TV

'Finding Hulk Hogan': High Drama

This Hulk Hogan is looking back on the dissolution of his marriage, the implosion of his family, and the failure of his own health.

Finding Hulk Hogan

Airtime: Wednesday, 10pm ET
Cast: Hulk Hogan, Brooke Hogan, Nick Hogan, Jennifer McDaniel
Network: A&E;
Air date: 2010-11-17
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Trailer
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Not long ago, Hulk Hogan's life looked in danger of turning into The Wrestler. A washed up pro wrestler with a broken body, family, and spirit, he seemed only to feel alive in the ring, but... the ring could kill him. Walking that notorious razor's edge between life and death, he gathered together all his stubborn strength and yes, he would sacrifice all to recover his lost glory.

The legend continues. Billed as a "documentary special" on Hulk Hogan's return to the wrestling ring, A&E's Looking for Hulk Hogan, is also a an hour-long commercial -- perhaps for a new reality show. The pitch is unsurprising: after all those years of performative excess, now you'll see a "real "Terry Bollea. The promotion for the special promises to be "emotional, and completely honest" and to give "viewers a Hulk Hogan they've never seen before." This Hulk Hogan is looking back on the dissolution of his marriage, the implosion of his family, and the failure of his own health.

Certainly, the Hulkster and his family have been through a series of high-profile tragedies in recent years, including his son Nick's tragic car crash (which paralyzed Nick's best friend and sent Nick to prison), Hogan's divorce from longtime wife Linda, and their public acrimony, and his own severe injuries from 30 years as a professional wrestler.

We already know all about that from their VH1 reality TV shows, both the original Hogan Knows Best and the spin-off about his daughter's efforts to make it in the music biz living in Miami, Brooke Knows Best. On those shows, Hogan came across as a caring parent and decent guy who clearly had a dysfunctional marriage in which his wife was happy to have him risk his health to bankroll their lavish lifestyle. You could see his pain, both physical and emotional, and feel sympathy for him.

But this A&E special wants to argue that the reality TV version is hopelessly skewed. If you want the real reality, you need to turn to Finding Hulk Hogan. And believe it is somehow less manipulated than other reality TV.

I'm not convinced. Whatever we didn't learn from his reality TV shows, the tabloids have told us. Hulk's own previous TV interviews have too. Ad nauseam. There is a slightly fresher sequence here about how Laila Ali helped him find religion and a supportive church, but that's been covered in the press too. So why are we here?

Ah, it all becomes clear about halfway through the special. This exercise in navel-gazing is selling TNA Wrestling, the company where he is now an executive. It's hard to feel sorry for a man who risks his health to get back in the ring to "get his life back," and maintains a business where other wrestlers also risk damage. Millionaire problems.

Finding Hulk Hogan gives us heartfelt interviews with Hulk talking to the camera. He describes how he was suicidal in 2007 after Linda filed for divorce. He wandered around his empty mansion, feeling like it was "someone else's life." He lost all his money because of the divorce and lawsuits stemming from the wreck and -- this is where is gets muddy -- because of a "series of other things," he says. He adds that he made hundreds of millions of dollars in wrestling, but lost it all and even had to sell his homes. We see lots of long shots of Hulk walking on the beach in slow motion, accompanied by tragic music.

The narrative doesn't make sense. Even when he was at his lowest point, he was hosting a TV show, American Gladiator, with Laila Ali (whom he says saved his life). The documentary glosses over the fact that Hulk was gainfully employed at the time.

It also fails to explain why Hulk actually has to get back in the ring himself One More Time in order to help launch this wrestling company he hopes will be his meal ticket for the rest of his life. He trains other wrestlers, helps shape the product, lends his stature as a wrestling legend. Why does Hulk have to wrestle again? Why risk breaking his back? The doctor shows him x-rays of his meat-grindered back and tells him he shouldn't even be in the gym, much less in the ring in front of thousands of cheering fans. Apparently, only this risk of life and limb that will launch the company. Only this -- and not his happy new relationship (he's engaged to Jennifer McDaniel), and encouraging developments for his son and daughter.

Unlike Randy the Ram, we know Hulk makes it through the big match, even though he has to have back surgery afterward. But in trying to make such high drama out of an unnecessary situation, and in trying so hard to spark sympathy for Hulk as a downtrodden character when he is and continues to be a successful celebrity, the documentary doesn't so much find Hulk Hogan as it loses him all over again.

3

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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