Michael Cavacini

An award-winning arts and culture blog.

Archive for the month “April, 2014”

Book Review: Everything To Lose by Andrew Gross

Andrew Gross - Everything to Lose

Late last night I finished Everything to Lose by Andrew Gross. Prior to this, I had read most of the novels Gross co-wrote with James Patterson, my two favorite being Lifeguard and Judge & Jury, as well as three books he wrote on his own. Having completed Everything to Lose, I can say with confidence that it ranks right up there with his work with James Patterson and that it’s superior to his 2013 thriller, No Way Back, which I also enjoyed. The premise of the novel, a woman finding a bag full of money on the side of the road and having to deal with the internal ethical turmoil that ensues, resonated with me. As I read it, I thought to myself, what would I do if I were in her shoes? This is a clear sign of effective writing and Gross had me hooked from the start. While there weren’t any mind-blowing surprises along the way, I found the story compelling from start to finish.

However, like any book, it’s not perfect. I don’t care for stories where the point of view changes so much that it makes me stop reading so I can reorient myself, and the same goes for jumping back and forth through time; I think it’s OK to start off in the past and then let the rest of the story happen in present day. But to jump back and then jump forward is distracting to me. These minor quibbles aside, Everything to Lose is a riveting tale that kept me up way past my bed time, and I highly recommend you pick it up.

Synopsis 

A determined, (down on her luck,) mother caring for her handicapped son becomes entangled in a murderous conspiracy to keep a twenty year old secret buried in this blistering thriller, set during the tragic aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, from Andrew Gross, the New York Times bestselling author of 15 Seconds and No Way Back.

While driving along a suburban back road, Hilary Blum, who’s just lost her job and whose deadbeat husband has left her alone to care for her son with Asperger’s, witnesses a freakish accident. A car ahead of her careens down a hill and slams into a tree. Stopping to help, she discovers the driver dead—and a satchel stuffed with a half a million dollars.

That money could prevent her family’s ruin and keep her special needs son in school. In an instant, this honest, achieving woman who has always done the responsible thing makes a decision that puts her in the center of maelstrom of dark consequences and life-threatening recriminations—a terrifying scheme involving a twenty-year-old murder, an old woman who’s life has been washed out to sea, and a powerful figure bent to keep the secret that can destroy him hidden.

With everything to lose, everything she loves, Hilary connects to a determined cop from Staten Island, reeling from the disaster of Sandy, to bring down an enemy who will stop at nothing to keep what that money was meant to silence, still buried.

Three Books To Read This Spring

My to-read list is massive and I’m sure yours is too. Since deciding what to read next can be hard, here are my three recommendations for what to read this spring.

KEEP QUIET by Lisa Scottoline

My girlfriend, Stephanie, and I meeting Lisa Scottoline at her book signing for Keep Quiet on April 19.

My girlfriend, Stephanie, and I meeting Lisa Scottoline at her book signing for Keep Quiet on April 19.

This past Saturday my girlfriend, Stephanie, and I attended Lisa Scottoline’s book signing for her new novel, Keep Quiet, at the Barnes & Noble in Cherry Hill, NJ. Lisa’s mother just passed away last week, so I wasn’t sure if she was going to have the book signing. But after cancelling a few dates on her book tour, Lisa persevered and decided to do her last two book signings. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but Lisa, using her infectious humor, found a way to leave everyone smiling by the end of the event. Yes, she spoke about “Mother Mary” passing away, but she also made sure to inject several funny stories about her mother that had the crowd in stitches. And Lisa remembered many fans, including myself, by name and embraced us with hugs and well wishes. For my money, no author is as warm and loving to her fans as Lisa Scottoline.

But let’s get to the book. Keep Quiet is next on my to-read list and as you can see from the synopsis below, it sounds like it should be an intriguing and compelling read. I can’t wait to crack it open and based on the early reviews, it’s one of Scottoline’s best books in recent years. Keep an open eye out for my review of the book in the coming weeks.

And, if you haven’t already read it, you can check out my interview with Lisa Scottoline here.

