on September 16, 2016
Bret Hart was my favorite professional wrestler as a kid. As someone born in 1984, I was born into two golden ages of professional wrestling, being young enough to fall in love with the super hero, larger than life characters of the 1980s, coming to appreciate the technical ability of the "new era" early 1990s, and then being the target audience for WWF's turn towards the raunchy in the Attitude era. I marked hard for basically every angle up until I was 16, and Bret Hart's autobiography is written for those fans who followed his career.
The book is surprisingly well written, and seems to authentically be coming from Hart. It lacks most of the cliches that are inflicted on readers in other wrestling autobiographies, but Hart does stray into some tiring analogies especially at the end of each chapter. The mood of the book is largely melodramatic, which can be tiring, but melodrama seemingly followed Hart for most of his career and so its apt.
The book is written for someone who understands the world of professional wrestling and is beyond the premise of works and shoots. Even if you're not a smark, if you just know what a smark is, then the book is written for you. Hart struggles with the tone of the book and who it is written for, at times going into depth explaining the intricacies of the business as if the book is written for a mark, but then in the next paragraph using industry lingo that even a seasoned dirt sheet veteran would have to look up. Hart does this also when he name drop lesser known wrestlers without mentioning their gimmick, but then will reinforce the gimmick for wrestlers everybody knows. When Hart talks about Dwayne Johnson, he seemingly always reminds the reader that Rocky Maivia would go onto become The Rock, which is something that even non-wrestling fans known, but then Hart will constantly mention people like Carl Demarco ("Carlo") without giving the context of who they are. Hart mentions his relationship to Carlo early in the book, but after having dozens and dozens of wrestlers names dropped, he doesn't follow up with Carlo's relationship with WWE, himself, or others. For even a seasoned smark like me, I found myself having to use the Kindle's look-up feature often.
But what is most interesting about Hart's autobiography is actually the story he doesn't tell, it's a look inside the mind of Bret Hart, and how he sees himself and the world around him. Now, mind you, I was a huge Bret Hart fan throughout my childhood, and I am exactly the fan that Hart felt the wrestling industry was moving away from. I *hated* Jerry Lawler as a kid, I didn't like DeGeneration X when they feuded with Hart, I even didn't like Steve Austin during his Hart feud, it's tough to find a bigger mark for Bret Hart than I was as a 12-year-old. But as an adult, it slightly depressed me reading the book because Hart's portrayal of every event in his life shows someone who is not able to take responsibility for things that he should legitimately take responsibility for. Hart seemingly assumes too much blame for things that he should not take responsibility for (like the death of his brother Owen), while looking for a scapegoat with events in his life that he alone had control over, most notably, his numerous extramarital affairs that he goes into great depth covering in the book. Hart admits to having affair after affair, but always excuses them -- the road, his wife's seeming mental instability (Julie gets absolutely shredded throughout the book, and it sounds like she's bipolar), events behind the scenes.
This inability to accept responsibility plays out in Hart's business dealings in the WWF as well and how he manages his angles and relationships with other wrestlers. He has an inability to accept even partial responsibility for some of the negative turns in his career, incessantly projecting blame to other wrestlers, McMahon, the Clique, Hogan, or any other actors that he faces throughout his career. This is apparent in interviews that Hart gives today, particularly if you watch the round table discussion between Jim Ross, Hart, and Shawn Michaels about their relationship: Michaels, for all of his faults in his career, seems to have accepted his wrong doing and wants to make up for it. Hart, on the other hand, seems intent on restating what he's stated throughout his career and is unable to move on from events which he likely has at least partial responsibility for. I can only imagine that when Hart expresses how he's slighted throughout the book that this same mental block that he has accepting partial responsibility motivated some of those events.
As a Bret Hart mark and with a profound respect for his ability to craft a character (something that he steadily improved on throughout his career), part of me has always yearned for Hart, Vince, and the other huge names in professional wrestling, to reveal that Harts career (and everything around it) was one big work, to quote Hogan, that I'm such a jabronie mark that I can't tell when a work is a work and when I've been worked into a shoot. It's one of those death bed confessionals that the mark in me would love to hear: "Michaels, McMahon, and I worked a 20-year shoot," but reading Harts autobiography is such a compelling look into the often depressing world of professional wrestling and the personality of Bret Hart, that it has entirely dispelled that dream of mine.
From a simple product review point of view, I would give the book 5 stars but it isn't without faults (other than the personality faults of Hart). Hart spends an inordinate amount of time detailing dozens of matches early in his career. He mentions how he maintained a journal throughout his career, and this absolutely shows, as he recalls specific spots, reactions, and the outcomes of so many matches that no person could recall that. While these details provide a true panorama of Bret Hart's career, it comes at a cost, as Hart seemingly has to rush through some of his most memorable feuds and in some of the strongest spots in his career. For instance, Hart will talk at length about matches in the 80s in New Zealand, Australia, Puerto Rico, or the circuits in Canada and the United States, but then fails to go into any real depth about some of his most memorable feuds like with Jerry Lawler, which was a two year feud and one that defined Hart's face character in the early-to-mid 90s. This is a probably a combination of needing to rush through the meat of his career to expand more on the beginning, the turning point ("The Montreal Screwjob") and the end, and possibly Hart building a narrative about being the WWF headliner at the time. The details about his early career are appreciated from a broader perspective, but while Hart will go into depth about many forgotten wrestlers from the 1980s in the NWA or independent circuits, he doesn't provide that same perspective for much of the mid-90s WWF talent. If 'Hitman' were a wrestling match, Hart might have to agree that he might have spent too much time building the storyline to a match with technical mat wrestling in the beginning, only to rush through the climax with a botched finisher.
Still, I would recommend this book to anybody who has a deep interest in the history of professional wrestling.