With his Hall of Fame induction nearing, Macho Man Randy Savage's legacy deserves to be remembered on honest terms.
Art by Ben Passmore
"If all you women out there were forced to watch your man or your husband laid out, unconscious, facing even further injury... yeah. That might make you a little bit upset. That might make you a little bit over the edge. That might make you a little bit... insane, if you know what I mean.
"And if you men out there were forced to watch your wife, your woman, or your main squeeze, yeah, begging another man and then getting slapped by another man, that might make you a little bit upset. That might make you a little bit insane. But not me, snake man. Not me. Because I know what I'm going to do to you... tonight... You know something? Maybe I am insane. Maybe I am insane. And maybe it's time for you, Jake The Snake Roberts, to find out HOW insane I AM!"
Macho Man Randy Savage will be inducted, belatedly and posthumously, into the WWE's Hall of Fame this year. If I were to attend the ceremony I'd probably cry my eyes out, but in the abstract I find the news unmoving. The Macho Man they will induct is safely deceased, edges blunted by video repackagings, swaddled in decades of obscuring kitsch. They will induct a wacky, charming oddball, a funny character from the olden days.
That's not the Macho Man I knew, the wrestler who introduced me to wrestling, the icon whose exuberant might I yearned to armor myself with. He was funny, it's true; Macho had a tripped-out, free-associating sense of humor that befuddled his interviewers, but there was more to him than that.
I grew up in an austere media environment: I was forbidden television and commercial radio, and the internet didn't yet exist in any way that might've helped. Glimpses of pop culture were like porn, and I enjoyed exposure to both in the basement rec room of another latchkey kid I hung out with after school. It was there I first beheld Macho Man Randy Savage.
What was Macho doing when I first laid eyes on him? I have a vague impression of seeing him freak out during an interview, but it might have been a match, or even a Slim Jim commercial. What struck me and stayed with me was how powerfully strange Randy Savage was.
He was tanned to a color between tea and brick. His attire, his teeth and sunglasses, his mannerisms, and his grotesque muscularity were unlike that of any human being's I'd ever seen. Macho's torso and limbs were an overinflated, outlandish caricature of the jocks I snuck glances at in the locker room. He dressed in high-contrast checkerboard and stripes, a clashing confetti waterfall of neons. Dense rings of day-glo fringe churned and swished around him like a psychedelic carwash; spandex strips dripped from the studded collar around his waist-thick neck, draping his bulging, balloonish pectorals.
He was loud, flamboyant, an ostentatious fever-dream of everything I was WASPishly forbidden. There was nothing like Macho Man Randy Savage in my daily life, my surroundings, or my upbringing. He existed not just outside the world I knew, but apparently outside any relation to it. He was a combination of new possibilities that hadn't occurred to me; a different, clearly superior species.
I found more and more opportunities to see him. By junior high I'd built a network of kids at whose homes I could watch wrestling; if one was unavailable, I had multiple fallbacks. There were other wrestlers I liked--I was fascinated by Jake The Snake Roberts' capacity to instill fear, I was titillated and infuriated by Mr. Perfect's arrogance--but I loved Macho Man most of all.
Macho was all frenzy, all mannerism, gritted teeth and outrageousness, too bizarre to even pretend to be "normal," the normal I was continually punished for not being. And my fucking Christ was he strong. Insults and slights against the Macho Man ended with his antagonist being lifted overhead. He would twist them into screaming knots or break their back over his knee. He scrambled cat-quick up cages and chainlink fences, climbing to the highest point in the ring and pointing both hands up to heaven before arcing out through the air as if catapulted, hanging horizontally mid-flight while time slowed, a fireworks display of camera flashes popping around him--and then, BAM, he'd land with an elbow like a hammer dropped from space, a blow so hard his prone opponent folded convulsively around it, an impact that crushed ribs and stopped hearts.
That's what I wanted to do to a lot of people. I drew pictures of Randy destroying my enemies and, sometimes, fucking them.
