Few columnists can transition from music and culture to sports, but few writers are like Chuck Klosterman. Perhaps best known for his monthly column in Esquire, Klosterman has also made a name for himself as a senior writer at Spin magazine and as author of three books. Klosterman has recently begun writing regularly for ESPN.
The Heckler: How did you make the jump into the world of ESPN?
Chuck Klosterman: [ESPN columnist] Bill Simmons published an email interaction we had a few years ago and I guess readers responded well. About a year later, ESPN.com approached me about writing regularly, which has worked out to be monthly.
TH: How has the addition of sports to your writing assignments gone?
CK: It’s interesting because sports journalists are surprised when a rock critic knows who some obscure player is, as though people outside sports don’t know anything about sports. No subject in the U.S. has any more people with expert-level knowledge of it than sports. A vast majority of people have expertise about sports. It’s a universal thing, especially with guys obviously. We use it to relate to each other. If I have to go to a party with my girlfriend where I’m not going to know anybody, I’m immediately relieved if someone in a group knows sports because I know we’ll have something to talk about.
I wrote something about Reggie Bush and how the Texans used this weird logic to convince themselves he wasn’t the best player in the NFL draft. I was on a JetBlue flight when I saw the news that Houston was going to pick Mario Williams, which just blew me away. I thought to myself ‘I have 90 minutes left on this flight, I might as well make like $3,000.’ I’m not Mel Kiper. Maybe they’re right and I’m wrong. There were no camps on this issue. Everyone thought Reggie Bush was the best. The clarity of his greatness can be seen by a little kid. It’s like when Minnesota took Darrin Nelson instead of Marcus Allen. I was born and raised in North Dakota, so I was a Vikings fan and even I knew it was a bad idea. I was 10 and I knew this was a big mistake.
TH: How can you explain the diehard nature of the Cubs fan base, even though the team hasn’t won a World Series in nearly 100 years?
CK: In a way the Cubs were the immediate big winner after the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 because the Red Sox had this dramatic literary meaning. To say ‘I love the Red Sox’ would tell you something about the person. Then when the Red Sox won the World Series, to say you’re a Red Sox fan says little more than ‘I hate the Yankees.’ Now the Cubs are that literary franchise. It’s kind of like me with the Vikings: They’ve never won a Super Bowl. Are they doomed? Can a team really be doomed? That’s not a question people want to ask because it brings in a whole other set of philosophical things. The existence of a puppet master, karma, penalties for living life and things like that.
TH: Does your background in music make you more aware of the use of music in sports?
CK: I have an interesting story about music and sports. In 1999 or 2000 I interviewed Todd Rundgren and I asked him what he does on weekends. He said he watches the St. Louis Rams. I asked him if he was a fan and he said that no, he doesn’t give a shit about football. He watched the Rams games because they played that song ‘Bang the Drum All Day’ every time the Rams scored a touchdown, so he was getting paid like $500 each time. That was when they were the ‘Greatest Show on Turf’ and led the league in scoring. He’d sit back after a game knowing he’d just made a few thousand dollars. I thought that was funny and for some reason it made me like Todd Rundgren more.
TH: Living in New York, can you provide some insight into the Knicks soap opera?
CK: If the Knicks had this team in Atlanta or Milwaukee, it’d be like ‘god they suck’ and that’d be the end of it. No one likes the Knicks now, but if they were good everyone would love them. The media here treats Larry Brown-Isiah Thomas like the Paris Hilton-Lindsay Lohan situation, yet some people in town probably think Patrick Ewing still plays on the Knicks.