When God decided to ring out the Rapture and lift His people from the earthly realm at the Eve of the end of the world, Randy didn’t wait for the bell – he launched a bionic elbow from the top rope of corporeal existence before the fight even started. Leave it to the Macho Man to greet the End of Days with a folding chair and a grimacing smile.
In all seriousness, against the backdrop of this weekend’s surreal end-of-the-world social narrative, it seems fitting to frame Randall Poffo as leading the way with his very own, unmatched enthusiasm. Poffo is the birth name of Randy Savage - the legendary, widely beloved professional wrestler. Randall died from a heart attack suffered behind the wheel of his car this morning.
Randall’s death is sad and a great loss, but as so many people seek to repent for lives led other than how they believed they might in anticipation of an imagined reckoning, it is worthwhile to consider someone who stood as a symbol for living life to the greatest extent it might be lived, even in the face of a very real one.
I hope Mr. Poffo doesn’t mind being referred to by his stage name – it is the only way I ever knew him (except as Bone Saw) – and I suppose when we consider how well we can really know anyone, that is close enough.
Macho Man always struck me as a wrestler of the ring – a performer who didn’t seek to transcend wrestling, like contemporaries Hulk Hogan or Andre the Giant, peace be upon him, but to give it life – to embrace with all the urgency of existence the role of the agent – the person – the energy – that give wrestling its immediacy and, ironically enough, its authenticity.
When I refer to the authenticity of professional wrestling, I’m not referring to the strength, endurance, risks or other physical realities of completing its acrobatics, I’m not talking about the real blood or real sledgehammers, and I’m not talking about its cultural authenticity as a homegrown theatre art – indeed the strangest, most popular form of native improvisation to come out of the Western Hemisphere.
No, I refer to the vital energy imbued into wrestling by the performers who invest themselves into it fearlessly – who create in the squared circle a space to heighten and explore human will and the vitality of the moment. Macho Man was always among the most vital of wrestlers, the most alive of performers – and even in the times in his life when excess brought with it hardship or sadness (especially the loss of his once-wife, the late great Miss Elizabeth – perhaps the grandest and most sincere romance in the history of the art), it is a worthy message to we the living that we can fill life with being alive to the point of overflowing. In the echoes of this simple act is where we find ideas of glory – and in the moments when Macho Man was under the lights, there was a theatre of redemption.
I always liked the Macho Man’s relative humility. While the energy of Hulkamania came from hero worship and the Hulkster’s relationship with the crowd (and not to diminish it), Macho Madness comes from the Macho Man’s desire to inhabit himself, not to be loved. He didn’t have his own song, he used “Pomp and Circumstance.” He wore a heavy beard and covered his face in promos; it was never about adoring the Macho Man, about transferring one’s own participation in life to the Macho Man, about the Macho Man’s superiority or fame, but about the Macho Man’s personal energy – his sense of humor, his love of entertaining, his frenzy for the ring, his “Oh yeah!” approach to any challenge he faced.
Macho Man was one of the wrestlers I always preferred to play as in video games – rather than, say, The Undertaker or The Ultimate Warrior – I didn’t want to be Randy Savage; I wanted to do what he did.
We could all do with a little more “Oh yeah!” in our lives. Hunched over our computers or buried nose-first in our smartphones, there’s a promise in “Oh yeah!” that speaks to a need in all our hearts.
The Tower of Power
His appearances on Arsenio Hall are still a joy to watch – he hides himself behind his character, but he’s still full of fun, humanity and wisdom. Here he is in 1992:
And here he is again in 1989:
And lest you doubt the Macho Man’s artistic complexity, his use of “Space is the Place” as a catchphrase and his getup in general are compelling references to other celebrators of life and transformative entertainers – Afrofuturist jazz and funk musicians like Sun Ra and Bootsy Collins. I hope someone asked Macho Man while he was alive what his feelings were about these artists – and that I get to track it down someday. It probably has something to do with drugs. I hope he really loved the music.
At any rate, it’s quite the influence to pull into professional wrestling, but funk can come from unlikely places.
We can laugh and joke about how the world isn’t ending this weekend, but it is important to remember that things do end – even things with the inexhaustible energy of Macho Man Randy Savage. May we take from life the lesson Randy tried to teach us – to take joy in our madness, to do what we love to do as hard as we can, and to embrace the moments of glory, love, and authenticity even in lives that can feel irretrievably lost in fictions of our own and others’ design.
May we all have cause to call out “Oh yeah!” as long as we live, even if we don’t find the same regular opportunity or perfect intonation. And, like Randy and Miss Elizabeth, if we choose to love, man or woman, for man or woman or whatever, may we not care how ridiculous it seems, because, in the end, love never really looks ridiculous, even when it really, really does:
“Oh yeah,” indeed.