Keep Quiet Synopsis

New York Times bestselling and Edgar Award winning author Lisa Scottoline is loved by millions of readers for her suspenseful novels about family and justice. Scottoline delivers once again with Keep Quiet, an emotionally gripping and complex story about one man’s split-second decision to protect his son – and the devastating consequences that follow.Jake Buckman’s relationship with his sixteen-year-old son Ryan is not an easy one, so at the urging of his loving wife, Pam, Jake goes alone to pick up Ryan at their suburban movie theater. On the way home, Ryan asks to drive on a deserted road, and Jake sees it as a chance to make a connection. However, what starts as a father-son bonding opportunity instantly turns into a nightmare. Tragedy strikes, and with Ryan’s entire future hanging in the balance, Jake is forced to make a split-second decision that plunges them both into a world of guilt and lies. Without ever meaning to, Jake and Ryan find themselves living under the crushing weight of their secret, which threatens to tear their family to shreds and ruin them all. Powerful and dramatic, Keep Quiet will have readers and book clubs debating what it means to be a parent and how far you can, and should, go to protect those you love.

EVERYTHING TO LOSE by Andrew Gross

Everything to Lose by Andrew Gross comes out on April 22.

Everything to Lose by Andrew Gross comes out on April 22.

Another one of my favorite authors is Andrew Gross, who I also interviewed last year. You can check it out here. He has a new novel coming out tomorrow entitled Everything to Lose. I’m reading it right now and will be reviewing it soon. I’m happy to report that it’s very entertaining and, in my opinion, better than his previous book, No Way Back. I highly recommend you order a copy of Everything to Lose and give it a shot. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. You can buy the book here.

Everything to Lose Synopsis 

A determined, (down on her luck,) mother caring for her handicapped son becomes entangled in a murderous conspiracy to keep a twenty year old secret buried in this blistering thriller, set during the tragic aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, from Andrew Gross, the New York Times bestselling author of 15 Seconds and No Way Back.

While driving along a suburban back road, Hilary Blum, who’s just lost her job and whose deadbeat husband has left her alone to care for her son with Asperger’s, witnesses a freakish accident. A car ahead of her careens down a hill and slams into a tree. Stopping to help, she discovers the driver dead—and a satchel stuffed with a half a million dollars.

That money could prevent her family’s ruin and keep her special needs son in school. In an instant, this honest, achieving woman who has always done the responsible thing makes a decision that puts her in the center of maelstrom of dark consequences and life-threatening recriminations—a terrifying scheme involving a twenty-year-old murder, an old woman who’s life has been washed out to sea, and a powerful figure bent to keep the secret that can destroy him hidden.

With everything to lose, everything she loves, Hilary connects to a determined cop from Staten Island, reeling from the disaster of Sandy, to bring down an enemy who will stop at nothing to keep what that money was meant to silence, still buried.

CARNAL CURIOSITY by Stuart Woods

Carnal Curiosity by Stuart Woods debuted at #1 on The New York Times Best Sellers list.

Carnal Curiosity by Stuart Woods debuted at #1 on The New York Times Best Sellers list.

My first interview of the year was with the legendary thriller writer Stuart Woods, famous for his Stone Barrington series that has been going strong for decades. The newest installment in the series, Carnal Curiosity, just debuted at #1 on The New York Times Best Sellers list. Once I’m done Lisa Scottoline’s Keep Quiet, this one’s next, so stay tuned for my review. Based on how enjoyable Woods’ recent novels have been, I also recommend you pick up a copy of Carnal Curiosity.

Carnal Curiosity Synopsis 

Stone Barrington seems to have a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. When Manhattan’s elite are beset by a series of clever crimes—and Stone is a material witness—he and his former partner Dino Bacchetti find themselves drawn into the world of high-end security and fraud, where insider knowledge and access are limited to a privileged few, and the wealthy are made vulnerable by the very systems meant to keep them safe. As Stone and Dino delve deeper into their investigation, they learn that the mastermind behind the incidents may have some intimate ties to Stone . . . and that the biggest heist is still to come.

