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Tuesday, August 17, 2004
Updated: June 7, 6:25 PM ET
Part 4: A 'Singles' hitter

By Bill Simmons and Chuck Klosterman
A Page 2 production

Editor's Note: This is part 4 of Bill Simmons' running email exchange with pop-culture writer Chuck Klosterman of Esquire and Spin magazines. If you missed part 1, part 2, part 3 or part 5, click here to see their other exchanges.


Bill Simmons
To: Chuck Klosterman
Subject: RE: Face Off
Time: 2:30 p.m. ET

Dear I-Have-No-Idea-Why-I'm-Named-Chuck,

All right, I feel an obligation to defend "Singles," the defining movie of my Gen X-career. What exactly made you decide that it wasn't as good as "Reality Bites"? Was it the superior soundtrack? The superior filmmaking? What about the fact that it came two years earlier, making it ceaselessly more original?

You're too caught up in the age thing. "Singles" was about people in their mid-20s trying to fall in love; "Reality Bites" was about people in their early-20s trying to figure out life after college. You just appreciate the second premise more than the first one; and if that's the case, you should be championing "Kicking and Screaming" instead -- better movie, better acting, infinitely more realistic, although no Winona.

FACE-OFF
Chuck Klosterman and Bill Simmons will exchange emails all day long, and we'll post a new letter every 45 minutes. Here's what they've done so far:

  • Part 1: Does America just totally suck?

  • Part 2: Who would try to kill Sonny Crockett?

  • Part 3: The Unambitious Stoner Guy

  • Part 4: Defending "Singles," ducking Scientologists

  • Part 5: Why is Bill so addicted to "Real World"? Can Chuck help him?
  • Remember, "Singles" director Cameron Crowe went on to make "Jerry Maguire," "Almost Famous" and "Vanilla Sky" (the latter which you defended in "Cocoa Puffs," neglecting to mention that it was practically a scene-for-scene cover of a foreign movie called "Open Your Eyes") ... while Ben Stiller went on to direct "Zoolander" and "The Cable Guy." So there. And yes, I liked "Reality Bites." I just can't stomach the Ethan Hawke character -- it was bad enough dealing with pompous, condescending know-it-alls after college without having to watch them bag Winona Ryder in her "I'm not quite crazy yet and there's no way these breasts should go with this waif-like body" stage.

    (And by the way, I never thought Winona should marry the Ben Stiller character. He said things like "What's your glitch?" 'Nuff said. Every time I watch that movie, I root for a lesbian ending with Winona and Janeane Garofolo. In fact, there's still time.)

    As for your questions ...

    1. I'm with you: Carl Lewis was the second-greatest athlete of our generation. I can't think of anyone who compares to him and MJ, with the possible exception of the Swedish nanny who vanquished Tiger. Unfortunately, Carl was also the second-most unlikable athlete of our generation, right behind Barry Bonds. It isn't that he was a bad guy -- he just tried too hard. There was something about him that rubbed us the wrong way. He knew it, and he kept trying to overcompensate for it, which made us dislike him even more. Fortunately, that led to him trying to sing the national anthem before that Nets-Bulls game, which was arguably the greatest sports moment of all-time. I feel bad for him. He never cheated, he always handled himself with dignity, and nobody cared.

    Winona Ryder
    Remember Winona Ryder wasn't crazy when she made "Reality Bites."
    2. I'm constantly living in fear here in Los Angeles. Everyone talks about Compton; but for my money, there's a much more terrifying area in L.A.: the Scientology compound in Los Feliz, right near where my friend Nick lives. It's eerie, crazy-quiet there, and randoms are walking around the compound checking everyone out and providing pseudo-security, giving off a vibe reminiscent of when Kelly Taylor was abducted by Professor Finley's cult in "90210." I can't even explain how creepy this place is, especially at night. Every time I went there, I kept waiting for Nick to act quiet for a few minutes, then open his mouth, point at me and emit that screeching sound like Donald Sutherland at the end of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." I never visit him anymore. He has to come see me.

    3. I haven't written a book partly because I'm overextended, partly because all my stuff ends up on Page 2, and partly because I'm an idiot and haven't gotten around to it yet. I wanted to release a collection of ESPN columns, but the higher-ups are pushing me in another direction. So we'll see. I need to write something soon because my old college has this bookstore with a "Written by Holy Cross Alumni" section, and I used to stare at the books there and think, "Some day, I'll be on that shelf with my own crappy book!" Now I'm running out of time -- for God's sake, I could get shot in a drive-by tomorrow (probably by a Scientologist who just read the previous paragraph).

    I'm trying to balance this current piece while watching Game 3 of the Philly-Buffalo series from 1976 on NBA-TV. There are at least a 70-percent chance that I'm the only person in the country watching this right now. For one thing, you either have to be unemployed or working out of the house (because it's on in the afternoon). You have to enjoy 28-year-old basketball games. And it's imperative that you have absolutely nothing else to do. So unless Ricky Williams likes old NBA games, it's just me and Bob McAdoo's family watching this baby.

