songs

The Legend of Chavo Guerrero

“A song about my childhood hero, Chavo Guerrero, may he live a thousand years and all his days be filled with joy.”

John Darnielle could honestly write an album about watching laundry spin in a dryer and I would listen to it and I would love it, and I would probably cry. The reason I say this is because I don’t care about pro wrestling, at all, despite the fact that my good friend Aria insists that my love of boy bands means I would love it. I’ve just never gotten into it. But – here is this. John Darnielle, the brains and the heart and the mouthpiece of the Mountain Goats, is writing an album about pro wrestling called Beat the Champ, which is coming out later this year and which I will be talking about extensively. And crying about. Extensively. I know this because he released the album’s first track this January, and despite the fact that is about a pro wrestler that I have never heard of I cried about it. So! Let’s chat.

Look high
It’s my last hope
Chavo Guerrero, coming off the top rope

I don’t know what kind of childhood you personally had, but I know you had a hero. I know there was a shining beacon of goodness and righteousness and safety in your life, no matter who it was, no matter if they were real or imagined or simply your parents. Children are so small, and so brave, and so much smarter than they ever get credit for. They are small people, and that is something I often forget, which sounds bad. What I mean is that they are often more perceptive than we realize; they contain everything that we contain in smaller, less developed doses. They are us as we were, we are them as they could be. (I have a lot of feelings about children.)

So. Young John Darnielle. JD has made no secret of the fact that his upbringing was a tormented one, and I love that, quite frankly. I used to be someone who thought that being cool about things was the way to be: never show that you are hurt, never acknowledge the wrong someone has done to you. I used to not like Taylor Swift, is what I’m saying. I used to think that there was anything other than righteous fury in publicly denouncing those who have wronged you, and I know better now. I love that JD is vengeful; I love that he never offers forgiveness. Some people don’t deserve it. Some people you survive and you keep surviving and your anger is a beautiful and perfect thing and it keeps you warm. I hope someday I write an entire album about everyone who ever hurt me and I hope that it buoys someone the way that the Mountain Goats’ music has done for me. John Darnielle has taught me so much about owning your feelings, particularly your hate. I’m getting sidetracked.

Chavo Guerrero is a pro wrestler who is, to my knowledge and based on the lyrics of this song, still alive. When JD was a kid he was famous, and he was JD’s hero, and so he was more than a wrestler. Darnielle talks a lot about pro wrestling, both as a fixture in his current life and as something incredibly important in his young years, and one thing that always sticks with me when he does is the idea of wrestling as a delivery of justice.

Defender of the downtrodden, king of the hill
Tag-team champion with Al Madril
Before a black and white TV in the middle of the night
I’m lying on the floor, I’m bathed in blue light
The telecast’s in Spanish, I can understand some
And I need justice in my life
Here it comes

Darnielle’s late stepfather abused him; I hope my use of the active voice conveys my disgust and my contempt and my condemnation. I don’t know the particulars and I never will, but the pieces of his childhood that JD chooses to share paint a picture that I don’t like. I don’t think anyone deserves forgiveness, but I think there is a special place in hell for those who hurt someone they’re supposed to protect. This song is about pro wrestling but what it’s really about is young John Darnielle, lying on the floor in front of a flickering TV screen in a dark room, imagining a world where evil is punished. Being given that world, in the form of pro wrestling; being given a defender. Watching vengeance “descending like fire on the people who deserved it most.” Chavo Guerrero defeats his enemies; so too shall I defeat mine, in time.

He was my hero back when I was a kid
You let me down but Chavo never once did
You called him names to try to get beneath my skin
Now your ashes are scattered on the wind

I heard his son got famous, he went nationwide
Coast-to-coast with his dad by his side
I don’t know if that’s true but I’ve been told
It’s real sweet to grow old

This verse kills me. It’s so triumphant, so beautifully, bitterly vengeful. Your ashes are scattered on the wind; it’s real sweet to grow old. You are dead and I am alive and I will grow old where you did not, because I am still alive, because I have survived you. It is a cruel and terrible thing that outliving someone is often the only victory you have over them, but it is no less real and no less important for its cruelty. I wonder how John Darnielle thinks of Chavo and his son, traveling the world. I wonder if he imagines a world where that could have been him, a world where he felt like someone’s son. I wonder how it feels to him to be his own son’s hero. I wonder how it feels to call himself a father, and to know that he has succeeded in some intangible but excruciatingly important way. I am projecting here, I’m sure, but still I don’t think I’m wrong.

This song might mean more to me if I knew anything about pro wrestling, but somehow I doubt that; somehow I don’t know if it could. This song is about vengeance; this song is about the pure cold spiteful fire of survival, and everything that holding that fire in your chest makes you feel. Pro wrestling is the lens for it, and like, maybe I should start watching, I guess, but I have the justice that I need in my life. I have the Mountain Goats.