Jesse Ventura's wrestling persona – known as "The Body" – exuded a rock star image with his rippling physique, bleached-blond hair, berets, and his ability to make feathered boas seem macho.
When his wrestling career drew to a close, Ventura garnered even more fame – some would call it infamy – by becoming governor of Minnesota, and he has remained an outspoken and entertaining public figure. He has played many roles in his life – Navy SEAL, wrestler, politician, movie star, conspiracy theorist, visiting fellow at Harvard Kennedy School of Government, New York Times best-selling author, and briefly, bodyguard for The Rolling Stones.
Back Page Magazine thought the ever-opinionated Ventura would be a fascinating guy to speak with, and he proved us right when we recently chatted at length about his new book, 63 Documents the Government Doesn't Want You to Read, along with the rock and roll influences that helped shape his larger-than-life personality.
BPM: How has the publicity tour for your new book been going?
JV: The book signings have been phenomenal. They're supposed to only be two hours long, but they're going three and a half hours because people are lined up outside and down the block. We're going through 220 to 250 books per signing, which is the biggest one I've ever had.
BPM: What kinds of things do your fans say when they finally have a chance to meet you in person at these signing?
JV: Usually people just thank me for the courage I'm showing in talking about things we know about, but that no one else will talk about. Americans who care anything about this country need to read my new book, because when they read it, they may think they're reading about Nazi Germany, not the United States of America. And I guarantee, this book will educate you.
BPM: You believe democracy in America has been undermined from within?
JV: Absolutely, and it's been going on for a long time. The other day I heard an interesting thing said about the Vietnam War, and that was this: There wasn't one Vietnamese who fought in our civil war – so why did we fight in theirs?
BPM: Your new book is an effort to prove American citizens have been duped into wars they shouldn't be fighting, lied to about intelligence and fed hogwash about terrorism. Are the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001 the issue you are most frequently asked about?
JV: Oh yeah, everybody wants to talk about 9/11. And the question that has haunted me from day one is how come the world's biggest military superpower was somehow oblivious to rogue airliners in American air space for more than an hour? When it comes to 9/11, I can't believe all the people in our country that are in denial. In my new book, we show you the documents that there was a "stand down" on 9/11, and that's why none of our jet planes got in the air. This is not me making this stuff up. These are all documents right from the United States government. So I sit back and say, either the government knew about it and allowed it to happen, participated in it, or else they were completely inept.
BPM: In chapter five, you write about the CIA's destruction of al Qaeda detainee torture videos. Do you find the majority of Americans are unfamiliar with the interrogation technique known as waterboarding?
JV: Yes, and I'll tell you it's torture – and it's against the law. It gives you the complete sensation that you are drowning. If done wrong you can swallow your tongue or drown. I've been waterboarded – and it truly is torture. When you read this chapter, it makes you wonder what else government officials are covering up. And get this: I had a guy who got me so angry recently on Fox who called (waterboarding) "a spa treatment." A spa treatment! I looked at him and said, "Why don't you let me come in here and waterboard you? Let's see how long you last!" These guys just kill me, and I call them chicken hawks. All these guys who think they're so tough and all, and yet when it was their time to walk the walk, they were chicken. So that's why I call them chicken hawks.
BPM: On your recent experience on The View, was Canadian music icon, Robbie Robertson. Did you have a chance to speak with him?
JV: Oh yeah, and we talked for I bet you 20-25 minutes. He was telling me how he grew up in Canada and got hired by "The Hawk" Ronnie Hawkins. How that took him down to the Chitlin' circuit, as they call it in the deep south. So we talked all about that and he gave me his new CD. And it was so much fun because he knew Janis Joplin, of course, along with Jimi Hendrix, who is one of my heroes.
BPM: Jimi Hendrix is reputed to have said, "Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens." Would you say much of your wisdom has come from listening to great music?
JV: You could say that. This past winter I did a lot of reading, and though he's dead, I became very close with Jimi Hendrix, whose music I grew up with. But it wasn't until I read a couple books about him – one of them was 'Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky – did I realize he is the greatest guitar player who ever lived. He belongs with Beethoven, Bach, and those musicians. And you know, Jimi Hendrix couldn't read a note of music. Here was a man who grew up in extreme poverty and the guitar, for him, was escapism.
BPM: During wrestling promos back in the '80s, you would often boast about being friends with The Rolling Stones. Are you still a fan of their music?
JV: I can deal with The Rolling Stones still touring and enjoy watching them, because the Stones are always coming out with new albums. Unlike The Who, who haven't had a new album in something like 30 years. Did you see them at the Super Bowl this year? Oh God, weren't they awful? To me, it's like, come on guys – if you're not going to put out a new album then what the heck are you doing? I don't get it.
