As we've mentioned before, we try to give you all proper notice when local authors put out notable work, or when national authors put out work of local import. But there's not always enough space in Read+Spin – apparently, there are a lot of authors in New Orleans – so we play catch-up online.
This month, Greg Klein's recent book The King of New Orleans: How the Junkyard Dog Became Professional Wrestling's First Black Superstar hit actual and electronic bookshelves. Part biography, part sports (sort of) narrative, Klein's tome narrates the life of Sylvester Ritter, who wrestled under the persona of the "Junkyard Dog" as professional wrestling was reaching its maturation. In an era when jingoistic villains and patriotic heroes were leaving vogue and the drama of imagined fueds between wrestlers themselves became inspiring enough to fuel fandom, Ritter had the distinction of sitting at a top spot in the wresting circles around the Gulf South, eventually finding his "Dog's Yard" at the Downtown Municipal Auditorium (although he often wrestled in the 'Dome as well).
The text gives just enough insight into the twisted fugue state of professional wrestling without indulging in the sort of scathing indictment with which Chris Hedges has lambasted the industry. Although he's not a native (he lives in upstate New York), Klein seems to have been able to figure out exactly how far into his cheek to stick his tongue. The fallacy of professional wrestling doesn't really matter in the face of its perception; the fans' willing self-deception makes it real.
Klein applies the same treatment to the callous, cynical metaracism with which Ritter's promoters approached race – to them, even if they harbored prejudices of their own (which they did), the only color that mattered to them was "green."
It's interesting to note that Klein is himself a wrestler in the same vein as Ritter, and he makes no bones about his own affinity for "JYD" (he refers to him as a hero in the introduction and concludes with "A Fan's Take"), but he reports Ritter's life, success, downfall and eventual death without reverence or apology. The book makes for a smooth read, start to finish, despite being dense with facts about an underworld (or superworld) that many of us never knew was there.
Note: A few weeks back we promised you a festival slideshow. Unfortunately, we did not receive enough photo submissions to put one together. As in, we received zero submissions. We kept the wine.