RandBall Q&A: Drew Magary, noted author

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

drew.jpgIf you ever were looking for proof positive of the power of the Interwebs, look no further than Drew Magary. Fifteen years ago, he might have merely been your funny friend with a sharp wit. Thanks to the power of the interactive pen, he is, in 2008, a noted blogger and an author of a newly released book called “Men With Balls.” The book touts itself as a guide for athletes, but really it’s just a hilarious look at what it really means to be involved with professional sports. We’re many amusing pages into it already, and we highly recommend picking it up (and we’re not just saying that because he mentions us in the acknowledgments). To commemorate its release, we decided to send Drew some questions. He was kind enough to answer. Here we go:

Q The book seems suspiciously like a really long and slightly more focused version of the Jambaroo. Why should I spend $16.99?

A Because that’s EXACTLY what it is.

Q What motivated you to write this book?

A I needed more money to help pay for my addiction to old 18th century pornography. You should see the ankles on some of these chicks.

Q Buzz Bissinger says on the back cover, “Profane, beyond naughty, and, I have to say, just damn funny.” 1) If I read between the commas, is that the part where the book pisses the [redacted] out of him? 2) How the hell did you get Buzz to blurb your book after the infamous blogger meltdown on HBO that included your name (well, at least a version of it)?

A Let’s just say that despite our apparent differences, Buzz and I found many things that we DID agree on. Long walks. Japanese cinema. Cuddling by an open fire.

Q What exactly is your relationship to Minnesota, anyway?

A Lived there from Age 8 to Age 15. It’s hard to tell people where you’re “from” when you moved around as a kid. But I think you gotta stick with the location of your main pubescence.

Q The book seems to be doing very well on Amazon.com, ranking No. 3 right now in terms of sales in the category “Books > Entertainment > Humor > Sports.” But it is also failing miserably in the category “Books > Reptiles > Turtles.” Why do you think that is?

A I dunno. I think the book makes for excellent bathroom reading, so you’d think it would do gangbusters in the Turtle category.

Q Chapter 8 is titled “Favored Children of the Antichrist,” and the first part is about the media. Did you mean me?

A Yes, Michael Rand. Or should I call you by your proper name … Mephistopheles???!!!

Q Chris Cooley also gives you a blurb on the inside jacket cover. Did he unwittingly provide the cover art for the sequel earlier this year?

A Yes. That book will be titled “Men With Sticks”

Q No. 68 is a stupid number to wear in youth football. Discuss.

A Discuss it with yourself, number snob. [Editor's note: Drew wore No. 68].

Q If you could have either eternal enlightenment or a lifetime supply of the greatest gametime snacks and beers, what would you choose?

A Oh, the latter. Who’s to say I’m not already eternally enlightened? I think anyone who reads the book knows just how enlightened I am, especially when they see all the penis drawings.

Q Was the NFC championship game after the 1998 season really played?

A Yes. But I don’t remember any Viking technically “playing” in the 2000 NFC title game.

Q What’s the stupidest thing you have ever done in the name of the love of sports?

A This interview! ZING!!!!

Q What is the greatest eating holiday and why?

A Thanksgiving. Not even close. I can eat my weight in green bean and fried onion casserole.

Q You really seem to linger on the “Hot Naked Men” chapter. Am I wrong?

A Why do you want to know? Does the idea of me lingering over hot naked men fill you with a clandestine sense of excitement? REVEAL YOUR TRUE FEELINGS.

Q OK, a few more about the book: Did you enjoy being able to stretch out a little or did this process feel more like a series of short items than an actual longform work?A I made certain it was a series of short items. Who can read a longform item these days? I can’t even watch a short film without watching another short film in the middle of it.

Q If you wrote a novel, what would it be about?

A There’s no way any novel I’d write could have a coherent plot. It would probably start out about a monkey scientist, only to end up being about Vampire telemarketers.

Q Are you ready for the lawsuits?

A I know my rights, dammit.

Friday (Charissa Thompson) edition: Wha’ Happened?

Friday, October 17th, 2008

There could be 10 things as crazy as last night’s Red Sox/Rays game that happen between now and 5 p.m., and the truth is we won’t be touching on any of them. You’re getting nothing but the prepackaged good stuff today as we travel to North Dakota for a little quality time with the parents. First up: an interview we recently conducted with Charissa Thompson of Fox Sports and the Big Ten Network. Thompson does sideline work for Big Ten and NFL games and appears regularly on Best Damn Sports Show Period. She worked the sidelines for last week’s Vikings/Lions game and will be working Sunday’s Vikings/Bears game for Fox (if you don’t recognize her immediately from the picture, she recently changed her hair color, which we’ll get to later in one of many hard-hitting questions). In any event, here we go:

RandBall: Looking at your bio — is there anything you don’t cover for Fox these days? And does that get overwhelming?

