WWE: A Lesson in Rock-and-Roll History Will Tell Us Where We're Heading, Part 1

Craig GoldbergContributor IIIMarch 2, 2011

Many parallels can be made between pro wrestlers and rock musicians.  Both breeds tend to carry a similar attitude and dedication to their craft.  When you spend a majority of your life on the road doing the thing you love the most, it becomes nearly impossible to ever walk away.  Any entertainer will tell you that there is no rush compared to the one you feel from a charged up live audience.

A bands career, much like a wrestlers, normally starts with humble beginnings.  Playing empty clubs and bars, and making little or no money, is the gold standard for an up and coming band.  After all of the dues are paid, with a little bit of luck a band may rise to the top of its game and become a legitimate force to be reckoned with.

That is what the WWE is.  A force so strong, that no other wrestling promotion can touch it.   They have grown from a small regional promotion into a global marketing phenomenon.  How did they get there and where are they going?  To answer these questions, it is smart to take a look into the world of music. 

There are three different kinds of lives that a successful band may live:

The first is the band that has continued success for its entire career, without changing much music or image wise.  A good example of this is The Rolling Stones.  Since 1962 The Stones have been a relevant force in music, selling out stadiums worldwide, and influencing musicians from all genres.  They are the highest grossing touring artists of all time, and have done this despite the fact that they have been playing the same songs for forty plus years. 

The next type of band is the band that throughout its lifespan will make sudden drastic changes in order to inject new life, or to attract a larger base of listeners.  A recent trend has been for more established artists to foray into country music, as it remains the most popular genre of music in America.  Recent examples include Bon Jovi and The Eagles.  Music purists tend to hate this type of transition, but album sales prove that it can be a very wise move for many musicians.

Lastly is the kind of band who naturally progresses over a long span of time.  These tend to be more critically acclaimed and respected bands such as Radiohead.  A band like this will progress at its own pace, making genuinely interesting music, and never appealing to the lowest common denominator. 

So if the WWE were a band, which category would they fall into?  Let’s break this down.

You can definitely make a great argument that the WWE is comparable to The Rolling Stones.  The WWE has outlasted a countless number of wrestling promotions, and has grown more recognizable as a powerhouse year after year.  But unlike the Stones, The WWE has made many changes over the course of its existence.  From the venture into producing movies to the edgy over the top attitude era, The WWE has consistently managed to adequately reinvent itself.  They have learned that relying on old stars will not work in this day in age, and have consistently developed exciting young talent.

The WWE have made quite an interesting progression over the past few decades.  In the eighties the kid-friendly WWE became a staple in family entertainment.  Larger than life superstars such as Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior brought a comic book like environment into wrestling.  These superstars rising to the top allowed the WWE to capitalize on merchandising in a way that had not ever been achieved.

The organic development of these characters turned into a gold mine, but then it got tricky.  The WWE was forced to create fresh new stars, and had to fast track their growth.  Similar to a band, with a hit single on its hands, the demand for something new and exciting creates tremendous pressure. With a lack of superstar talent on their hands, early nineties were rough for The WWE, and it would take several years for the likes of Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels to make their impact.

The same thing happens to almost every big band.  At some point the fans will look in another direction.   When grunge bands like Soundgarden and Pearl Jam got stale sometime around 1995, teenage angst began to lend itself towards the urban struggles of Los Angeles, and away from scummy dive bars in Seattle. 

When wrestling fans grew tired of over the top gimmicks and story lines, they began to look away.

This is where category two kicks in.  The WWE’s natural progression always forces them to make abrupt changes.  In order for The WWE to stay at the top of their game, these changes are highly necessary.  In 1997, immediately following the events surround Bret Hart’s controversial departure, the WWE shifted gears towards a more outlandish adult oriented product. 

This was a major risk that panned out to be a new life for The WWE.  It opened the door to heightened media attention and brought us some of the most legendary figures in wrestling history.

In Part 2, I will break down how the future Of The WWE can be examined, by looking at The Beatles, Weezer, and much more.