Buzz Bissinger


Buzz has the literati buzzing. The sports world, too. And the sartorial.

We’re talking Buzz Bissinger, and if you don’t know him personally (I don’t) there’s a better than fair chance you know his work. He’s the guy who wrote “Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream”, a book about Texas high school football. The book has sold north of two million copies, was made into a movie and, I’m told, inspired a television show. Everybody who’s into football has read it, seen the movie, watches the show. I’m told.

On a more elevated level, Bissinger wrote an absolutely wonderful book about St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa as the latter wrestled with, in the words of the jacket promotional copy, “the strategic and emotional complexities of baseball’s quintessential form, the three-game series.” (It was an ‘03 match with the Cubs). And there was a book on the NBA, another on shady Pennsylvania politics, and a couple memoirs; and did I mention the Pulitzer he won for his newspaper expose of a corrupt court system?

By most lights, Friday night’s or any of the other six’s, Buzz has done well, journalistically and financially. Surely he enjoys the esteem of his colleagues. Now we learn he really needs the royalties.

Buzz has, or had, a secret. A secret life.

Buzz says: “I have an addiction.”

Buzz’s latest literary offering is a piece soon to appear in [begin ital] G.Q. [end ital], a journal appropriate to his latest subject — his wardrobe — and perhaps even to his disorder. To good to hold on to in terms of its newsstand sales potential, the magazine has released, prior to official publication, excerpts of Buzz’s 6,000 word account of his closet and — his closet.

“I did experiment,” as he puts it.

We’ll omit, here, the racier portions of the text; it’s not clear to me, for one thing, whether Buzz is simply having some fun with us when he writes: “Tom Ford makeup is divine; the right foundation and cheek blush and eyeliner and lipstick can do wonders for the pallid complexion. *** But a dress or skirt just doesn’t look good on me, and I can’t ever do a thing with my hair.”

Now, this sort of revelation might have been shocking back in the day, but not when the men and women of the Arkansas legislature are reaffirming their manhood and the men and women of the U.S. Supreme Court are deciding whether gays and lesbians may lawfully wed. So, no, it’s not that Buzz chose to “experiment.” Experimentation is not his addiction. And the closet from which he has emerged would appear to have little or nothing to do with his gender preference. He had to come out. There’s simply no more room in his closet.

Buzz Bissinger is a shopaholic.

Millions suffer the same pathology. There’s no shame in it. Televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker, although incapable of shame, acknowledged her affliction, made jokes about it, and people (well, the gullible) loved her for it. The disease took hold of him three years ago, Buzz relates, when his wife took a job halfway around the world at the same time one of their three children went off to college. With time on his hands and much money in his pocket, he shopped. And shopped and shopped and shopped.

He’s even tallied, to the penny, what his addiction cost: $638,412.97.

That’s a staggering sum, certainly. But not as staggering as what it purchased.

With no difficulty I could imagine a man of Buzz’s resources hopping a plane to London and bespeaking a couple dozen Savile Row suits at $5,000 or so each, then to Jermyn Street for a shelf of $400 tailored shirts, followed by an afternoon at Lobb for a score of handmade shoes at a thousand per foot. And a side trip across the channel to Paris, unable to resist les cravats du Hermes et Lanvin.

But no.

Buzz’s inventory includes 81 leather jackets, 75 pairs of boots, 41 pair of leather pants, ten dinner jackets and 115 pair of gloves. The most expensive leather jacket, an ostrich skin Gucci, cost $13,900. The most expensive leather pants, $5,600. The most expensive gloves, $1,015. The most expensive evening jacket, “also from Gucci, black napa leather with gold threading” — $9,800. (Measured in depravity, the cost is secondary to the design).

Yet that’s not the worst of it. Buzz’s disease, the depth of his degradation, is most agonizingly evident by his purchase of 32 pairs of “haute couture jeans,” the haute couture-ist of which set him back $2,500.

And you thought 501s were pricey.

He’s in desperate need of a 12-Step program, Buzz; already he’s taken the first step by acknowledging his problem. Let’s hope his next book details his recovery. The damage done by the napa leather dinner jacket can’t be repaired, but he can still triumph over jeans.

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Steve Barnes is a native of Pine Bluff and the host of Arkansas Week on AETN.