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  1. #1
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    May 2018

    Oliver's Twist: Ric Flair’s 4:13 Dream

    I love The Cure. I hesitate to say I’ve always loved The Cure because to say you’ve always loved something implies that you’ve been with them every step of the way, and in truth the opposite is true here. I was born into the world with The Cure already deep into their 80s heyday, the point in time where Robert Smith was writing the best songs he’d ever written. But certainly I’ve loved The Cure since the very first time I heard them, which was one of those occasions where I was struck by an album I’d never heard the like of before. I think it was my Dad who put it on at home one day, the gloomy ‘Seventeen Seconds’ from 1980, and I was in my late-teens at this stage and really getting heavily into music. My Dad and I shared a whole bunch of my earliest musical memories, from sneaking into Glastonbury festival in 1999 using a friend’s security pass to see my first live bands to going to my first gig in Bristol a few years later to see Ash. It’s one of the things we’ve really bonded over across the years – in fact, the two things I’d say I really clicked into with my dad are music and wrestling – and we keep discussing now even though he’s approaching sixty. I think the only thing we disagree over is jazz.

    Anyway, so my dad sticks on ‘Seventeen Seconds’. It’s amazing. Every single second of it has me entranced. I’m not sure what I was doing at the time, because the only thing that mattered in that moment was the music. This is, I think, about 2002/2003 time, I was probably desperately trying to get to the submarine level on Lylat Wars. I never really got to that level. I can, however, tell you that the exact moment I really fell for The Cure is the bassline kicking in during ‘In Your House’. There’s these little half arpeggios and then in comes the bassline, bouncing in the background as gloomy as anything. To this day I’m not super keen on the three songs that precede ‘In Your House’ on the album, which is not to say they’re not great – it’s just that to me that one song is what defines the album and will always be the one I look to listen to in a pinch. In truth, the album itself is a little rough round the edges, but you can see the future poking through, and the heights they would hit in that run of albums, from ‘Seventeen Seconds’ through to ‘Wish’ in 1992 is, in my opinion, the greatest run of consecutive albums any band has ever produced, certainly over that sort of time frame, and especially ‘Disintegration’, which I would go so far as to say was the best album certainly I’ve heard from the 80s. ‘Disintegration’ is flawless, perfect from open to close, an album you can put on and listen to end to end without moving.

    I think, if I were to liken my feeling towards The Cure over the years to any wrestler, Ric Flair would be the closest possible thing I could find. His 80s pomp was flawless, his 1989 the best year any wrestler has ever had, to mirror the release of ‘Disintegration’ in the same year. I might not have started with Flair in the same way as The Cure – sure as heck, my Dad didn’t introduce me to Flair, so really my first brush with him was watching old man Flair in mid-00s WWE – but there was enough hype built up about him that I rooted out what I could find. The very first thing I stumbled across was a recommendation for his feud from 1980 with Greg Valentine, and I can’t tell you how similar the moment I first heard ‘Seventeen Seconds’ is to the moment I first watched the two of Flair and Valentine go at it head to head. Their feud, the history behind it, and these matches, blew me away and left me hungry for more. Little did I know that he would grow and grow as a wrestler across the 80s and, eventually, have that one perfect year where everything aligned for him and all he touched was golden. Heck, Flair even had his own major moment in 1992, winning the Royal Rumble from number 3 and with it the WWF title.

    And yet, Flair would never again reach those 80s peaks. His 90s work in WCW was, post-Hogan, pretty much disastrous just in terms of where it led him as a character and performer. Don’t get me wrong, there are bits of it that I love to this day – Hart vs Flair at Souled Out 1998 is very good (heck, Souled Out 1998 is very good if you ignore all the political posturing that messed it up) – but there’s too much of it where Flair became less The Man and more someone who wanted to be The Man. And that man was his 80s self, a figure he was watching slip away into the rear mirror. But he remained a master craftsman throughout this time, those little moments that let you know something is still in there, a nugget of the man who once was. He’s a man caught out here, his old work no longer quite getting the reaction it once did as he struggles to keep up with the evolution of wrestling through the nWo and Attitude.

    Similarly, The Cure had a pretty dire 90s. ‘Wish’ might have started it promisingly, but the follow up albums were messy, a product of a band caught out of time. As the world around them evolved into the baggy sounds of The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays, and subsequently the Britpop of Blur and Oasis, The Cure sound like a band out of their time. Nothing they did here was objectively bad, it just wasn’t as good as they once had been, and with that came the associated disappointment. ‘Bloodflowers’, especially, feels like a band mining their back catalogue for old off-cuts to try and recapture the magic they once had, rather than a band moving forward. Even worse, come 2004, they released a self-titled album where they desperately tried to blend in with the nu-metal scene that was blossoming by hiring Ross Robinson to produce, which gave and end result which felt like a last desperate attempt to blend in and be relevant to a modern crowd.

