This is up too many of my alleys.
John Darnielle, as tireless and prolific as he is, is no stranger to concept or theme albums. Whether it’s focused on his beloved recurring characters or taking cues from Bible verses, he can freshen up a batch of songs by turning his eye towards a goal and writing the hell out of it. He finds pockets of tender humanity and summons that discovery process in his listeners.
On his forthcoming, recently-announced album Beat the Champ, he turns his eye toward professional wrestling. As a central/inland California youth, Darnielle grew up watching a very specific type of pro-wrestling: the late night, territory-based, Spanish-language network, local access wrestling on a fuzzy CRT television. The song focuses on Chavo Guerrero Sr., also known as Chavo Classic, eldest brother of the legendary Mexican wrestling family of villains. The cartoonish nature and high suspension of disbelief actually makes pro-graps primo escapist material. That much is clear when the lyrics take a personal turn — “I need justice in my life / here it comes” — and there’s something about that nostalgic, desperate hope that makes the song. It’s about Chavo Guerrero, sure, but it could just as easily be about Spider-Man, Sherlock Holmes, the Detroit Pistons, or any hero-centric us-against-the-world fictional figure.
An aside: Darnielle has spoken on a few occasions about going to the Grand Olympic Auditorium in LA to watch good vs. evil play out in wrestling spectacle. The Olympic was also a notable boxing site, even for the movies, where it served as a film location for everything from Rocky to Million Dollar Baby. My own nostalgic connection to the building is as the site of my first real concert. Today it’s a Korean megachurch, not even a venue you can see a show in. It takes a song as wistful as “The Legend of Chavo Guerrero” to remind you what kind of magic a building is capable of, like some kind of long lost temple to callused fists and bruises.