John Waite Celebrates 40 Years Of Great Music With Best

John Waite - BestEarlier tonight I interviewed one of the most underrated musicians of all time: John Waite. Over the past four decades he’s served as the lead singer for two stellar bands – The Babys and Bad English – and his solo career has produced numerous hits, including “Missing You,” “Change” and “How Did I Get By Without You.” But John Waite is much more than hit maker: He’s an artist whose vocal, lyrical and musical abilities are second to none. He’s celebrating 40 years of unforgettable music with the release of Best, an 18-track snapshot of his illustrious career. What makes this album special is in addition to featuring a handful of hits, there are several deep cuts from albums that didn’t get the attention they deserved – Temple Bar and When You Were Mine – as well as live cuts from 2013’s Live All AccessBest also features three re-recorded hits: “Back On My Feet Again,” “Isn’t It Time” and the iconic “Missing You.” There are two versions of “Missing You” on this album but it’s OK because they’re markedly different. The duet with Alison Krauss has a country vibe and their chemistry together is magnificent, while the newly re-recorded version is a heartfelt modernization of a classic that 30 years later still sounds as fresh as it did in 1984. If you’re a hardcore or casual fan of John Waite, Best is an excellent way to celebrate his impressive career. I highly recommend you pick it up when it’s released on May 12.

Stay tuned for my interview with John Waite, which will be posted in multiple parts over the next several weeks.

Below are John Waite’s thoughts on Best and his track-by-track commentary. This information was compiled by Ken Sharp and originally appeared on John Waite’s official website: johnwaiteworldwide.com.

THE STORY:

I suppose the idea for Best came to me last December. I was in Beverly Hills just walking in the rain. There was an exhibition of the photography of Richard Avedon and I’d always been interested in his work so I thought I’d check it out, get out of the rain for a while and then get a glass of wine. I remember a huge white wall with at least 60 different photos–all figurative stuff, all different. It was a very ‘60s approach. I write, play and sing music but I’m also very interested in art. I don’t really see the difference in the different mediums; literature, painting, acting, etc., it’s all expression. I saw the pictures presented that way and considered what its counterpart would be musically and BEST came out of that. I didn’t want to do the obvious thing and simply put out a “Greatest Hits” record as anyone can do that through iTunes. Just download a play list and hey, “presto.”

This collection is called Best because it’s my best. It’s me putting together my favorite work and it’s totally subjective; I had no one to answer to but myself. It was, I have to say, great fun. I re-sang “Missing You” and “Back On My Feet Again” as the lyrics and melodies had been written literally hours or at most a day before recording the originals so long ago. I always felt I could “do” them better and bring something to them that I’d missed, update the production and make them more vital. And besides, a retrospective was a nice way of looking at my work. I wanted to connect the dots as much for myself as for anyone who might hear it.

I set about the task at hand on my return from England on New Year’s Eve. I’d been making lists over the holidays and decided to simply follow my heart. There was no way I could exclude “Bluebird Café” or “Suicide Life.” I also wanted to add live tracks from my great live band–Tim Hogan (bass), Kerri Kelli (guitar) and Rhondo (drummer)–and I remembered I had a steaming unreleased version of “Every Time I Think Of You” from last year that was so real it bordered on ‘60s soul music. My duet with Alison Krauss on “Missing You” was important to me on a profound level as it showed my love for country, bluegrass and in fact, Alison, whilst “Rough and Tumble” was pure blues rock .There are 18 songs on Best. It’s been a long career and this is the story – Best yet actually. The story is far from over.

THE SONGS:

Back On My Feet Again (newly re-recorded)

We had written all of the songs for the record and we thought we had a great record. There was a song that the record company insisted on us doing called “Yesterday’s Heroes.” It was really a song about being a failure. I don’t know what they were thinking. There was this guy called Roger who worked in the A&R department and he was saying, “This is a great song and you need to cut it.” I kept saying “no.” Our producer, Keith Olsen, kept making excuses for me. The band cut the track when I wasn’t there, as they were trying to appease the record company. I kept telling them that I was not singing that song. I was not going to sing those lyrics, as they were a piece of shit. On the last day of recording, I was getting out of bed and I was getting a cup of coffee and lighting a cigarette—a Marlboro Light, it was—and I sat down in my dressing gown and I wrote “Back on My Feet Again.” I wrote the lyric out and I sang over the top of this other song with a completely different melody and a whole new set of words on it. The next day I came in and put the “Hey babe, I’m back on my feet again. Here I am…” Everyone was really speechless. They had cut this song that wasn’t that good and now we had this.

