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Kelly Michael Kelly. The a 'Kempis Connection. All the Things We Never See. The Train Robber. I wanted nothing more than to get in there and let my fantasies run wild. But it also meant standing up in front of everybody and revealing how bad a wrestler the son of Earl Black was. Dave showed me how to run the ropes by planting your standing foot, making a pivot, falling into the top ropes with your mid back and then bounding in three measured steps across the ring before pivoting and repeating the process. While the timing and pacing were difficult to get right, what was harder was the ropes themselves against the tender flesh of my upper and mid back.
Maybe it was how implausible rope running looked in terms of a fight but the actual physics of it were painful. The ropes were hard. Taunted by the wingnuts of the turnbuckles and the tension applied to the structure by ratchets and cabling beneath the ring.
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The propulsion was real. What you needed to do was attack the ropes. But this meant throwing your back into the cheesewire whilst remembering your footwork and whatever high spot you were supposed to be running at that moment. When I just about had the hang of rope-running in an old-man-walking kind of way, Dave introduced the sleeps and leaps I had earlier derided. Had he read my mind? Was my dislike of them so obvious?
I had to do thirty in total, seamlessly, sleeping and leaping while my opponent ran the ropes back and forth.
I got halfway and collapsed. I felt a little dizzy and my skin whitened. My heart beating hard, I panted, pissing sweat. Then he pointed his camera at me and started taking snaps. When I was training with Dad in the field all those years before, I played football three or four times a week to the point where I worried it was stopping me gaining muscle.
I would do four workouts a week on the weights, not lifting heavy, more high-intensity circuit training. I was lean, hard bodied, with a six-pack. Once the session had finished all the trainees sat crossed-legged on the mats and Andy invited Dad over to talk about how to make it as a wrestler and to take any questions. Dad told his favourite stories.
He told them not to worry about getting six-packs and to eat meat, fish, eggs and cheese and plenty of it. I said nothing, watched from the sidelines and thought about how good this felt.
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Seeing Dad in his element. Talking about the glory days. Instead of making my own I had become dissociated from spontaneity, the originality of our family trade, the aliveness of being in the ring, of having a body and performing.
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After he had finished the boys formed a queue around the gym and took it in turn to shake his hand and thank him for coming. On a stage in a tent in a park, a band is playing. They are not the main act that day. The guitarist has dyed blonde hair and is wearing a black, figure-hugging outfit. She keeps grinning at the audience, while the other members look dour. The singer in particular does not look happy. His vocal style is to make a guttural sound from the front of his mouth and drawl the words. The music has a chugging beat with variations in tempo. I am Two years later I see them live again.
I know their work better now. Their sound is like a bolt of energy matched by the growling surreal poetry of the lyrics. After a decade of playing small clubs, releasing music on independent labels and airplay on late-night radio, finally they are getting mainstream recognition and the gig is in a medium-sized venue.
Success is stifling their creativity. The next one is just a few months later and they have a ballet dancer on stage for some of the performance. A year and a half after that I see them for the fourth time.
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The guitarist has left and without her, some of the colour has gone from the band. Five years pass before the next time. His face is getting lined and his stage presence is less contrary; he seems more comfortable playing the part of the alternative entertainer. Surprisingly, the guitarist who had left has now returned. This gig is in a small club and the band has two drummers and no guitarist. The music is relentless beats, not trying to please anyone. So, eight years pass and I am 34 when I attend another of their gigs.
The musicians have all changed, and they are a lot younger than the singer. The new keyboard player stands at the front. She keeps her eyes down and occasionally adds vocals in a Germanic accent. She is a steadying force on stage. He is disdainful of everything, including the success and praise he receives. With his band, he does what all great artists do; he shows his audience how to see the world in an original way; how to find magic in the mundane. And he does it with great wit; he mocks popular culture and people who want to be part of a herd.
Listening to his work is liberating and makes me happy. A year later I see them again for the eighth and final time. This gig is in another small club. Their low-key success never changed; big crowds and large album sales were not their aim.
They were ambitious in a creative sense, always developing and pushing themselves artistically, but not commercially. At this gig, I finally experience the moody side of the singer. He is not happy with something about the sound and he walks off after a few songs. The musicians carry on without him for a bit, then they also leave the stage.
More years pass and I am I walk into the staff room of the school where I work. A newspaper is on the desk and on the front page is a photo of the singer.
Under the picture it says, to And I wonder to myself how many times I saw him and his band live.