Charissa Thompson: I’ll put it this way: I’ve been lucky enough to be busy. Having a job and being busy is a luxury these days. … Of course I enjoy them all, as long as I stay organized. Anytime you travel, there is the uncontrollable. But you learn not to try to control the uncontrollable. The work itself is amazing. At the end of the day, it’s sports and it’s fun. It doesn’t really matter how I get there or how late I’m up.

RB: How would you define the role of a sideline reporter?

CT: It’s kind of changed over the years. … What I have an opportunity to do down there is see things the guys in the booth can’t see. I see Calvin Johnson (last week), see the defensive unit, the emotion from the coaches. It’s interesting in watching these different teams. Minnesota’s defense shows such emotion, and it’s evident. Someone in the booth is not going to be able to see that. I put the detail and the color into it.

RB: Are there rules, written or unwritten, for where you are allowed to go and what access you get?

CT: It’s different for college and NFL. I do Big Ten stuff, and … teams are more guarded with information. You can report what you see, not what you hear. I couldn’t say, “Rich Rodriguez said X.” But if, for example, we’re in coaches meetings the night before and he said something that he then repeats during the game, I could (reference it). … They’re giving you access, but it becomes intrusive if you go quote for quote what they’re saying. The NFL is same way, but they’re more lenient in being able to walk the sidelines. Minnesota is pretty open … but I’m not going to say which teams are not.

RB: So could you get close enough to see the individual hairs on Brad Childress’ mustache?

CT: I don’t know if you’d want to get that close. Actually, he is one of the best coaches to talk to at halftime. Some guys don’t want to talk. I try to find certain questions that are going to get a more specific response. He’s generous with his time and open with his responses.

RB: Has there been a defining moment so far in your career when you knew that you had “arrived” in a sense?

CT: In New York, it was August or September,  and we did an NFL seminar, with all the guys from the NFL. One night we went out and did a team bonding deal at a bowling alley. There were executives, along with guys like Howie Long and Michael Strahan, and we were all bowling, and I looked around, and it was a moment where I learned to appreciate exactly what I was doing. … And a moment on Best Damn when Dr. J. showed up. I thought, “I’ve been given the opportunity to do this for a living.”

RB: We’re in the Internet era, and we’re also in an era where sideline reporters seem to be somewhat of a phenomenon — Erin Andrews and so on. Does it make you more cautious or aware of what you’re doing?

CT: You’d be lying to say you don’t care about those things … there is some ignorance out there and people can say whatever they want. (Someone wrote), “Adult film star is now a Fox reporter.” My name, if you Google it, is the same (as that of an adult film star). It’s ignorance. But … I don’t have to like everybody. Everyone is entitled to an opinion.

RB: What role does apperance play in your field?

CT: You’d be lying if you said it didn’t matter. Two weeks ago, I dyed my hair from blonde to brown, and it was unbelievable how much attention it caused. In dying my hair, I realized how much perception is emphasized in looks. It was a good case study to figure out how you’re looked at. (Appearance) is a foot in the door. Everyone needs a little luck, to show the potential you have.

RB: What is your greatest on-air fear?

CT: It happened last week in the Minnesota game. … The mic wasn’t on. It’s always on. It happens, and I didn’t get upset about it because I can’t control it.

RB: How would you describe your off-air personality?

CT: I’m definitely a smart-aleck, and that can get me in trouble. But nothing really changes … doing a show like Best Damn, you use a lot more of your personality. On the sideline, you get 20 seconds.

RB: Is this where you envisioned your career going, and what is the next step?

CT: This is it. I made a video when I was 11 years old of being a sportscaster. I interviewed my brother, and he was being Jay Buhner. … I actually had that on my first reel. A paper towel roll and a tennis ball was my first microphone. So this is something I always wanted to do, and maybe that’s why I have a greater appreciation for it. To use the cliché, “the sky is the limit,” I just want to keep going and fulfill the potential that I think I have.

RandBall Q&A: Sports Illustrated’s Gary Smith

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008

smith.JPGsmithbook.jpgIn trying to find a worthy comparison for Gary Smith’s contributions to the world of sportswriting (and writing in general), several names popped up. The Babe Ruth of … The Wayne Gretzky of … The Michael Jordan of … but none sounded right. Hopefully, you get the idea: his depth of writing for Sports Illustrated has defined a genre. Twenty of his best pieces appear in a new book called “Going Deep: 20 Classic Sports Stories.” If you aren’t familiar with his work, there’s always time for change. From legends to relative unknowns, Smith finds a way to get to the heart of stories. He also recently took the time to answer some questions from us. Here we go:

RandBall: How did you pick these 20 stories, and was that a difficult process?