Isn’t It Time (newly re-recorded)

It was like a Philadelphia soul song. Our producer came up with the song and said, “Hey, I’ve got these guys that I work with and I’ve got a great song.” With “Isn’t It Time,” you have to really appreciate that we did an absolute number on it, all the backing vocals and I changed the melody.

Rough and Tumble

I thought it was just a great name. It was quite a poetic track on one level; it’s quite sexual on another level and it’s quite spiritual on another level – if there’s a difference. “Rough & Tumble” just seemed to me to encapsulate my life and my music at the time. I thought it was a great title – some song titles just say “use me,” it’s got music in it and besides the syllables work. “Rough & Tumble” made it to number one of the Classic Rock charts in America.

Missing You (newly re-recorded)

“Missing You” is an amalgam of three different people. In his book, Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel Proust says that when he imagines a country girl he also imagines the country. You can’t separate the girl from the river and the trees and the grass because everything is the same experience. I was writing about these women, I was writing about New York, and I was also writing about distance. Each girl played a very large part in that song. I’ve never got bored singing it. It took ten minutes to write it, and maybe that’s why. It came out of nowhere, and was made up on the spot. It’s very genuine. It’s almost like a blues song. It’s about denial. The lyrics are good. It came off the top of my head. It was the last thing I wrote for the record, and it always gets that same response, where people just stop breathing for a second; it’s that big. My marriage was in a mess. It was kind of over, and I was torn. I was living in LA trying to finish the record, then I’d be living in New York, and my life was just a mess. When I hit the chorus, I didn’t know I was going to sing, “I ain’t missing you.” Somebody said the other day, if I had just sang, “I’m missing you,” it would have been just crap. Then he said, “You put denial in there, and it’s what every man goes through; denial.” So it made it extra twisted and kind of clever.

If You Ever Get Lonely

There was a song floating around Nashville called “If You Ever Get Lonely” and my manager kept telling me that it was a great song. I kept telling him “no.” The chorus was great, but the rest of it was really pretty much like one of those things that come out of Nashville, where someone writes a verse, and one person writes a chorus, and everyone writes a different part. It actually sounded like a Cat Stevens song or something. I got what he was saying about the chorus, though. After one of the days in the studio with Kyle Cook, who is from Matchbox 20, we talked about the chorus and how it had something and how the rest of the song was not working. We started going back and forth with different lyrics and the whole thing happened in about five minutes.

Better Off Gone

“Better Off Gone” was the first thing me and Kyle (Cook) wrote together. We literally came up with it between “hello” and “how you doin’?”! We were both playing acoustic guitars. I was watching his hands and he was watching mine. It was a great start to four songs for the Rough & Tumble album. I wrote “Evil,” “If You Ever Get Lonely” and “Love’s Going Out Of Style” in quick succession. Great guitar player and nice guy. He played on the American and European gigs too.

Suicide Life

The album When You Were Mine was originally called Suicide Life. The record company politely requested the title be changed as it might scare people off. They had a point. Try to imagine explaining that title in every radio station you went into. Good idea actually. It’s my best album. It was really ahead of the curve. I’d spent a lot of time in Nashville trying to find the heart of country, the honesty in the songwriting. “Bluebird Café” is on that CD as well as “Imaginary Girl.” “Suicide Life” wasn’t country but I was casting about for subjects that had meaning. Hollywood Boulevard east of Musso and Frank’s restaurant slowly turned into a wasteland–space cadets, runaways, hookers, rough trade, junkies, the works. It felt if you kept walking into the darkness you could fall off the edge of the world! I was staying in Hollywood and found myself wandering around there after dark. The back stories on those people are probably simple but what happened to them isn’t. It’s one of my best. Wrote the music with Shane Fontayne.