Elizabeth, a fluff-haired doll-woman roughly as big as one of his arms, hung on Savage and batted her eyes at the camera from behind him. She made clear he wasn't queer, but that was besides the point. He was so tough and so crazy it didn't matter. He could be anything he wanted, and who would stop him? For a while he declared himself The Macho King, wore a giant bejeweled crown, and violently assaulted anyone who dared to poke fun at his delusion. The tendons on his neck emerged like orange extension cords from beneath his beard; his custom sunglasses let no light in or out--his eyes could be looking anywhere, or everywhere. Randy had no superego; he could not be contained. He was the puffed-out popcorn of the tight rage-desire kernel inside me.
I knew kids who read superhero comics, but I never could get into it. Those characters were just drawings, not real like Macho Man. I could also see, even from earliest adolescence, that Superman and his ilk were on the side of the establishment: magical, underdressed cops enforcing a wholesome all-American status quo. I experienced that same status quo directly and daily as a crushing, isolating conformity. I hated it, and I hated anyone who pretended it was any good. Those comic book heroes reminded me of Hulk Hogan: super-powerful, super-pious.
Macho Man wasn't like that. He was petty and paranoid, the 20th century version of some intemperate Greek God. He stewed in a constant simmer of tantrum, his twitching tics and rasping, bending vowels expressing those raw, "immature," "unacceptable" impulses and whims that constantly fought (and generally lost to) fear and self-consciousness in the private ring of my psyche.
Macho worked best when he had a foil. His usual backstage interviewer, Gene Okerlund, was small, reasonable, and po-faced, a perfect straight man. Randy reliably scandalized him by goofing around, talking far-out nonsense, or flying into a rage. Despite Gene's tut-tutting, you could tell he liked Savage, or at least respected what he was capable of. By contrast, among Macho's prominent in-ring rivals was the terrifying Jake The Snake Roberts, a cold-blooded psychological manipulator who oozed contempt. Jake spoke in a sinister whisper and always seemed unflappably in control, always one smirking step ahead. Jake knew better; he was smarter; his was the voice of superiority, inexorable as an icy dawn. He was in many ways the anti-Savage, and his calculated cruelty was the more appalling because it made my hero, the unmodulated, impulsive Macho Man, seem unnervingly like a buffoon.
When Randy lost, my heart ached. I was there with him, beaten down, humiliated, and angry. I longed for revenge with him and on his behalf. I counted down the days until I could see Macho wreak his psychotic vengeance on whomever had laid him low, and when Savage flipped out and screamed at the camera, frothing and incoherent, babbling threats and imprecations, my blood sang. In my mind I fought alongside him, or as him; his victories were mine. That the matches were predetermined couldn't have mattered less. All that mattered was Randy, doing and being everything he pleased, smashing anyone who disputed his right to whatever he wanted.
I am in some respects far removed from the younger self who fell in love with Macho Man. I have pubic hair now. My back hurts. My wild dreams are tempered by bitterness; my face sags. I can drive a car. I've "gone all the way" in more or less all the ways. Maybe most importantly, where I once merely suspected that teachers and other grown-ups were basically full of shit, I now know they are. Worse, I can no longer hate them for it, because I've become one of them--as feckless and compromised as any of the adults I once despised.
But Macho Man remains iconic and ideal, untainted by change. I can still see him, filmed from above: the audience is invisible in darkness, and the spotlight is on Savage. He's icy with sequins, spinning in the center of the ring as he did before matches. His arms are outstretched, trailing bright streamers; he looks like the blades at the base of a blender. He's a buzzsaw whirling through space and time, through the rotten world's televised guts.
Randy transcends any Hall of Fame. They can't induct what Macho Man really was, or what he meant to fans like me. Randy's position is secure, anyway. To paraphrase one of his most famous promos, he's crossed the bridge, and he's in the stars, shining brighter than all the others. We on Earth can label stars, gerrymander them into constellations, navigate by them or not, honor them or not, but what we say and feel about them matters only to us--we cannot reach them, and we cannot dim their luster.