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Book Review: Rope Opera: How WCW Killed Vince Russo by Vince Russo

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Rope Opera — Vince Russo's first-hand account of his life as a television wrestling scriptwriter for Vince McMahon's WWF/WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment); Ted Turner's WCW (World Championship Wrestling); and finally Jeff Jarrett/Dixie Carter's TNA (Total Nonstop Action) — was not supposed to affect me this way.

So, if in fact I've been "worked" in much the same way Russo has done so many times over the years in writing the storylines behind some of "pro-rasslin's" greatest (and worst) televised feuds over the years, consider me had as the latest hapless victim of the con. The fact still remains. In the vernacular of professional wrestling itself, I think I've actually become a Russo "mark."

For those who don't follow TV wrestling, Vince Russo is one of its most influential players of the past decade or more — even if his name isn't as instantly recognizable outside of the game as such mainstream personalities as Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Vince McMahon and the like. Call Russo the "other Vince," if you will.

As principal writer for both WWE and WCW at different points of wrestling's "boom years" during the so-called "Monday Night Wars" of the nineties, Russo has been labeled both saint, savior and Antichrist. He has been equally credited as the man responsible for both winning the Monday night ratings war for Vince McMahon's WWE during the so-called "attitude era," and with destroying WCW upon defecting to the rival organization long after they had already lost the same battle.

Quite a cross to bear for the man who, at least in his words, simply wanted to earn the respect of "the boys" and do whatever was best for the business. And one which, if this account is to be taken seriously anyway, exacted a considerable emotional toll on both Russo himself and his family.

To hear it in Russo's own words, the world of professional wrestling was a near continuous battle of backstage politicking and, above all, watching one's own back while doing a near nonstop juggling act between the egos of the locker room and the suits of the boardroom.

But Russo also tells two separate stories here. When he is not revealing unique insider perspectives about obvious TV ratings ploys (like awarding the WCW championship to Hollywood actor David Arquette, for example) or his own personal battles with mega-legends Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair, Russo recounts his own personal journey from the career and money driven architect of WWE's often raunchy "Crash TV," to the inner peace he now derives from his Christian faith.

What makes this part of Russo's story most refreshing is the way in which he tells it. Christianity is of course nothing new to the inner-squared circle of pro-wrestling, with everyone from Jake "The Snake" Roberts to Sting to Shawn Michaels professing their faith in the Almighty to various, if occasionally self-serving degrees of belief.

What makes Russo's conversion story stand out, however, is both his humor and his lack of either pretentiousness or preachiness in recounting it.

At one point in the book, he even likens the story of the Garden of Eden to a wrestling-like angle of Adam and Eve's "heel turn." The heartbreak and the emotional toll on Russo himself is also recounted in such detail that I often found myself relating to his story on a very personal level (like me, Russo also once owned his own record store). Even if this is just another "work" from the master of so many wrestling cons, I have to admit that it was still good enough to convince me.

What makes Russo's story most compelling though is the fact that his faith is never colored by the sort of sanctimoniousness that otherwise characterizes many other such show-business accounts of becoming "saved." Russo oftentimes wears his own disappointment and bitterness on his sleeve here, revealing himself to be nothing more than an imperfect, insecure human being just the like the rest of us.

Whether providing his own occasionally self-serving spin on his tumultuous three-month stint as creative director of WCW, or venting his frustration towards the universally reviled, but nonetheless unanimously read "dirt sheets" of the wrestling trade, Russo pretty much lets it all hang out here — warts and all.

As a wrestling fan who was also a firm member of the "Russo as Antichrist" school of thought going in, I have to admit that with Rope Opera, Russo has more or less sold me — or perhaps just worked me, as the case may be — here. Either way, I may just be becoming a Russo mark.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • Greg Barbrick

    Nice review. I am dying to read this one, Russo was right in the thick of the glory years. It sounds like he has some great stories.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Thanks Greg. Yeah, there’s lotsa’ great stories here. But what I found even more interesting was Russo’s journey from the guy responsible for stuff like the Godfather and his “ho’ train” to his current “born-again” Christian status. You just can’t make up a story like his…well, except in wrestling anyway.

    -Glen

  • jj

    Very interesting book. Liked it

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    I agree JJ.