Gary Smith: It was. I went back and forth over a lot of them. One thing was wanting to get all four of the national magazine award stories in there. And there are three that either a movie has been made or rights for a movie have been sold. Then I was just trying to get a mix. I had some thoughts toward pacing, a mixture of celebrities and unknown. And things with a different feel. There was no formula or science to it.

RB: Do you have a personal favorite or favorites?

GS: It’s hard to say, but up there among the favorites is one I wrote called “Damned Yankee” and the one about Ali’s entourage.

RB: I’d like to talk about the process: For one of the average-length pieces in the book, can you give me a rough outline of the process from the inception of the idea to publication?

GS: I get an idea, and then I try to spend a couple days reading anything I can about it. I jot some questions down, and if the person is agreeable I try to spend a week and a half or so with them. Then I come back and start transferring material into my laptop, putting it into categories. I’m thinking about the material, thinking about themes, and writing down follow-up questions, and I do a good bit of follow-up calling. Then I’m thinking about how I want to structure it, what the piece really has to say, trying to show it not just say it, and then finally I start writing. That will take an average of three weeks.

RB: You not only get access to your subjects, but you use it extraordinarily well. Your ability to peel back the layers – and to keep peeling – is the key to your work, in my mind. How would you describe the way you approach and gain the trust of your subjects?

GS: Some of it has to do with being comfortable with yourself and trusting yourself, and hopefully that puts the other person at ease. They get a sense with the questions as its developing and unfolding that the priority is just trying to understand who they are as a person instead of trying to judge them. Maybe some of them have read a few things I’ve written before, which helps. … It definitely is something that develops over time. It’s something that’s grown with confidence in what I was doing.

RB: When you go that deep with people, how do you ultimately let go and move on to the next thing?

GS: It’s kind of like coming up out of a dream sometime. It takes a couple days to clear it out of your head, and its’ never completely cleared out. The stories and the people – you emerge from something.

RB: You remark in the acknowledgments, “In an industry in which the long narrative is gasping …” a partial quote intended to give thanks to your editor at SI. What are your thoughts on the overall direction of the business and the types of writing going on?

GS: The movement of ad dollars from print to online is hard to ignore. I think it’s a shame, and something will be lost. To me, the web is a great medium, but it’s far from the ideal medium for long, thought-provoking things. We’re going there with a mindset of going there for information. You’re in that mode, trigger finger ready for a scroll, rather than to think or feel and absorb it. I’m hoping in some way that through at least books or something, people will realize the importance of something that takes them to a different place, that there’s some forum for that aside from the web. I just don’t think that transaction works there. That medium (the Internet) works for other things.

RB: What else do you read, both within the sportswriting world and beyond?

GS: We get the New York Times here every day, and I read the local Charleston (S.C.) paper. Beyond that, the last couple of years I have been reading a lot of philosophy. A friend of mine and I are trying to follow the ball from the Pre-Socratics in Greece to where we are now … we’re not all the way through. We’re maybe halfway down that road right now.

RB: Interesting. Is that type of range in your reading something that translates into your writing, or is it just a personal interest?

GS: It’s both. It has definitely shaped a lot of how I think about the world and other human beings, and how I approach stories.

RB: I imagine you aren’t used to being the interview subject. Is it strange being in the other chair, so to speak?

GS: I definitely have done more of that [interviewing] in the last couple of weeks than in my entire life. The questions have all been good … but it is strange. I’m not learning anything new.

RandBall Q&A: Chuck Klosterman

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

chuck.JPGChuck Klosterman is a native son. And by that, we mean a North Dakotan. He graduated from the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks (where our dad teaches) in 1994, which is the same year we graduated from Grand Forks Central High. He has worked at various publications as a pop culture and music writer, but he is perhaps better known for his books. The first was called “Fargo Rock City,” and it was so true that it hurt. The fifth was just released and is his first novel. It is called “Downtown Owl.” Klosterman will be reading from said book on Thursday, Oct. 2 (that’s one week from tomorrow) at the Triple Rock. The web site indicates the night will be “full of awesomeness,” and we tend to agree. Recently, Chuck was kind enough to answer exactly eight of our questions. Here we go:

RandBall: I have intentionally avoided, up to this point, finding out any information about your new book, a novel. I can only assume it is an extension of the story you gave us all a taste of at the end of IV, yes? [Note: We were not serious].

Chuck Klosterman: Actually, the story from “IV” and this book have no relationship whatsoever. Which is probably good, because that story kind of sucked. “Downtown Owl” is about tax evasion, alcoholism, statutory rape, Tommy Kramer, and wind.

RB: What the hell happened to the USC-era Reggie Bush?

CK: I think we (or at least “I”) overlooked how much of Bush’s collegiate success was built around the fact that he could essentially run away from every outside linebacker he ever faced, which simply does not happen in the NFL. He can’t get into space. However, he will still have a nice career. He will be better that Preston Pearson and possibly as good as Joe Washington or Bobby Mitchell, which (in theory) would make him a borderline Hall of Famer. But he can’t blow people away, and — somehow — that always feels disappointing. He was absolutely the best collegiate running back I ever saw.

