Face The Strange: WWE And David Bowie by Ron Pasceri

It was one week ago when the world was mourning one of the great artistic pioneers of our time, David Bowie. His music, his style, his courage and his message will live on with those of us that shared a lifetime with him. Unfortunately to a lesser degree these things will live on with future generations that will live a life without David Bowie in it. As I read the Bowie related tweets and heard people talking about it, I was mourning something slightly different. I was regretting the fact that I didn’t fully appreciate David Bowie or immerse myself enough in the wonderful art he had created. Don’t get me wrong, there are songs in his catalog I love and listen to, but to me they were nothing more than that. I also knew him as the star that had a great cameo as the walk-off judge in Zoolander, played a really cool Nikola Tesla in The Prestige and had a hilarious turn in the Ricky Gervais show Extras. I hadn’t learned from him, hadn’t allowed myself to be inspired by him and I still regret that as I write this.

Regret is one of the most difficult feelings to deal with. For one it is inherently negative and in a lot of cases there is a certain finality to it. While I can spend the rest of my days on this earth digesting everything David Bowie has given us, I can never feel a true part of the Bowie experience. I thought about this for a few days and realized that I don’t want to feel this particular type of regret again. When met with something truly great, truly inspiring I will allow myself to consume it. After coming to that conclusion, I realized something else. Aspects of what David Bowie did as an artist, a performer and a human being are very similar to what WWE and pro wrestling as a whole are meant to be.

Bowie is known to many as someone who consistently pushed the boundaries of what music, fashion, sexuality and the human condition could be. He created larger than life characters and personas for himself which is sort of the essence of WWE. Whether it is the American exceptionalism of Hulk Hogan, the brightness and intensity of the Ultimate Warrior, the beer swilling, hell raising of Stone Cold Steve Austin or the “Never Give Up” attitude of John Cena, that is what they do. When they do it right, these characters resonate with people. We relate to them, we are able to live through them. We are able to love and hate them. Many people tuned David Bowie out solely for the judgmental perception they had of him. The same can be said for wrestling. How often have you been met with laughter when admitting you watch wrestling?

A lot of people don’t understand wrestling when in truth it’s very easy to understand. It is ultimately a battle of good versus evil, heroes versus villains. It is supposed to capture our imagination and take us on an emotional ride. It’s all about how it makes us feel. As a naive child I was filled with patriotic pride when Hulk Hogan won the title from Sgt. Slaughter for the United States. I felt a rebellious vindication as an angry 18-year old when Steve Austin first won the WWE title at WrestleMania 14. I had goosebumps when Daniel Bryan had finally overcome the obstacles firmly planted in his way by The Authority. I cried actual adult tears (only a couple, I swear) as Sasha Banks and Bayley tore the house down in Brooklyn in August. Those are all feelings that come rushing back the second I think of those moments. I will never lose those memories and feelings and I know everyone who reads this has a list of their own.

The other night I was with some friends who were legitimate Bowie acolytes. They were discussing about how certain lyrics of his probably saved some people’s lives or at the very least brought people some comfort or a sense that somewhere, someone understood them. The same can be said for a child dealt a hand like Connor Michalek. You can’t tell me that WWE and it’s Superstars didn’t give that child a sense of comfort, happiness and hope that he may not have found elsewhere. You can’t tell me that every child who has received a Make-A-Wish from John Cena or anyone else on the roster hasn’t been uplifted by this business. It’s one of the reasons I’ve changed my mind a bit on Cena and his character. What is more important, a grown man thinking a guy on TV is cool or a first grader having someone to look up to and inspire them? Another aspect of Cena I’m grateful for is that I could have avoided appreciating him, but he didn’t allow me to. He put on great matches for the entirety of 2015, making the United States Championship fun for the first time in years. A generation from now, whether we liked him or not, he will go down as one of the greatest performers in the history of WWE.

While David Bowie always remained on my periphery, one of my favorite albums is the Life Aquatic soundtrack by Brazilian singe Seu Jorge. Every song on that album was a Bowie classic, but they were all performer in Portuguese. That is how incredible this man’s work was, that I could listen to it in a language I neither speak nor understand but it affected me anyway. When wrestling is done well, which isn’t as often as any of us would like it to be, it can break barriers. It can be a force of unity. I can bridge the gap between age groups, gender, ethnicity, religious belief and even language. Austin 3:16 didn’t just say “I whipped your ass!” in English, it was understood by everyone who heard it. Similarly, Mick Foley being thrown off the top of the Cell needed no translation. Certain things, certain people can overcome the things that separate us. David Bowie was one of those rare people and WWE is capable of accomplishing that same feat.

While I can’t speak with any authority on the catalogue of David Bowie, or the entirety of his body of work, I can say that he touched many people. I can say that he was a treasure, a true star, a trailblazer and an innovator. While he said to “face the strange” he taught many of us to EMBRACE the strange. The strangeness in our world and more importantly the strangeness within each of us. Wrestling fans are viewed by many circles as a strange bunch, but we are no stranger than anyone else who likes anything else.

I admit that I have succumbed to my own inhibitions, fears and self doubt too many times. Even more time I’ve wasted pretending to be something or someone that I’m not. Most, if not all of us have. If nothing else, I am appreciative that I’ve learned this lesson from a man that many learned much more from. I am also appreciative for the fact that we have a form of art like professional wrestling that can teach us many of those same lessons and bring so many of us together.