Change (live)

I remember getting a cassette in the mail of “Change” by this group called Spider. I played it on by little tape recorder and thought, “Christ, that’s a great chorus” but I didn’t dig some of the lyrics so I rewrote some of the words. I thought it would be a great single. It was timely. It sounded a little bit like The Babys but it had something else. I thought it was a very good song but it needed a tweak or two and I gave it those tweaks. The crowd goes nuts when we play it. I still open the show with that song.

Every Time I Think Of You (live)

We tried to repeat the success that “Isn’t It Time” had by using the same situation. That’s something that Steve Marriott and Paul Rodgers showed me from a distance is you can sing hard rock and flip the coin and sing a ballad and it’s still believable.

Head First (live)

I’d already called the album Head First so I felt, “Why don’t I just write a song called ‘Head First’?” I made up all these lyrics about what was in my head and it didn’t make any sense at all and for a couple of days we called it “Sunday Afternoon.” As for the music, Tony came up with the revolving piano line for “Head First” and then Wally came up with the guitar line over the top playing it as a one line thing. We recorded it in a room as big as a broom closet. We’d gone from using cathedral style huge recording rooms to something the size of a drum booth in a tiny mix room at the Record Plant in Los Angeles.

Evil (live)

“Evil” is almost like “Miss You” by The Stones. It’s very New York City. It sounds like somebody’s really out of their mind and it’s sexy because of that. It’s very seventies and very Studio 54.

Saturday Night (live)

I co-wrote “Saturday Night” with Gary Myrick who was a real Texas blues guy but he played extremely unorthodox guitar. All you have to do with me is make a noise and I’ll give you a lyric. I’m very responsive like that. We decided to play some flat out fuckin’ rock and then I took the music away to work on the lyrics. Bruce Springsteen’s guitar player, Nils Lofgren, had a song where he sings about dancing in the streets (“Secrets in the Street”). I thought about Nils dancing in the streets at dawn coming home and that appears in the song, (recites lyrics), “Ain’t it just like me to be dancing in the streets.” But I was thinking about Verlaine, the poet, and that thing where you’re a moment away from making something rhyme. Expectation. Ten Seconds to Midnight. And I was thinking about (Johannes) Vermeer (Dutch painter) when things are pre-dawn and you’re with somebody and it’s a really beautiful moment. Then Gene Vincent gets name checked in the song, (recites lyrics), “and just like Gene Vincent, I’m longing to groove…” and he was a flat out rock icon. I put them all in the same tune. It was a time to really throw down if you were gonna throw down. I was living in New York City and was just coming out of my shoes. It was a very creative time.

Bluebird Café (unplugged)

I was raised on Western music. Cowboys and Indians to rock and roll was a natural move. The acoustic guitar came before the electric and so did the storytelling. “Bluebird Café” is probably the best thing I’ve done. Donny Lowery had the line, “young hearts can fly, restless and wild.” I had nothing. It was such a great line. We quit for a beer at a local bar. Maybe that would help. Out of nowhere came this super pretty Iranian waitress. We were flirting with her. How could you not? She was playing The Ace of Clubs that night with her band and I could tell how much it meant to her. Pure Nashville. A light went off over my head and I thought, “why not the Bluebird Cafe?” All those young hopeful singer/songwriters on “open mic night”! Me and Donny went back to the studio and I killed it. It’s my best. I’ve said in the press “if Willie Nelson covers it I’ll kiss his feet.” I’m only half kidding; an older voice singing about a young girl making her way in Nashville….

I’m Ready (unplugged)

I wrote “I’m Ready” in my cottage in the Lake District at night towards the end of a bitter cold winter. It’s folk. The acoustic guitar is “first” in everything for me when it comes to songwriting. I don’t think it could have been written anywhere else. It’s a song about reincarnation, finding the same girl over and over through different lives. It had to go on the record. It’s just me alone.