BPM: Have you read Keith Richards' new memoir, Life?
JV: No I haven't, but this past winter I was given a book called The Wit and Wisdom of Keith Richards, and it was so hilarious that my wife and I were rolling on the floor reading it. I loved this one as it was nothing but quotes from Keith Richards, who I consider another one of my heroes.
BPM: What did you learn about Keith Richards from that book?
JV: You know, everyone looks at Keith Richards as this burned out, drugged-up rock and roll star, but I think he's a whole lot smarter than that, and is playing a bit of a role. I think he's actually brilliant, and here's why: the cops were always hassling him in England, chasing him down for this and that. You know how he solved it? Well, Keith owned a big, huge Bentley, and what he would do is put two foreign country flags on the front bumpers, so when he'd drive it looked like an embassy vehicle that had diplomatic immunity! (laughs) So the cops wouldn't bother him, and he could get as loaded as he wanted to and drive around without getting busted. Now that's brilliance!
BPM: Do you have a favorite quote by Keith Richards?
JV: Yeah, in the book Keith says, "I've never had a problem with drugs. I've had problems with the police." How perfect is that! There's another great story in that book where he talks about how he and Ron Wood were hanging out backstage one time at a concert when their manager walked in and said, "the police are here." So Woody and he are rushing to flush everything down the toilet, when about two minutes later, Sting and Stewart Copeland walk in. And now Keith is ticked, 'cause they flushed everything down the toilet and here it is that the police their manager was talking about was the rock band, The Police! Absolutely hilarious!
BPM: You played a central role in the first WWF Wrestling Album, ushering in the "Rock'n'Wrestling Connection" period, which saw wrestling's popularity soar in the '80s. Do you see yourself ever stepping into the ring to wrestle, one more time?
JV: You know one of the things I'm most proud of? When I retired from wrestling, I actually did (retire). I mean, how many times has Ric Flair retired now and come back? And what about Hulk Hogan? Hogan recently wrote a booked called, My Life Outside the Ring, and yet he's still in it! Isn't a book like that supposed to be written when your career is over? I don't get it. There will be no comebacks from Jesse Ventura.
BPM: Do you have any favorite bands that you wish would make a comeback?
JV: Led Zeppelin is my favorite band of all time, and for years I was angry that Zeppelin wouldn't reunite. I would say, "Why won't Robert Plant do it? Come on – more Led Zeppelin! But then I read the Zeppelin biography, When Giants Walked the Earth, and I really began to realize that Robert was correct for not reforming the band. Because it will never be the same, so why not leave the memories intact rather than be a bunch of old men out there trying to be Led Zeppelin. Some things, after all, do not improve with age.
BPM: As someone who has an uncanny knack for reinventing himself, what's your next move?
JV: My co-writer Dick Russell and I already have another book goin.' It's a totally different subject, and that's all I'm going to say about that. My wife and I live in Mexico, off the grid, and I enjoy the tremendous amount of privacy we have, especially during the winter months. I think my wife and I are actually going to apply for Mexican citizenship in the months ahead, because there are a lot of advantages to being a citizen in both places. In the meantime, I just want to encourage Americans to read my book. Because the only way, in my opinion, that the United States is going to survive is for citizens like us to take our country back again. And in order to do that, we have to be educated.
BPM: As the host and executive producer of TruTV's Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura, do you have any interesting conspiracies in the lore of rock and roll to share with Back Page Magazine?
JV: Yes I do! When my hero, Jimi Hendrix died, he only had $21,000 in the bank. Those managers of his robbed him blind, and at the end of the day, that's all he had in the bank, if you can believe it. You see, Jimi Hendrix was a genius, and one of the things I've noticed in my life about geniuses is, they can be so brilliant in one area but very deficient in another. And those managers – who swindled and stole his money, keeping it in banks in the Bahamas – took advantage of that. Personally, I think they each should have gotten 50 years in prison for it.
BPM: That echoes an important message in your new book: "It's time that Americans start paying attention and become diligent in keeping track of what their government is doing."
JV: Absolutely. And not allow them to do many of the things these documents portray clearly of what they've been doing for the last 50 years. It's important, people, because as taxpayers we have every right to know how every cent is spent. Writing this book tested my patriotism, to have to read the things my country has done. Like Jimi Hendrix's managers did to him, the United States government is taking money from me, and they're funding crazy things that I would certainly love to know about. And I have every right to know to know about it, just like each and every one of you.
Reprinted with permission from Back Page Magazine.
August 24, 2011
© 2011 Back Page Magazine