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.

Mick Foley, Tori Amos, and Colette Foley.
Mick Foley, Tori Amos, and Colette Foley

I can still remember the first time I heard Tori Amos. It was the fall of 1993, and I was in the back of a colossal '79 Lincoln Coupe Mark V, embarking on some otherwise forgettable road trip somewhere in the Deep South. On that night, my compatriot Maxx Payne—the wrestler, not the video-game character —unleashed an all-out audio assault: Megadeth, Rage Against the Machine, GWAR, and a few other offerings that made the guys in GWAR seem like sensitive stylists by comparison.

Finally, I tapped out and asked for something a little less combative. "You know, Jack," he said, baritone booming—I was known as Cactus Jack back then—"I have something you might like."

I always had an appreciation for diverse musical styles. As a halfway decent college DJ, I had been exposed to some great progressive stuff and always took pride in unearthing musical gems. But up until that night, Tori Amos had eluded me. I was vaguely aware of the name but most definitely not the voice—by turns haunting, tender, defiant, angry, and vulnerable, sometimes within the same lyric. The first few songs of the album Little Earthquakes were unlike anything I'd ever heard.

And then there was "Winter."

"Snow can wait, I forgot my mittens," she sang. "Wipe my nose, get my new boots on." If there is such a thing as love at first listen, I fell helplessly, hopelessly in love from that very first lyric. "When you gonna make up your mind?" she asked me, accompanied by the gentlest, tenderest notes from a Bösendorfer piano. "When you gonna love you as much as I do?" Maxx and Nick Patrick (a wrestling referee and our co-pilot for this particular road trip) had seen her play the song on Leno or Letterman and were interrupting my private concert to discuss her unusual piano-playing style. Apparently, the late-night appearance had created quite a visual memory for them. I didn't even know what she looked like. But I thought this was the most beautiful song I had ever heard.

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It wasn't until a year and a half later, on a tour of Japan, that Tori Amos and "Winter" started playing a role in my wrestling career. I had just left Ted Turner's World Championship Wrestling, a bold move that had not been particularly popular with my wife. We'd just had our second child, and leaving a job with a guaranteed six-figure income (low six, but still six) might not have been the greatest example of responsible parenthood. This seemed especially true during my first tour for IWA Japan, a small promotion with a heavy emphasis on wild matches: barbed wire, fire, thumbtacks, and blood—lots of blood.

On the tour's final night, I was set to compete in a barbed-wire match with Terry Funk. Despite being 20 years my senior, Funk—a mentor and something of a father figure to me—was a wild man in the ring. Only 180 fans braved the cold to attend that show in Honjo, but the national wrestling media was there, and Funk and I both felt that an exciting match could help build this small promotion. I guess the reasonable goal, looking back all these years later, should have been just to get through the match. But back then, my goals tended to be not all that reasonable. As ridiculous as it might seem to me now, my aim that night was to have the best barbed-wire match ever.

There was only one problem: I was terrified. This is a normal human response to the very abnormal prospect of being dropped head first, neck first, and, yes, even balls first on jagged metal barbs. How exactly does a gentle, caring man (me) transform himself into a willing participant in such a barbaric spectacle? I needed to find some kind of inspiration in a hurry.

I looked out the dressing room door and saw the Japanese preliminary wrestlers taking down the ropes, beginning the process of putting the barbed wire around the ring. The wire they used was the real stuff: cold and uncaring, capable of tearing flesh in a hurry. I knew I had about 30 minutes before the wiring process was completed—a half-hour to undergo a drastic mental transformation. I took out my battered Sony Walkman and, after great deliberation, bypassed the obvious hard-rock selections. Finding solitude in a far corner of the frigid backstage area, I saw a cloud of my own breath as I pressed the play button. "Snow can wait, I forgot my mittens/ Wipe my nose, get my new boots on."

"When you gonna make up your mind?" Tori Amos asked me inside that frigid dressing room. "When you gonna love you as much as I do?"