Buzz Bissinger: A Savior for the City

More than two decades ago, Buzz Bissinger won a Pulitzer writing for the Inquirer, then published his masterpiece, Friday Night Lights. Now he’s rich, and famous. So why is he back at the Inky as a columnist — and why is he so mad?

Buzz likes being angry. It’s the emotion that rings truest for him, because it suits a world that isn’t as it should be. Will Leitch shouldn’t be sitting in a TV studio with the author of Friday Night Lights — “He hasn’t paid his dues.” Ed Rendell shouldn’t be pinning Pennsylvania’s future on gambling. Mayor Nutter shouldn’t be handing out raises, even to police: “Who else do you know who’s getting a raise?” The National Enquirer shouldn’t be in contention for a Pulitzer prize. Barbaro shouldn’t have died. Tony La Russa should win the goddamned World Series. And Sandra fucking Bullock shouldn’t have won an Academy Award, because now Michael Lewis is going to sell more books.

, Shooting Stars, published last September, was written with basketball great LeBron James — written, Buzz admits, for the money. It tells how James and a handful of friends overcame huge odds in high school to win a national championship. The only time they blow a game, it’s because they’re slacking off, smoking pot and chasing babes. That’s how it’s supposed to work, but not how it does. Sometimes stuff just … happens. And there’s no one to blame.

Buzz’s fifth book has been a long time in the making. It dates back to August 20, 1983, when his first wife gave birth to twins, 13 weeks prematurely. Harry Gerard Bissinger IV was tiny — less than two pounds — but perfect. Zachary, born three minutes later, wasn’t; he’d been deprived of oxygen. The divide in Buzz’s life between the before and after of that day is incalculably wide. The before is filled with … well, at least the possibility of light. The after is dark and grim.

The irony is that Zachary is happy. He works at a grocery store. He’s friendly, ebullient, always ready to go. “But no one, no one, wishes to have a son like that,” Buzz says. “The background I come from … a New York German Jew … to watch my son in a parking lot, scraping up pizza crusts and cigarette butts and putting them in a dumpster — ” Ahh. God.