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Rocker, edgy, tight, bad boy…

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I’m not one to talk. I know very well about the befuddling spell of clothes, the nature of desire fulfilled for just a moment by the perfect this or that, and then the need to find it again. What I want is the elegant, the perfectly simple and comfortable that tends to come at a bit of a price. It’s at this point that Buzz Bissinger – the writer, 20 years ago, of Friday Night Lights – and I part company. Though had I known about it we would have parted company when he endorsed Mitt Romney. He spends all he wants on clothes, and at a rate I could only nightmare about, but what he’s after is ‘rocker, edgy, tight, bad boy, hip, stylish, flamboyant, unafraid, raging against the conformity’. You don’t spend $13,900 on a Gucci ostrich skin jacket to achieve comfort.

I don’t doubt that most forms of addiction are subsets of a compulsive disorder. An imbalance of desire that plays into the idea of mania or bi-polarity. The desire, I suppose, being simply wanting and never being satisfied with what you think you want. Something you have to do to assuage some terrible need that transforms into a variety of specific needs: to eat, take drugs, gamble, have sex, or shop to excess. There’s always the same feeling of panic and loss of control you get around someone who is really addicted to anything, that is exactly similar to being with a person in the middle of a manic episode.

It’s almost excessively clear, as he writes it, that Buzz Bissinger has an addiction to shopping, in his case, facilitated to a high degree because ‘I make a good living and received a generous inheritance from my parents, there was no threat of going broke.’ He estimates his spend to date on couture clothes as $587,412.97. It’s only a lot of money if you can’t afford it. If you can afford it, there’s just a touch of guilt to deal with, though in Bissinger’s case, he thinks rather that a purchase he makes at an expenses paid (to those who have) Gucci viewing equates to the cost of a full year’s tuition at his son’s college, rather than, say, school books for Zimbabwe or clean water in the Congo. Everything really is relative. He increases the speculation about his condition by explaining he’s on medication for ‘mild bi-polarity’, the shopping began when his wife left the country for work and his last son went to college, and he has been vigorously experimenting to see if he might not be gay or have a preference for S&M, given his predilection for leather.

the patent leather trench coat from Burberry, a cropped leather jacket from Versace, a brown leather jacket from Ralph Lauren, a studded leather jacket from Cavalli, boots from Jimmy Choo, leather gloves from Ines in Amsterdam and Madova in Florence. I bought dozens of stretch jeans and leather leggings and leather pants that sculpted my lower body the way I wanted, with no room for speculation.

It is surely a much better way to be ill than being a penniless junkie having to break into houses to get the wherewithal for a fix.

Bissinger speaks about the horror of how much he spends, and only briefly mentions, in an article sorely in need of editing, phoning his broker for extra money to pay for his habit.

But there’s the matter of addiction and sickness, and then there’s the matter of taste. He has not a word to say about the horror of what he is spending his money on. The clothes all by themselves are awful. And the clothes on him are indescribably punitive. Perhaps they are a kind of body-covering equivalent to the hideous picture in the attic that the mind simply can’t countenance. He does wonder (though only in passing) if he might not be narcissistic. I would love, though only for an instant, to see through his eyes as he looks in the mirror. Even if you’re bucking respectability, there are ways of not looking – well, like he does. It’s true that Lou Reed sings his hymn to heroin with a beleaguered love, but if smack looked like Buzz Bissinger in Rust and Bone trousers even the Velvet Underground would have taken a rain check. It has always been a marvel to me when people with enough money to buy whatever they like buy really horrible stuff and look terrible. They murmur his name in awed undertones when he enters the 5th Avenue store, and Bissinger has a ‘Divine Stylist’ who chooses his looks for him based on his taste. It is or is not a comfort that the rich and deluded are never short of cruel people willing to give them what they want.


  1. streetsj says:

    it must be quite grim to have no capacity for self denial. on the other hand I am afflicted by an inner puritanical bookkeeper who sits on my shoulder saying “you don’t need that”, “it’s not worth it”, “it’s a rip off”, “you’ll only get addicted” and so much of life passes me by…

  2. Jessica Wolpert says:

    He does look respectable, though–the bottom halves of those outfits are all very standard American women’s weekend wear circa 2004. I used to constantly wear a jeans/boots combo exactly like his, although I assume my jeans and boots cost less. Not exactly Jim Morrison-type stuff.

  3. thewomaninthestripedshirt says:

    Right, nothing says “raging against conformity” like a chubby, plain-looking guy wearing costume-y clothes that don’t flatter him in the slightest . . . It’s unbelievable how desperately afraid of looking uncool he looks in those photos.

  4. bluecat says:

    Yikes! He looks like a plumber wearing someone else’s legs!

    Sorry I clicked the link now… oh dear!

    Jenny Diski’s last point rather reminded me of Imelda Marcos. Thousands of pairs of shoes and they were pretty much all alike, mostly horrible, and reminiscent of the things I used to try and sell in Lilley and Skinners on my Saturday job back in 1975, only a million times marked up.

    • Jessica Wolpert says:

      It’s so disappointing, isn’t it? I was all set up to envy him, and he does look like a plumber. The amount of money spent should make the clothing look absolutely out of reach of mere mortals, even if his body is still very mortal.

      He should fire the Divine Stylist, “divine” is a bit much.

  5. Whackamole says:

    Jenny I love you but I couldn’t disagree more. The piece is raw, fascinating and ruthless. What other aging white male American novelist would ever show such courage of self-depiction? The guy is from Philadelphia! He’s very aware of how scandalously uncool and–most radically–effeminate his obsession comes across. I applaud his courage.

    • thewomaninthestripedshirt says:

      You’ve got to be kidding Whackamole. Or the guy’s publicist. Just about every American sitcom, and a meaningful portion of American movies, features a schlubby, uncool, self-obsessed white male, who somehow manages to have partnered with a far more attractive and often more well-adjusted woman. There is absolutely nothing radical about the narcissism of unattractive white men. As for the lurid suggestion that there’s something “effeminate” going on, I’m not even going to touch that. Blurgh.

  6. avis says:

    I appreciate the perspective on the “bad taste” aspect of Buzz’s
    shopaholic haul. However, being a former shopping addict I can empathize with his problem.

    Having written a memoir about my own compulsive shopping I can attest to the “high of the buy”,and the stimulation and let down that goes along with the purchases.

    Unfortunately, I think this addiction remains misunderstood and easy to mock. I’m not sure if Buzz makes things easier or more difficult for compulsive shopping to be taken seriously but, like Whackamole, I find him courageous.

    Avis Cardella

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