisp) that made you know, without even seeing the screen, that you were tuned into the right place. His voice was unmistakable. And so it was in this book. I could hear his words as if they were coming directly out of his mouth. It made the book fly. One line has stuck with me, making me giggle every time I think of it, but I can't repeat it here because of a few words in the sentence. It was just so Dusty.

Dusty Rhodes came, too, with a blurred racial story. He grew up in a mixed neighborhood, where the upbringing meant that race meant nothing to him; people were just people. He picked up a lot of African-American mannerisms that stayed with him throughout his career. It was something lost on me at the time, but I understand it now. In order to mock him, Vince McMahon, Jr., took a white wrestler known as the One Man Gang and turned him into a mumu-wearing "African Dream." When Ted DiBiase needed a "valet" to go with his "Million Dollar Man" gimmick, Vince assigned a black wrestler he named Virgil - as in Virgil Riley Runnels, Jr., Dusty's real name. When Virgil went to the rival company, WCW, he became Vincent.

Aside from the frustrations of an aging wrestler seeing his era pass, and once you get past the obvious ego issues, Dusty's recounting of his life is filled with love and good times. The man knew how to party and to just generally have fun. He makes outrageous claims throughout the book about his escapades that are supported by quotes from others involved in the episodes. His carriage race with Andre the Giant must have been a sight to see, two gigantic men with humongous afros dueling their way down a New York City street. One of my favorites is from Mike Graham, a Florida wrestler who took Dusty out on a boat. He instructed Dusty to hop off the bow and carry the anchor up the beach so they could ground the boat, and Dusty jumped too early. Sinking to the bottom, he turned and marched out of the water and up the beach, still clutching the anchor and without losing his baseball hat and cigar. Turning, he said, "Damn, is that really what you wanted me to do?"

There are touching aspects to the book as well, especially as they concern his family and his relationship with his son Dustin. If nothing else, Dusty lays it all out in this book, and doesn't mince words. And his legacy lives on, through his sons Dustin ("Goldust") and Cody ("Stardust").

Reading this book, one gets the notion that despite the odds, being born the plumber's son, digging ditches to earn his first wages, Dusty Rhodes laughed his way through life, like I laughed my way through his book.

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