In Dreams

The film company, Morgan Creek, sent me a video of a scene from Quentin Tarantino’s new movie called True Romance. Tony Scott was directing and the cast was “A” list to say the least. I was working with the songwriter MarkSpiro at the time so I thought it just might be an easy thing to “knock out.” It was the first time I’d actually written something for a movie. It came together very quickly at Mark’s home studio. The demo is the “master.” The vocal is what happened winging it. Mark and I work well together and he’s still a close friend. As for me and Tony Scott, we wound up shooting the video for “In Dreams” in Monument Valley with me on top of a mesa and Tony dive bombing me in a helicopter shooting at 360 degrees. It was a life memory. Not only to be on top of that mesa and close to God but to work with Tony. I liked him enormously. I still think about him. He’s missed.

The Hard Way

I was spending more time in Nashville. It was still pretty much undiscovered. Rodney Crowell and Vince Gill were putting out killer stuff and there was such a feeling of “trueness” to everything. I would sit outside the Ryman auditorium and just stare at it. I could never go in for some reason. How I met Jeffrey Steel is a story in itself. He was playing down the street from me in Santa Monica and Debby Holiday invited me down. It was a songwriters circle. Jeff was really outstanding on stage and off–great guy. We made a loose arrangement to work together the next time I was in Nashville. I had the title of “The Hard Way,” a basic plot of two people with different expectations facing in opposite directions, a guitar lick and even a rough bit of melody. But for the life of me I couldn’t do anything with any of it. Me and Jeff met up in a writing room one morning, coffee-d up and jumped in. I remember a train whistle blowing from far away. The south. He was on! I’d come to the table with the best I had to offer that wasn’t finished. I took him very seriously. Jeff immediately got it and took over. I just stood back. He was great. Within an hour it all made sense, was complete and didn’t sound like anything I’d heard before. He’s one of the “real ones” in Nashville. Good song. It’s almost country.

Downtown

There was an old upright Steinway at Sony Music on 5th Avenue. Totally beaten and out of tune. It looked like it had been through a war. It had a poignant tone to it and it always moved me. Glen Burtnick and I would spend hours just talking about the song we would be thinking of writing and suddenly it would just happen. “Downtown” was a song about a long walk in the city and the movie that plays memories back in you’re mind as you remember the past. It’s a difficult song to talk about. It was so personal. I can’t add anything; it’s complete.

Missing You (duet with Alison Krauss)

I recorded this album Downtown that had a lot of my favorite songs on it. We tried to rework the songs a little differently but when it came to “Missing You” I couldn’t think of anything to do with it but a duet. My favorite female singer is Alison Krauss so I called her up and she said yes. I was in Nashville at the time so she just came down one afternoon and away we went and we got it in an afternoon. I went and sang on her record after that and then I played The Opry, which was a very big deal for me.

Book Review – Face The Music: A Life Exposed by Paul Stanley

Paul Stanley - Face The Music: A Life ExposedWhile traveling last week, I downloaded and listened to the audiobook version of Face The Music: A Life Exposed by KISS frontman Paul Stanley. Paul has always been my favorite member of KISS, so I eagerly awaited the release of this book and having him narrate it felt like getting to know him over a cup of coffee…a more-than-12-hour cup of coffee. Despite its substantial length – it’s the longest KISS autobiography to date, Paul’s honest and unfiltered account of his life and career make this a revealing and inspiring book. And the lively narration helps breath life into the words, which makes for a refreshing and engaging listen. If you’re a KISS fan, or just a fan of great music autobiographies, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of Face The Music: A Life Exposed. It may have taken Paul Stanley 40 years to write an autobiography, but it was well worth the wait.

My WWE WrestleMania XXX Weekend

I had a great view of the action from my seat at WrestleMania XXX.

I had a great view of the action from my seat at WrestleMania XXX.

Last weekend I was in New Orleans for my first WrestleMania, WrestleMania XXX. It was a blast and I took a ton of photos and shot multiple videos. Below is a day-by-day breakdown of the fun and festivities that took place. Enjoy!

Friday, April 4

To save money, I decided to fly to Dallas and then to New Orleans. This worked in my favor because I ran into WCW legend Bill Goldberg at the airport. It turns out that we were on the same flight, so I politely asked him for a photo and he agreed.