    Thank goodness, then, for ‘4:13 Dream’. Released in 2008 to reasonably minor critical rumblings, to me it was a band finally becoming comfortable with exactly where they were in the musical landscape – aware of what they had previously accomplished and their role as elder statesmen, but still offering moments that can take the breath away and show they are thinking forward. ‘The Only One’ is classic Cure in all but timeframe, breezy and infective. ‘Freakshow’ shows a development of the sound, stopping and starting with waves of wah-wah guitar crashing through the maelstrom of noise. It’s as if the band has looked at their back catalogue, decided what really worked, and then thought about their next steps from there. In truth, it’s the album that probably should have followed ‘Wish’ in the 90s, just delivered 15 years too late. It was before this album was released, in March 2008, that I finally got a chance to see The Cure live, stood alongside my dad at Wembley, and we both loved every minute of it, even through songs like ‘Wrong Number’ and three encores. This was The Cure in greatest hits mode, sure, but The Cure in greatest hits mode is some of the best damned hits you’ll ever watch.

    The time I really fell in love with Flair was when he returned to WWE in the early 00s. It was here that, for me, we saw a real renaissance of Flair, a combination of excepting where he was in his career and where he had been in his career in the years before, and turning it all into a run which saw some of, for me, the best work of his career. I talked at length about the steel cage match between Flair and HHH when ‘Plan did his 101 bonus material, and where ‘Plan saw over indulgence and a pair of men over doing it, I saw Flair proving himself to be the Alpha wolf, seeing off his Beta challenger, and it was pretty much here where I finally saw that Flair was having his own ‘4:13 Dream’ moment, a man caught out of time but growing into his role as an elder statesman and yet still capable of putting everything together and producing something entrancing that was both modern and yet a throwback. The structure of that cage match is simplistic, telling the story via mirror images and more than a few ball shots, yet it’s also classic Flair – watch his matches back and the stories of them are rarely more complex than one side overcoming the other through simply being better. It’s what drove Flair through the 80s – he wasn’t just good, he was ]better]. Better than almost everyone. Steamboat came close, but never proved his superiority. Likewise, Dusty fought hard, but was never really better than Flair. Flair was the greatest in the 80s, but come the early part of this century he was a man who now had to prove he was still the best, who had to prove that his 90s period was only a lull and not a decline.

    For me, he did it incredibly. And it peaked at the very end.

    For his entire run leading up to WrestleMania 24, Flair pulled out some of, for me, his best work since the last 80s. With a strong narrative hook to every single match he had between November and that early spring night in March, in front of thousands, Flair thrived. He thrived in his first match against Randy Orton, when he defended his career against Triple H, in a bloody brawl with Vince McMahon himself, every single match in that run was magnificent. And then, of course, the finale. The night after his Hall of Fame induction, Flair steps up against Shawn Michaels. At the biggest show in the WWE calendar, he needs to defeat Mr WrestleMania himself to prolong his career. But there was more to this than that – HBK announced Flair for the Hall of Fame, he called him the greatest wrestler of all time, and Flair called Michaels out and said he wanted to show he could still hang with the modern best.

    And then, of course, ‘I’m sorry…I love you’.

    Have I ever cried at wrestling? You bet. Have I ever cried that much at wrestling? Never. The raw emotion Michaels and Flair captured was, for me, the best in a single wrestling match ever. You can talk about moments, about points, but from a bell to bell standpoint nothing has quite moved me like that match. It’s incredible, and while it might not be technically the best Flair match – fuck it, the guy’s 59 at this point, what do you expect?!? For me, it’s a flawless presentation of everything that should be important in wrestling – storytelling, emotion, and skill all coming to a near perfect head at the biggest event of the year. A terrific, heart tugging match.

    Retrospectively, I like to think I knew going in that Flair was set to lose. I like to tell myself that I expected the ending. That Flair’s career was set to end regardless of what happened. And yet, something happened during the match. Lil Naitch was ref, of course, because why wouldn’t he be? And there were all these little things that made me want Flair to win. Gradually, as time went on, I realized this was it – that Flair was going to do it. When Michaels warmed up the band and stopped, Flair did what Flair does, an opportunistic figure four. I recall screaming at the screen at that point, begging Michaels to tap, urging him to quit like the bastard he was for trying to end Flair’s career, for having the audacity to think he could be the man to beat the man. And throughout the match there were moments like this, bits where Flair would just do what Flair had always done and I’d go wild for it. This was Flair in greatest hits mode, sure, but Flair in greatest hits mode is some of the best damned hits you’ll ever watch.

    After both of these, the album and the match, neither band really stopped. But somehow they both became something different, a band that now lives on their hits rather than their current output. It’s ten years since Flair stared at the lights in that WrestleMania ring, and ten years since The Cure released ‘4:13 Dream’. Neither look like doing the thing they really love again, on the biggest arena, but both have spent the interim period playing the hits for people intermittently. Maybe, just maybe, one day they’ll both come back to what they do best and have something new up their sleeve. Personally, I hope so, but if they don’t?

