Brody: The Triumph and Tragedy of Wrestling’s Rebel
by Larry Matysik and Barbara Goodish
Shelton Hull was dead-on correct-o in his recent review of The Heels – there’s not terribly much out there to cheer today’s wrestling fan. From the chilling Benoit family tragedy, to the recent suspension of what seems like half of the WWF’s roster in the face of pending steroid scandals and congressional investigations – it’s grim. You just want to be impressed with a good promo, a good match… a good book?
It’s increasingly ironic that, since the WWE is the only game in town and they’ve gobbled up the tape libraries of many of the once-great territories (AWA, WCCW, FCW), wrestling fans increasingly must turn to the printed page to satisfy their jones for (a) decent wrestling and (b) a non-McMahon centric view of the history of the biz. ECW Press has succeeded on both accounts in the past and they’ve definitely hit it out of the park this time around with an absolutely STELLAR biography of wrestling’s wildman, and a true rebel till the end, the mythical Bruiser Brody.
Picture it, you’re settled into your seat at some nameless Sportatorium somewhere around the county, circa maybe early 1980s, ready to catch some rasslin’ when suddenly you feel a chill up the back of your spine, subtle at first, slowly growing. You don’t know what it is, can’t see or hear anything out of the ordinary and then…. BOOM… out of one of the entryways storms a twelve-foot tall Viking madman, clad in animal fur, swinging a heavy chain around and around, pushing fans out of the way recklessly, every stomp shaking the whole arena, maybe you get a close look at his face as he streaks by, mostly obscured by a tangled mane of long, curly hair, maybe you get a look at a broad forehead cut and scarred for maximum crimson mask, and the eyes, those demented eyes….
Bruiser Brody: wildman of wrestling. Along with Abdullah and the Funk brothers, he put on some of the wildest, most unpredictable matches of all time. And he was NOT afraid to bleed. Bruiser Brody: prototype for such influential wrestlers as the Undertaker and Mick “Cactus Jack” Foley. Bruiser Brody: last of the independents. The only one that got away from Vince McMahon (not Lawler, not the Von Erichs, not Dangerously, not the Funks). Bruiser Brody: an agile athlete, who greatly expanded the expectations and potential for “big men” wrestlers (check that drop kick), whose tapes are still reportedly shown to bigger dudes getting their start in the WWE. Bruiser Brody: arguably the most influential gaijin wrestler ever in Japan. Still treated with the reverence of a minor deity. I can personally attest to that, as several trips to Tokyo’s wrestling shops yielded a small fortune of Bruiser Brody souvenirs – trading cards, action figures and his rabid mug staring at me from the cover of scores of wrestling mags. Bruiser Brody: his tough, savage demeanor masked a calculating intelligence and sense for the business, which led to him being both a highly sought after free agent and backstage manipulator, making fellas like Kevin Nash look like pikers (man’s got to protect his lifeblood).
Those are the sides of Brody that Larry Matysik brings to the table. He was a booker in St. Louis and longtime friend of the big man. He tells the tale of Bruiser Brody, professional wrestler, with a mix of reverence and candid honesty. Young Frank Goodish decided football wasn’t for him and followed buddies like Terry Funk and Stan Hansen into the ring. From there he blew up the wrestling world as Bruiser Brody, the most popular free agent in wrestling history, appearing in promotions all over the world and thrilling audiences. So while we have a sympathetic slant on Brody’s clashes with promoters over doing jobs and wrestlers over protecting his gimmick, we also get funny stories about him displaying a Mick Foley-like cheapness by bringing cans and cans of tuna on the road to eat in his hotel and wowing businessmen on airplanes with his erudite understanding of investing and markets. Also interviewed are confidantes and wrestling mainstays like Gary Hart, Buck Robley, Terry Funk and Jim Ross. Not a bad word is heard about the man. Brody was no dope. It also falls to Matysik to try and reconstruct the Rashomon-like sequence of events that culminated in the murder of Bruiser Brody at a wrestling event in Puerto Rico. Even now, it’s still goddamn grim and sad reading.
Brody’s widow, Barbara Goodish, tells the parallel story of Brody the family man, aka Frank Goodish. How the Wildman of Wrestling would disappear once he walked through those airport doors and be replaced by the softer features of the gentler giant Goodish. The stories of Brody interacting with his son, are particularly affecting as is the heartbreak that the traveling wrestler lifestyle played on their young family, to say nothing of his violent, untimely death. But there’re plenty of good times too – memories of the oversize Brody trying to put toys together late on Christmas Eve or Bruiser Brody making an unannounced appearance at a child’s birthday party, to the thrill of everyone present.
Basically, Brody became the Jimi Hendrix of wrestling, a fearless and iconic innovator who died in his prime, frozen forever in time at the height of his powers, not a broken husk hawking autographs on the nostalgia circuit after having been buried with some sort of singing plumber gimmick by Vince McMahon. New generations of fans are still vibing on tapes of his matches, and it can only be a matter of time before he is spoken of in the same breaths as men like Flair, Rhodes and Funk – this book will go a long well towards that goal – giving a dose of truth to the mists of legend. His insistence on total independence, sharp mind for how the business worked and keen understanding of the fact that life did not begin and end inside the ring make Brody an ever-more important and inspirational figure within the wrestling sideshow. This book should be required reading for every wrestler currently trying to “make it” in the WWE and TNA – and I should hope it encourages long bouts of self-examination and introspection from all involved. And for fans? Read it and weep. This is the real stuff.
Warm forwards from the WWE’s Jim Ross and premiere wrestling journalist Dave (nephew of Richard Aesthetics of Rock Meltzer) Meltzer round out Brody’s story, stressing his importance in both their lives and his continued relevance today as an innovator within the squared circle. Oh yeah, the generous pictures sections? Fucking kudos, man.
ECW Press: http://www.ecwpress.com