Audiobook Review: In “Up Against the Wall,” David Hasselhoff Saves the Free World

Audiobook Review: In “Up Against the Wall,” David Hasselhoff Saves the Free World

Up Against the Wall is a first: an audiobook that makes you think, “I’d rather be listening to David Hasselhoff’s memoir.”

Until the actor decides to record Don’t Hassel the Hoff, this new Audible Original will have to do. According to reviews of that 2007 autobiography, though, it actually wasn’t all that different from the openly fictional Up Against the Wall: an account of David Hasselhoff’s life in which David Hasselhoff doesn’t just star in Knight Rider, he basically saves the world.

The reason Up Against the Wall leaves you yearning for (relative) nonfiction is that the parts of this alternate history where the Hoff slugs it out with spies and dodges bullets on a zip line over the Berlin Wall are the story’s least interesting interludes. What’s weirdly compelling is the reality that inspired the whole silly fantasy.

As Hasselhoff himself recounts — narrating the story in a voice that sounds like he drank a four-pack of Bartles & Jaymes and then stuffed two slices of Wonder Bread into his mouth — he was surprised to discover that his 1985 debut album Night Rocker was a huge hit in Austria and Germany. (Setting the player speed to 1.25x or 1.50x makes the Hoff sound a little more authentically youthful, I found.)

History still hasn’t quite figured out exactly what made Hasselhoff, whose musical sideline is basically a joke in the rest of the world, a bona fide rock star in Germany, but his made-up espionage thriller is disappointingly mundane compared to the surpassingly strange reality that his single “Looking for Freedom” topped the local charts in 1989, a legitimate anthem sounding the end of the Cold War.

Americans and Brits may prefer to remember Reagan’s “tear down this wall” speech or Roger Waters’s all-star rendition of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, but Germans in both of what Hasselhoff calls “the Siamese twin cities” of East and West Berlin still cherish the memory of the Hoff singing about freedom in a flashing leather jacket on top of the Berlin Wall as the ’80s came to an extremely on-brand conclusion.

“I think you can compare the situation back in 1989 to a huge party where everyone was drunk,” German writer Hanna Pilarczyk told The Hollywood Reporter. “And you start making out with that guy who was attractive and available but then you forgot about it. But years after the party, people still keep reminding you, ‘Remember that night you made out with David Hasselhoff?’ What can we say? It happened.”

The Hoff being the Hoff, though, that just wasn’t good enough. Thus we have Up Against the Wall, where “there’s a fine line between fiction and nonfiction, and you don’t know what’s real and what’s not,” explained the author/narrator in a promotional video, hinting that the story will reveal “who David Hasselhoff really is.”

The video shows Hasselhoff reading the story in a shirt that’s generously unbuttoned to let some of that famous Hoff rug hang out, and you can almost hear the chest hair rustling. Even if you’re not well-schooled on the history of the Hoff, though, you can pretty reasonably guess what’s fiction and what’s fact.

Has David Hasselhoff killed a man with a syringe to the neck? Probably not. Has he slept with a superspy? Also probably not, but I’ll give him that one. Did he actually bring the KITT car onstage during his “Night Rocker” concerts? 100% yes, and if there’s any department in which the Hoff is overly modest, it’s regarding his dance moves. Look at the extension on that high kick!

I won’t even get into the plot, which involves a rogue nuclear warhead and a double case of mistaken identity. I’m tempted to say the story’s too long, but that suggests that there is some appropriate length for this project. Instead of eight hours, should Up Against the Wall Be…six? Four? Two?

Really, once you’re in for eight, you might as well beg for ten and listen for more loopy interludes like the one where he’s soaked in truth serum and ends up confessing the future fictional biography of his Baywatch character. For Hasselhoff fans — and you’ve already betrayed yourself by the very act of reading these words — that scene alone will be worth the $29.95.

Beneath all the laborious derring-do, Up Against the Wall is Hasselhoff’s heartfelt tribute to a time and a place where he very unexpectedly brushed up against history. The Germans loved him, and they also loved freedom. Two great tastes taste great together, right? One million Germans can’t be wrong.

Jay Gabler