    I’ll always love them.

    This was originally supposed to be a riposte to everyone being stupid in the WrestleMania Madness thingy and knocking this match out stupidly early. Unfortunately it's now October and not March when I should have posted it. But such is life, and such is busy life.
    Last edited by Oliver; 10-10-2018 at 09:15 AM.

  2. #2
    The Brain
    Join Date
    May 2018
    Technically against the rules, you MPer you, but the forum is slow enough right now that I'll let you off with a warning.

    I have a complex relationship with 00s Flair. He was the first Flair I was exposed to and at the time I enjoyed him, for the most part. Every once in a while he would do something great, like that '03 or '05 matches with Triple H, and I dug his role in Evolution and his final run up to retirement. Looking back though, I do think he had some stretches where he looked pretty bad, especially as I've come to know prime Flair and see what he was capable of at his peak. I still appreciate his 00s work more than most though, and I agree that Flair/HBK was a great and most likely underappreciated match. I don't think I was one of the ones who voted against it, so don't hold it against me!

    Would love to have a longer conversation about Ric Flair in general. I love his '89 run but I do wonder if it's overhyped a bit, he's really only got those big four matches to hang his hat on, right? The 3 (or 4, if you've hunted the other one down) matches with Steamboat and then the I Quit with Funk? But great character work too, that counts for something, and as both a face and a heel. Ok, I re-convinced myself about '89, even though his Starrcade stuff wasn't that good (nobody's was really, that year). What a rich career though, love the shoutout to the Valentine stuff in '80. Gotta track that down, I'm a massive Valentine fan so I know those matches have got to be awesome!

  3. #3
    Ah man, you don't know how awesome I think it is for somebody to expand out on one of those matches and build a hill to die on in column format. I love this!

    The lead-up to Flair/HBK was really special. HBK, torn between his perennial Mr. WrestleMania effort and not wanting to be the one with the blood on his hands upon the retirement of Ric Flair. Flair, indignant at Michaels' assumption that he would be able to retire Ric Flair, and indignant at the mere thought of Michaels not giving 100%. Such great stuff.

    mizfan is right - the two of you were the only ones to vote for this match. You can throw a dirty look my way, though! (And 'Plan, and SirSam, and Steve, and Mazza). But this one was up against Taker/HBK from Mania 26, which was pretty damn special in its own right. Still though, I know how you feel...probably the same I felt when I was the lone vote in a 6-1 landslide when HBK/Jericho took out MitB I, prompting my own column in the defense of MitB.

    The bulk of my Flair familiarity is his '01-'08 WWE run. His late '05 work with Trips, as you mentioned, is killer stuff, but I also really liked his completely uncharacteristic 2006 venture into brilliantly entertaining blood wrestling. TLC with Edge, a bloody I Quit with Foley, thumbtacks, barbed was insane watching the character work from Flair as he went from limousine riding and sneering down his nose at garbage wrestling to a thirsty insanity to prove he was so good at being the Man that he could best the likes of Foley at his own game. It was such a genre departure for Flair, but I really enjoyed it.

  4. #4
    The Brain
    Join Date
    May 2018
    Oh my god, Taker/HBK from 26 beat this match?? I'm pissed off all over again!!

    Awesome shout out to '06 Flair, that TLC with Edge really sticks in my mind to this day.

  5. #5
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Sep 2018
    Just like you I only started following Flair in the early 2000s when I first started watching wrestling so that is the only Flair I know. I never really enjoyed his work but there shouldn't be anything wrong with that considering that he was way past his prime. However, there were 3 standout moments from his career that I can fully remember. That being his match against HHH to prove that he's not just his lackey, his Steel Cage Match with Randy Orton and of course his "retirement match" against Shawn Michaels. I really enjoyed those moments and I'm sure that on a personal level he must have really appreciated them.

    Lets not forget that he was an integral part of Evolution. Without Flair the entire premise of the group would be moot. Sure, Evolution could have gotten another legend in his place but his stature as The Man validated the past, present, future gimmick of the group. I am also of the belief that he was the heart of the group.

    I liked how compared Flairs career to that of one of your favourite bands as I always like columns like these.

    Great work!

  6. #6
    LOP's part time glass ceiling DynamiteBillington's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2018
    I don't know why I hadn't read this sooner. Brilliant column, given that most of the bands I like are permanently in Greatest Hits mode these days, I totally relate to this. Much like the rest of you, I'm most familiar with him in his 00s WWE run but have gone back & watched his earlier stuff to see what the fuss was about.

    Always preferred The Cult though

  7. #7
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2018
    I'd echo Dyna Bill above, I don't know why it has taken me so long to get to this.

    I don't know that I always agree with everything you say, Oli, but I do enjoy reading your stuff. So well written. I was a bit envious at times reading this, I must admit.

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

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