Meeting Bill Goldberg at the Dallas Airport on my way to WrestleMania XXX.

Meeting Bill Goldberg at the Dallas Airport on my way to WrestleMania XXX.

My plane landed in New Orleans on Friday and I checked into the Marriott on Canal Street shortly thereafter. While walking through the French Quarter to grab dinner, I bumped into Hulk Hogan’s manager, Jimmy Hart. I said hello to him and asked if he’d be at WrestleMania Axxess, an annual festival where fans can meet WWE legends and modern-day superstars, and he said he would. It was a surreal experience to see a larger-than-life personality walking through the streets but he was as nice as could be.

After dinner I headed to the Ring of Honor show in Westwego, just outside New Orleans. The show, Supercard of Honor VIII, was my first Ring of Honor event and it was awesome. Ring of Honor is an independent promotion that has some national television exposure but it isn’t as well known as WWE or the second most popular wrestling promotion, TNA. That said, I wouldn’t hesitate to attend another Ring of Honor event. They go above and beyond to entertain the fans.

I enjoyed the Ring of Honor show with Ben (left) and Alex (right).

I enjoyed the Ring of Honor show with Ben (left) and Alex (right).

Saturday, April 5

On Saturday morning I was up early because I had an 8 a.m. meet and greet with the immortal Hulk Hogan. This was easily the most exciting part of my trip since I grew up watching Hogan as a child and also enjoyed his reality show Hogan Knows Best. After waiting for approximately 45 minutes, I made it to the front of the line and got to meet Hulk Hogan. I went up, shook his hand and told him that he was my childhood hero and that I have great respect for what he’s accomplished. He thanked me, autographed by WWE 50 book and we posed for a photo.

Meeting my childhood hero, Hulk Hogan, was the highlight of my WrestleMania weekend.

Meeting my childhood hero, Hulk Hogan, was the highlight of my WrestleMania weekend.

After meeting Hulk Hogan, I got in line to meet other WWE personalities, including Christian, Howard Finkel and Pat Patterson.

Meeting WWE Superstar Christian.

Meeting WWE superstar Christian.

Meeting legendary ring announcer Howard Finkel (left) and the first Intercontinental Champion, Pat Patterson (right).

Meeting legendary ring announcer Howard Finkel (left) and the first Intercontinental Champion, Pat Patterson (right).

I also visited an exhibit at Axxess called the Undertaker’s Graveyard. For the uninitiated, the Undertaker is a WWE superstar that, up until this year, was undefeated at WrestleMania for the past 21 years. So, they created a graveyard with tombstones for each of the opponents he beat. This graveyard also includes caskets and other props the Undertaker has used in his matches. Speaking of which, I had a photo taken of myself in one of these caskets, only to find out shortly afterward that this wasn’t permitted. Thankfully, I got this morbid shot before being reprimanded.

Me in a casket in the Undertaker's Graveyard at WrestleMania Axxess.

Me in a casket in the Undertaker’s Graveyard at WrestleMania Axxess.

They also had a burial plot symbolizing the Undertaker’s opponent at WrestleMania XXX, Brock Lesnar. As you can see, I eagerly took part in this photo opp.

Me, at the burial site of the Undertaker's WrestleMania XXX opponent, or so I thought.

Me, at the burial site of the Undertaker’s WrestleMania XXX opponent, or so I thought.

Before grabbing some food, I stopped by the Legends’ House booth and met Jimmy Hart. He let me pose with his famous megaphone, which was surprisingly heavy.

Spending time with the "Mouth of the South" Jimmy Hart.

Spending time with the “Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart.

At 6 p.m. I had a meet and greet with the greatest wrestler of all time, “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair. Meeting him was a wonderful honor and after doing so, I was off to the Hall of Fame.

Meeting Ric Flair at WrestleMania Axxess.

Meeting Ric Flair at WrestleMania Axxess.

