On Adolescent Longings and Marty Jannetty

I’ve been trying to figure out how to write this post for quite a while. This is deeply personal and highly sensitive, the sort of thing I’ve learned I’d best keep my trap shut about on the interwebz (lolol). But in light of recent events, I’ll just cut to the chase here: circa 1989-90, when I was in eighth and ninth grade, I had an intense, aching crush on Marty Janetty.

Marty Janetty was my kind of babyface. I had no use for Shawn Michaels, who was his tag team partner in The Rockers (in case you somehow didn’t know). I mean Shawn Michaels was cute and all, but eh. As time went by and Shawn went on to become such a monumental hotshot I was never a huge fan, because seeing him only made me wonder what ever happened to Marty. Look, there’s no accounting for one’s adolescent longings. Marty was the one in whose eyes I saw a kind of sweetness, something that called to me and only me. I’m tired of overanalyzing everything and I just want to own this so the wound that’s festered for decades can finally heal. For that reason, I will no longer remain silent about my adolescent love for Marty Janetty.

I was blessed to be going to house shows with my dad during that era, blessed because those shows were sparsely attended enough that if you had your ducks in a row you could get good seats, even ringside, for a reasonable price without having to sacrifice a goat or anything of that nature. This was a few years before the Monday Night Wars and the rise of ECW, so the WWF product was painfully formulaic and stagnant, but I didn’t care one bit. It was the epoch of peak Hulkamania and cornball chicanery—the Honky Tonk Man was doing his Elvis impersonator shtick and smashing guitars, Rick Martel was squirting people with some noxious cologne from a baby blue garden pump-sprayer, Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake was always threatening to chop off people’s hair with hedge-clippers—but there was nothing like it anywhere else in my mundane life. Here was a live show in which these garishly costumed dudes really lived this bizarre life that revolved around these dance-like fights; it was one of life’s biggest mysteries to me. And you could still watch in a haze of kayfabe back then. I mean, my brain knew it wasn’t “real”, but my heart insisted it simply had to be.

We always got seats with access to the entrance ramp, and many of the wrestlers made a point to slap your hand if you ran over there and stuck it out. I remember my two most coveted hand slaps were from the Ultimate Warrior (from whom you got the slam of his sprinting body against your intrepid arm more than a hand slap per se) and Marty Janetty (who took time and care with his hand slaps, smiling, so benevolent, looking honored and touched that we the marks would grasp for a brief moment of his touch).

I felt so strongly about Marty Janetty. Somehow it really worked for me that his hairstyle was that one that’s somewhere between mullet and butt-rock, and at a time when both of those looks were several years past their prime, at least in my town. It betrayed some kind of vulnerability, made him relatable. And his smile, his smile was so authentic. His smile didn’t mock or judge. Also, I loved those outfits:

The thing about this fashion was, I could really dig it at that time. The contrast of zebra print and multicolored streamers was still novel in that era, bold even. This stuff was not yet ironic or comical, not to me, anyway. These were still the wardrobe choices of heartthrobs. They dressed like this to cater to the adolescent demographic, you know they did. I use to cut pictures of The Rockers out of the mags and stick them on my walls next to Corey Haim and INXS (yikes, take from that what you will).

After a while my life filled up with other stress and angst and I wasn’t following wrestling so closely, but when I did check in on it, I would discover Shawn Michaels in the process of becoming the iconic Heartbreak Kid and Mary Jannetty gone, long gone. Oh, I know now that he was in and out of trouble and having fits and starts of problematic wrestling booking, but to the best of my knowledge back then he had vanished without a trace.

You kids these days, you don’t know what it was like back then, how hard it was to know what became of a wrestler. There was no internet, no wiki. I was barely a teenager; I had no access to dirt sheets. I watched WWF as much as I could catch it, and sometimes spent my allowance on wrestling magazines at the grocery store. That was the extent of my ability to know wrestling things. Eventually I heard rumors about Marty’s troubled career, long after my kid heartbreak faded into the overall vacuous existential pain of teenage life and I trained myself to stop having feelings in general. But I never made sense of my beloved Marty’s fall from grace, just shoved it to the back of my mind with all the other disappointments I was collecting like Lisa Frank stickers during that stage in my life.

I know Marty has had more than his fair share of misadventures on his journey, but his smile was something I needed in those awful sucking years, when I was a freckled and redheaded junior high kid awkwardly trying to style myself like an extra from The Lost Boys, and getting brutalized by the cool kids for it. Here’s the only photo I could find from that era to give you a sense of where I was at:

Trying so hard with that hair that never quite got to where it was going, eyes full of hopes for better things to come in the nineties (HA!), and always cautious who I trusted with my sheepish, exuberant love of wrestling.

In the year 2017, when everything is simultaneously on the brink and up in flames like so–

–I am so grateful that Joey Janela made the effort to put Marty Jannetty over with such love and care recently at the gloriously meta Joey Janela’s Spring Break. Imagine, Joey got genie Scott Hall to come out of a lamp (or maybe it was more of a teapot?) and his most inspired wish was to wrestle Marty Jannetty. What an incredible fucking compliment for a special wrestler who was at serious risk of being relegated to a footnote. If you haven’t seen it, check out this very reverent vignette:

Joey Janela vs. Marty Jannetty was, I will admit, precarious to watch. I was having all sorts of raw feelings, and I was worried about Marty getting damaged. And commentary was ruthless with their jokes about Marty spiking his Irish coffee with formaldehyde and so forth, though such barbs were of course necessary to articulate Marty’s authentic wrestler story, necessary to provoke a pure carny-nostalgic response. That match’s story was really such a delight, with that series of ref bumps and run-ins and culminating in an absurdist Earl Hebner/Virgil duality. It was a match booked with love, which is what every old superstar deserves.

I was actually a little surprised that I could still see the sweetness in Marty’s smile beneath his age and pain. Turns out he’s still my wrestler, and I’m just fine with that. Just like I had to learn the hard way in junior high: haters can suck it.

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One Comment

  1. John Dvorak
    May 4, 2017

    “Jannetty tried to dive through the window to escape! What an act of cowardice!”

    Jannetty stands as such a great “what could have been” story in wrestling history. I remember as a kid watching his Intercontinental Title win vs. Shawn Michaels on Raw–a fitting comeuppance for the barber shop betrayal–and thinking how he was on the cusp of a huge push. Instead, he loses a rematch to Michaels a few weeks later and quietly disappears. It gets me thinking how the kayfabe landscape is riddled with so many stories and gimmicks never brought to proper closure. In wrestling canon, it’s as if they’ve never existed. From a business standpoint, this forward-looking philosophy makes sense: Of course you get the Gobbledy Gooker off of TV when it’s clear the gimmick is failing. But for those of us who love the storytelling–no matter how outrageous–these incomplete threads compromise over time the satisfaction we ultimately get from the product.

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