There’s no more momentous occasion in the life of a young wrestling fan than choosing their favorite wrestler. Whoever you choose as your favorite wrestler will, and I find this to be absolutely true, affect the way you watch any professional wrestling program forever. That’s long-term thinking. In the short term, however, you just want your favorite wrestler to beat everybody because they’re the best. It is this emotion that drives the second track off of The Mountain Goats’ Beat The Champ, which was officially released today. John Darnielle, lead singer and chief lyricist of The Mountain Goats, has been on record for years saying that Chavo Guerrero (Sr.) is his favorite wrestler. Even the title, The Legend of Chavo Guerrero hints at the mythologizing of a professional wrestler by a young fan. This is one of four tracks on the album that are about specific figures that were part of Darnielle’s wrestling world growing up. The song itself starts off by giving some background on its subject, Chavo Guerrero, who was born in El Paso to father and middleweight champion of all Mexico, Gory Guerrero, patriarch of the legendary Guerrero wrestling family. It’s no big deal, he just invented The Gory Bomb and The Gory Special (A submission variant of The Gory Bomb). The Guerrero’s are one of the most important families in wrestling history, up there with the Harts and Von Erichs. The way the song lists off the names of all of Chavo’s brothers–Hector, Mondo and Eddie and then proceeds to brush them all off by saying, “Chavo meant the most to me,” it’s hard not to imagine a young version of John transfixed by a Chavo match.
The key emotion that wrestlers use to get a crowd invested in a match is hope, the hope that the good guy will overcome the dastardly bad guy and his cheating ways. Some may even argue that today, the biggest sports entertainment company in the world (WWE) uses that same type of hope in this case in a meta sense—hoping that their show will be worth three hours of your attention. But that’s not the hope that drives this song.Rather, it’s the first type of hope—the simple, pure and powerful hope of a child that his hero will overcome the odds and set all right in the small world between the ropes. With the chorus of this song: “Look high/It’s my last hope/Chavo Guerrero coming off the top rope,” Darnielle is able to showcase wrestling at its best; it’s an art form that can stoke the fires of this simple hope in even the most jaded fan.
Darnielle begins the second verse singing the praises of his childhood hero by listing off Chavo’s accomplishments. He says of Chavo, “He rose pretty quickly to the top of the game.” Darnielle isn’t joking. In today’s day and age it would be said that the eldest Guerrero brother was pushed to the moon with a rocket strapped to his ass. Our intrepid speaker also calls Chavo a “defender of the downtrodden” and “king of the hill.” With this rhetoric, it’s hard not to see Chavo as a hero, like the speaker does, because he speaks with such passion. Also in this verse, Darnielle is able use the last name of one of Chavo’s tag partners, Al Madril, (who Guerrero won the tag championships with in several organizations) as a nice rhyming couplet for king of hill from the previous line. That’s awesome. In the second half of this verse there is a switchover; we move away from Chavo Guerrero’s career and get more insight into who Darnielle was when he discovered the fantastical world of professional wrestling and Chavo Guerrero. The song continues, “Before a black and white TV/In the middle of the night/I’m lying on the floor/I’m bathed in blue light/With the telecast in Spanish/I can understand some/I need justice in my life/ here it comes. Those words describe something close to a religious experience. When you’re young and watching TV alone at night, firstly, it feels transgressive (a very powerful emotion when you’re young), and secondly, your relationship to the TV screen becomes extremely personal, as if you and it are the only two things in the world. That, in itself, is a euphoric feeling. On top of that, Darnielle is watching men in briefs beat the ever loving tar out of each other, and all the while a voice he doesn’t really understand is narrating the whole weird scene.
The most striking line in the second half of this verse is, “I need justice in my life.” On this front, wrestling is almost elementally simple; in the world of professional wrestling, good will always ultimately defeat evil. For the most part, wrestling is a simple black and white world. Very few people can work in shades of gray in professional wrestling; It’s not really a medium setup to work like that. Sometimes when a young person watches wrestling they’re looking for simple escapism into a world that is much easier to understand than our own. That can’t be underestimated.
In the song’s bridge, the picture the artist is able to paint is a heroic one: “Red Shoes Dugan/ holding his (Chavo’s) arms high all out of breath/ I hated all of Chavo’s enemies/I would pray nightly for their death.” This type of verbiage represents a child’s complete loyalty to a man he doesn’t even know. It is this sense of loyalty and belief in someone that make this song resonate deeply with me, because sadly, I am a jaded wrestling fan. I haven’t felt that way about any performer I’ve seen in 15 years. It’s a feeling I weirdly miss.
The next two lines of the song have a really interesting dichotomy to them: “Descending like fire on the people who deserved it most/Almost completely unknown outside of Texas and on the West Coast.” These two lines elegantly sum up what it’s like to be a wrestling fan when you’re young; you put your heart into liking somebody, and transform them into this strange avenging angel, like John does here. Nobody’s going to care about this wrestler the way you do. Either they have a different favorite wrestler or think your choice of favorite guy is dumb. Worse yet, they only think of wrestling as fake and don’t understand the appeal at all. The latter person is also likely to mock you for finding enjoyment in professional wrestling. These two lines showcase, for lack of a better term, the big smallness of being a pro wrestling fan. (Sidenote: I’d like to point out that one of Chavo Guerrero’s chief rivals was Roddy Piper, and I for one am grateful that the Lord didn’t listen to a young John Darneille’s prayers, because then Piper wouldn’t have had the chance to showcase himself on the national stage and become someone who, for my money, is the most underrated professional wrestler of all time. Plus, he was in They Live and I can’t imagine anyone except for Piper playing Nada.)
This song ends in the most Mountain Goats way possible. For those unfamiliar, John Darnielle had an abusive stepfather. This is a subject he wrote a whole album about after his stepfather died, 2006’s The Sunset Tree. It’s a fantastic album, definitely worth a listen. As Legend reaches its emotional zenith, Darnielle compares his stepfather to his hero saying, “He was my hero back when I was a kid/You let me down but Chavo never once did/ You called him names tried to get beneath my skin/Now your ashes are scattered on the wind.” The interesting thing here comes down to tone and not content. This is going to be very hard to explain, because the tone of Darnielle’s voice is angry, but it’s also very distant, tempered, and matter of fact. This is vindication for a younger Darneille. The good guy won because he’s still alive and the bad guy is dead.
The final lines of the song focus on Chavo’s son, Chavo Guerrero Jr., who is probably more well-known today than his father due to his work in World Championship Wrestling ( WCW) and WWE. Guerrero Jr., who I’m more familiar with than I am his father is a talented, if bland wrestler, often saddled with detrimental gimmicks like a hobby horse or being a white person. Thankfully, Darnielle doesn’t know any of this so he imagines a future in which father and son travel down the road together: “I heard his son got famous he went nationwide/Coast-to-coast with his dad by his side/ I don’t know if that’s true but I’ve been told / It’s real sweet to grow old.”
This is a song about relationships, whether that be the relationship between fan and wrestler or father and son. You don’t need to know who Chavo Guerrero was to understand what this song is about. If you do, that’s great. Not having appreciation for the art of the squared circle doesn’t stop you from connecting with this song.