How research for Talking Sheet accidentally led me back to the beginning of my “dirt sheet” fascination
Nostalgia is a funny thing.
It can begin with that wistful look back, fondly reminiscing about days gone by, and turn just as easily into a melancholy for simpler days when things felt newer—and dirt sheets dirtier.
I was recently thumbing through a Wrestling Observer newsletter from the first week in May, 1995. Before a slew of Observers from 1987 fell in our lap, Hugh Little and I were going to start our Rear View segment of Talking Sheet with Observer issues from 20 years ago.
While reading through this Observer I saw a plug for the Wrestling Perspective newsletter, written by Paul MacAurthur and David Skolnick, and I was transported back in time.
The Wrestling Perspective was my first pro wrestling newsletter, which was a complete accident.
I was in college, an English major obsessed with two things—radio and wrestling. I had a weekly slot on my friends Mike & Al’s radio show talking to Mike (a fellow fan) about wrestling. Their producer, who’s name I totally forget, but i think it was Craig, told us that one of the radio professors was huge into wrestling and we should talk to him.
That’s how I met Paul MacAurthur—which is how i got my first four issues of Wrestling Perspective.
We went down to his office to meet him, and he was there—late—on the phone with Skolnick, debating a recent development with Vader in WCW, as I recall. At the time the rumor was he was leaving and going to WWF.
When he got off the phone, he invited us in and we talked. He told us to throw our Pro Wrestling Illustrated PWI 500 away because it was all bullshit—which we knew, of course, but brought anyway just to test to see if he knew some of the obscure guys listed who Mike and I had become obsessed with—like Mr. Ooh La La and The Hater.
We chatted for a while, and he sent us home with a handful of issues he had scattered around his untidy office (not Meltzer-level untidy or anything, but… you know. Messy desk). I spent the next several days pouring over these things. WCW was planning a show to compete with Raw?! Interviews with guys I’d never heard of, like Les Thatcher, but who knew all the guys I admired?! Jim Cornette Interview—manager of my all time favorite tag team. Terry Taylor, the UWF television champion who became a ridiculous Rooster in WWF?!
I was hooked!
The Wrestling Perspective was different than other newsletters I would come to know over the years in that they weren’t concerned at all with breaking or reporting news. Their whole thing was picking a feature story or two and writing a critical analysis of it from a unique, original perspective on it. They were also heavily reliant on interviews, and peppered in some reviews, as well as satirical looks at foolish things that were happening, or outright parody, too.
MacAurthur and Skolnick were joined by the Phantom of the Ring and the late, great Bill “Potshot” Kunkel—a pioneer of video game journalism in the 80s, who also took an early role in helping Wade Keller establish the Pro Wrestling Torch as a credible wrestling newsletter.
In a lot of ways, the Wrestling Perspective I knew in the 90s was more like what the Torch and Observer have become (only, less redundant reviews of countless wrestling TV shows).
They had the Interviews the Torch touts as its “thing” and were doing the “feature analysis over breaking news” slant the Observer has adopted here in its recent years now that the internet has made the Observer format of old completely irrelevant.
MacAurthur and Skolnick were also unique in that, they never tried to hit a regular schedule. It was published “several times per year” when they had enough content to fill an issue with intelligent discussion and interesting points of view. It wasn’t into sensationalism or recounting the comings and goings of wrestling stars moving form company to company.
In my looking back on the Perspective, I looked up some old stories, and came across a piece by the Phantom, where he takes on Dave Meltzer’s review of that old A&E documentary “The Unreal Story of Professional Wrestling” and provided a counterpoint to Meltzer’s scathing critique of the doc.
Meltzer, in 1998 had written:
“imagine a documentary on the NBA where the name of Wilt Chamberlain was not even mentioned and where history was recreated to where Michael Jordan claimed to have invented the slam dunk and where the recent commissioner was credited with the idea of putting the NBA on prime-time television.”
Phantom begins his counterpoint with aplomb:
“What’s wrong with this critique, you ask? Everything, I say.”
Phantom then goes on to argue point after point, sometimes even contradicting himself and simultaneously writing a critical, negative review of the documentary as well as an apologetic one. We should like it for what it was, because it was supposed to be lying to us, and we should know better—but the documentary should have known better, too.
He even takes on Vince McMahon.
Vince McMahon describes wrestling as a magic show; only he’s not going to tell you how he does the magic. It’s all right, we figured it out long ago.
From the Wrestling Perspective, I ended up getting more curious about insider wrestling news and took to the nascent World Wide Web to discover more. I fired up my Netscape Navigator and used a web crawler search to discover Herb Kunze’s Wrestling Tidbits and, from there, the Wrestling Observer Newsletter and my fascination with wrestling news, news writers, and “dirt sheets” all began.
Nostalgia is a funny thing.