    Singles
    Remember "Singles" came out two years before "Reality Bites."
    But get this -- not only is Dr. Jack wearing a blue corduroy jacket with a matching late-blue shirt and plaid pants, but the Braves are playing two bald guys right now (Don Smith and Bobby Weiss). And I'm not talking about shaved-head guys. I'm talking about the George Costanza/Bundini Brown/Jeff Van Gundy bald guys, like the way somebody's dentist should look -- hair on both sides, a horseshoe of hairless skin in the middle. Which reminds me: This is Reason No. 934 why MJ was the greatest athlete of our generation: With his hairline receding in his mid-20s, he saw the Bobby Weiss-level writing on the wall, made the preemptive strike by shaving his head, then set off a chain of head-shaving that endures in African-American culture even today. Just like what it did for Mekhi Phifer's career.

    Four more questions ...

    1. If Billy Corgan died in '94 instead of Kurt Cobain, would MTV have been running "The Smashing Pumpkins, 10 Years Later" retrospectives this summer?

    2. Poker: simple fad or something with legs?

    3. Where do you stand on Red Sox fans? Do you care?

    4. What's your favorite sports movie of all-time?

    Back to you.



    Chuck Klosterman
    To: Bill Simmons
    Subject: RE: Face Off
    Time: 3:15 p.m. ET

    Billiam ...

    Your reference to Kelly Taylor's abduction by Prof. Finley's cult is sublime. If Kelly Taylor were a real person, I would love to write her biography: This is a woman who joined a cult, got amnesia, was almost burned alive (and then almost became a lesbian), dated a heroin addict, dated a gambling addict, became addicted to cocaine, and (I think) was trapped at the bottom of a Midland, Texas, well for 58 hours in 1987. I cannot fathom a more compelling life.

    Kelly Taylor
    You think you've had a hard life? It's nothing compared to Kelly Taylor's.
    Carl Lewis is a strange dude. He's one of those guys who desperately wants to be seen as a tragic figure. At the end of his "Beyond the Glory" episode, Carl insists he gets more accolades from doing community theater than he ever received in his career as a track athlete. I am skeptical of this. As for Barry Bonds, I don't know. I guess I like him. He seems honest. I mean, how can you expect someone whose father played Major League Baseball to be impressed by the premise of becoming a professional athlete? If I had pursued agriculture, I highly doubt I would walk around being all humble and grateful about my ability to cultivate soybeans. I'll completely take Barry's misanthropy over Sammy Sosa's false earnestness.

    Here is the single coolest thing about ESPN Classic, NBA-TV, and everything else that repackages things I loved when I was 10: It's the tangential information. Every time the Doug Flutie vs. Miami football game is replayed, I watch it. And my favorite part is not "The Pass" -- my favorite part is right before "The Pass," when Brent Musburger mentions what was going to happen on "Falcon Crest" that night, because that game happened to be played on a Friday afternoon. These are the things that make life worth living.

    As for your queries:

    1. If Billy Corgan died in '94 instead of Kurt Cobain, would MTV have been running "The Smashing Pumpkins, 10 Years Later" retrospectives this summer?

    A: No, his retrospective would only run on MTV2. Had Corgan died, it would have been a bigger deal than Shannon Hoon, but still way smaller than Cobain. Plus, in the spring of '94, the Pumpkins had only released "Gish" and "Siamese Dream," and these were not iconic records. "Siamese Dream" is very good, and the songs were absolutely everywhere, but it did not become a definitive sonic backdrop for the national aesthetic. When people hear the first nine seconds of "Smells Like Teen Spirit," they immediately associate those chords with that specific cultural era; when people hear the first nine seconds of "Today," they often think to themselves, "Is this 'Cherub Rock'?"

    2. Poker: simple fad or something with legs?

    A: This "poker thing" caught me completely by surprise. I think it probably has some staying power, because the kind of people who like watching poker on TV are inevitably going to try to play the game themselves, and gambling is addictive, and addictive things never lose popularity. It would be kind of like if ESPN started broadcasting competitive angel dust smoking.

    3. Where do you stand on Red Sox fans? Do you care?

    A: Pedro Martinez is my favorite player in MLB, so I suppose I am a Red Sox fan; I just don't have that much invested in the franchise, and I hate Ben Affleck. When the BoSox got beat by the Yankees last fall, my friend Michael lost his mind and wandered the streets of Manhattan for several hours. When he finally returned from his exodus, he very casually said, "I'm fine. It's OK. I just understand things now. This is just proof than there is no higher power, and that goodness will never overcome evil, and that there is no valid reason to believe in anything, because the universe craves darkness and despises light. So, I'm totally OK." I found this sentiment somewhat troubling. What I love about Red Sox fans is their sense of doomed destiny; they almost want to lose, because that failure is romantic. This is far different from, say, Minnesota Vikings fans, as they always believe -- and I mean always -- that this is the year. And it never is, and it never will be.

    4. What's your favorite sports movie of all-time?

    A: Crazy you should ask this: This afternoon on ESPN Classic, they just showed "Rocky III." Now, this is not my favorite sports movie of all-time, but it prompts an important question: If Rocky Balboa had been a real person, which bout would boxing historians consider his finest hour? I assume it would be Balboa-Creed II, because the fight against the Russian would always be shrouded in controversy. It definitely would not be his fight against Mr. T, since I suspect Clubber Lang would be remembered as an angrier version of Buster Douglas.

    I am 99.9 percent certain we have the same favorite sports movie. There really only seems to be one valid answer to that question.

    Click here to go on to part 5.

    Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His Sports Guy's World site is updated on ESPN.com every day Monday through Friday. Chuck Klosterman is a columnist for Esquire and Spin Magazine, and well as the author of the best-selling book, "Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs." You can reach him at cklosterman@spin.com.