I had a great seat at the 2014 WWE Hall of Fame, just a few rows off the floor where the wrestlers and their families were sitting. And the class of wrestlers being inducted was excellent. In addition to seeing my all-time favorite wrestler, the Ultimate Warrior, I saw Jake “The Snake” Roberts and Razor Ramon (i.e., Scott Hall) recognized by WWE for their prolific and influential careers. But perhaps the best part was the surprise appearance by the Undertaker to pay tribute to his deceased manager, Paul Bearer, who was also part of this year’s class of inductees.

Sunday, April 6

After not getting much sleep, I woke up early, yet again, to visit WrestleMania Axxess on Sunday morning. This time around I met Howard Finkel (for the second time – and he remembered me!) and Roddy Pipper, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat and “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff and, lastly, William Regal and several NXT wrestlers.

Hanging out with Howard Finkel and Roddy Piper.

Hanging out with Howard Finkel and Roddy Piper.

Meeting WWE Hall of Famers Paul Orndorff (left) and Ricky Steamboat (right).

Meeting WWE Hall of Famers Paul Orndorff (left) and Ricky Steamboat (right).

Meeting NXT Superstars and one of the greatest technical wrestlers of all time, William Regal (far right).

Meeting NXT superstars and one of the greatest technical wrestlers of all time, William Regal (right).

Before leaving WrestleMania Axxess, I took part in an open casting call for an upcoming WWE Studios movie. All I had to do was read lines off a teleprompter. I have no idea what the film is and I highly doubt that I’ll get called back, but I figured I’d give it a shot. I also went through the museum of WrestleMania memorabilia. Check out the video below to see what was inside.

Then, I headed across the street to WrestleCon, a non-WWE event where legendary wrestlers met and took photos with fans. My main reason for going to this event was to meet the WCW and TNA legend, Sting. It’s rumored that Sting will be appearing in WWE very soon so he can end his career with the company and be inducted into the Hall of Fame, so I wanted to meet him before this historic event takes place. He was as pleasant as could be and I’m glad I took the time to meet him.

Meeting WCW and TNA wrestling legend, Sting.

Meeting WCW and TNA wrestling legend, Sting.

After meeting Sting I got an early dinner and headed to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for WrestleMania XXX. My seat for the show was great, and I shot a video of the opening fireworks.

By the time WrestleMania XXX came to a close, I was still in shock over the fact that the Undertaker’s streak of being undefeated at WrestleMania came to an end. The entire arena was in shock and many people were legitimately upset. For non-wrestling fans, I know this is hard to understand. But most fans wanted the Undertaker to retire with the streak intact. While this won’t happen, I’m glad to say I witnessed a historic event, and that I saw Daniel Bryan win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship after overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds.

Monday, April 7

On the last day of my long WrestleMania weekend, I was able to sleep late and take my time. That night I headed to the Smoothie King Center (talk about a stupid name for an arena) for WWE Raw, the company’s flagship television show. The show was awesome and I was only two rows off the floor, giving me a perfect view of the entrance ramp and the ring.

In hindsight, what made this edition of Raw so special is it was the last public appearance of the Ultimate Warrior. Tragically, the following evening he passed away at the age of 54, after collapsing in front of his car with his wife beside him. It’s hard for me to fathom how such a young and seemingly healthy person could die out of the blue, especially since he just made peace with WWE’s CEO, Vince McMahon, and was finally recognized for his tremendous in-ring accomplishments. In a way, it’s poetic that he passed away after receiving the adulation he so rightly deserved and I’m glad I was there to witness it. However, I’m sad for his family, including his two young daughters, because they lost someone important to them. To make things even eerier, the Ultimate Warrior’s promo (i.e., speech while in character) on Raw was about a man’s memory and accomplishments living on long after his death. Thankfully, I filmed the whole thing. It was a bizarre case of foreshadowing.

Posing with an oversized version of the Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania Axxess.

Posing with an oversized version of the Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania Axxess.

My WrestleMania XXX weekend was excellent. I met fans from around the world, spent time with legendary wrestlers and saw amazing feats of athleticism and entertainment. While I may have witnessed the end of the Undertaker’s streak and the Ultimate Warrior’s last public appearances, I also saw the stars of tomorrow and enjoyed visiting a new city. This trip exceeded my expectations and I will gladly go to WrestleMania again in the future.

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