Wrestling legend Mick Foley explains how Tori Amos changed his life.

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Sept. 28 2010 10:06 AM

The Wrestler and the Cornflake Girl

Ring legend Mick Foley explains how Tori Amos changed his life.

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And then I realize I'm going to be all right. Head first, neck first, balls first—it really doesn't matter. By the fourth listen, I know I'm going to tear that place apart.

Looking back, that match in Honjo is probably the performance I'm proudest of in my whole career. Perhaps it would have been a great match without "Winter," but I doubt I'd still be thinking about it 15 years later. What was it about that song, that voice, that person that managed to touch me in a way that nothing else ever had, and maybe ever will? I've listened to "Winter" so many times over the years, and I have never failed to receive that tingling in the scalp, that magnificent rush.

Yes, other things in life make me feel that same way. That scene in Rocky when Adrian closes her eyes after watching her man hit the deck. Or the moment in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer when that train with square wheels, the ostrich-riding cowboy, and the rest of the gang on the Island of Misfit Toys hear that first jingle of bells in the distance and realize that Rudolph has kept his word. (Come on, admit it, that scene gets to you, too.) But I've never watched Rudolph and thought about barbed wire. And Rocky used to make me do weird things like go jogging at midnight, but it never inspired a single wild match.

Lots of music has moved me, too. "Copperhead Road" by Steve Earle, "Diary of a Working Man" by Blackfoot, Nils Lofgren's guitar solo on the live version of Springsteen's "Youngstown." But "Winter" is different. I remember the times. I remember the places. I remember the shows. That no-rope barbed wire match with Funk. The infamous King of the Death Match Tournament in Yokohama, Japan—a day that left me with 42 stitches (distributed over six separate body parts), second-degree burns, and hundreds of tack holes. April 18, 2004: my first singles match in years, the best match of my life, in Edmonton, Canada. April 2, 2006, with Edge in Chicago: My favorite Wrestlemania memory, the match that was voted by WWE fans as the best of the year.

Again, though, why that song? I think it comes down to confidence. In all four of those matches, my anxiety was high, my confidence low. All four matches offered not only the possibility but the near certainty of injury. And in all four of those cases, I sat down by myself, rocking back and forth slowly, letting that voice take me far away from my doubts and insecurities. "When you gonna make up your mind? When you gonna love you as much as I do?"

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Most listeners would interpret "Winter" as a song about a father's love for a child. But the question in the refrain always appealed to the scared part of me, the part that believed I wasn't strong enough, or big enough, or good enough. It never mademe think of doing wild and dangerous deeds inside a wrestling ring. It helped me believe that I was strong enough to do the things I already knew needed to be done.

Alas, things have changed, and it is highly unlikely that I will ever listen to Tori Amos before a wrestling match again. Her music still moves me, still inspires me to act—just in ways I hadn't previously considered.

My relationship to "Winter" changed in July 2008, when I met Tori for the first time. She was making an appearance at the San Diego Comic-Con, the same place I was set to sign autographs. I was as nervous to meet her as I'd been before any of those violent matches. It wasn't that I thought she'd be mean—I'd always heard just the opposite. It's that "Winter" was so personal to me. I loved lots of songs by other artists, but I didn't have as much of an emotional stake in the artists themselves.

I eventually gathered my courage and made a pilgrimage to Tori's side of the convention hall. There she was: bright orange hair, high distinct cheekbones, and a warm smile for each fan who posed by her side. I was about 10 feet from her when she looked over, got up from her chair, and extended both her arms. "I can hug you?" I asked, disbelieving. And then Tori put her arms around me. Though I probably outweigh her by 200 pounds, I felt like an innocent child in the arms of an angel. Laugh if you want, but this is how I remember it—I was a child, and she was an angel.

Tori, it turned out, has a nephew who is a big wrestling fan, and he had told Aunt Tori about the wrestling guy who used to get motivated for big matches while listening to her music. I'm not trying to claim that she was a fan—I just can't seem to get a mental image of her on a couch, watching Impact or Raw, a beer in one hand, remote in the other, a bowl of chips in her lap. But she definitely knew I was a fan of hers, and she seemed kind of flattered.

After that meeting, I never listened to "Winter" in the same way. Instead, every time I've heard the song in the last two years I've felt like I could change the world. In January 2009, I sat down in a hotel room in Dublin and wrote the words "Meeting Tori Amos" on a pad of yellow legal paper. At the time, I had no intention of writing another book, or writing anything at all. But that yellow legal pad became the first chapter of my new book, Countdown to Lockdown—a chapter that would eventually make the actual Tori Amos both laugh and cry.