RB: A lot of people have strong feelings about whether MLB starters should be held to strict pitch counts. What are your thoughts, and is it surprising that so many people care passionately about a seemingly mundane topic?

CK: I feel like this argument is a manifestation of that night the Sox left Pedro in against the Yankees during the 2003 ALCS. People can’t get over that. I think Babe Ruth pitchers should be held to strict pitch counts — beyond that, everything is situation. It’s a man’s game.

RB: Your beard: best for closing ballgames for World Series Twins teams, making a deep NHL playoff run, or something else completely?

CK: My splitter could terminate a few dudes in the bottom of the ninth. My beard is a nice length for that kind of action. However, that’s only because I recently received a trimmer. Last summer, my beard was more suited for the logging industry, playing lap steel on “Layla,” or seducing a female Sasquatch.

RB: Creating clever fantasy football team names has replaced creating clever band names as an idle past-time for 20-something males. Discuss.

CK: No idea. I don’t understand the question. But here’s my new plan: I want to start a band that only plays cover versions of songs that tell narrative stories about how the group itself started, such as Boston’s “Rock and Roll Band,” Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ’69,” and that one good single by Art Brut. However, we could only play one gig.

RB: Kevin Love or O.J. Mayo?

CK: This is actually pretty close. I think Love has the potential to be better, but only if he’s the third option on a very good team (and that will never happen in Minnesota). Mayo is more complex. He’ll either be awesome or useless. There is something strange about his attitude; he seems detached in a way I cannot define. He might end up being a version of Vernon Maxwell who passes well, or a [redacted] sociopath.

RB: A Cambridge University “personality map of America” found that New York is where the least friendly people live, while North Dakota has the nicest people. Where, um, does that leave you?

CK: Drunk.

RB: You’re doing your reading at the Triple Rock, which is awesome. But: That’s the same venue where on June 8, 2003, I saw the very last Lifter Puller show after they reunited for a three-night stand. I bought a T-shirt to commemorate the event, and then it was stolen from a laundromat about 6 months later. Will you be taking any measures to ensure merchandise purchased at your reading will not be eventually stolen by neer-do-wells?

CK: Yes. Every person who comes to the event will be given a complimentary AK-47 assault rifle. Please bring your ID.

RandBall Q&A: A&R of “Joe Mauer Theme Song”

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

blackboard_square_ar.jpgThe other day, we received an e-mail from a woman named Eileen Parker, who wanted to set us up with an interview with recording artist A&R (given name Antonio Richardson). After reading a little more about him, the obvious answer was, “yes.” A&R wrote and performs “Joe Mauer Theme Song,” which Baby Sideburn Batting Champ has used as his at bat music this year. As the story goes: Both of them are St. Paul guys; A&R met Mauer through some of his former high school football teammates at Cretin-Derham Hall. According to the artist, Mauer played one of his songs at a New Year’s Party he hosted, really enjoyed it, and asked him to find a song for his intro music this year. A&R took it one step further. He will be performing “Joe Mauer Theme Song” live before Friday’s game (5:30 p.m. it says right here, where you can also have a listen to the song yourself). A&R was nice enough to answer some questions. So let’s get to it, shall we?

RandBall: Did you actually get to attend Joe Mauer’s New Year’s Eve party, at which your song influenced him? If so, can you please describe the scene.
A&R: Yes. I mean, it was a great experience. The decorations were excellent. It had white linen hanging from the ceiling, table cloths, open bar, buffet — it was all that you could ask for, from a New Year’s Eve private event. It was really classy. Joe and Justin Morneau both had on black and white tuxes with top hats … it was great. The atmosphere was total networking and a lot of old friends coming together to bring in the New Year.

RB: How often has the Joe Mauer Theme Song been played this season prior to his at bats? Is it every at bat, or is it just select at bats, and if it’s the latter does he seem to perform better when your song is played?
A&R: Well the song does play at all home games … but sometimes it may get bumped out of the way by crowd chants and stadium announcements and stuff. But other than that, yes, it plays every time he goes up to bat. Other songs that I’ve given him are played a lot in their locker room and in interviews that I’ve noticed — like a song that I have called “Straightn Up For Tomorrow” and other songs, but his performance on the field has always been great. I would say it has given him a boost though. Soon as the lyrics start on the song it’s like this:

“Guess who steps up to the plate/it’s minus 1 from number 8 (#7) check the sideburns can you relate/straight from the home of the great lakes/he got soul power it’s Joe Mauer the human highlight tape/”

I mean, that would prepare you for some great anticipation at the plate so yeah, I would say he’s on the verge of something great this season.

RB: When you say the song will be live on the pregame show Friday, what exactly does that mean?
A&R: I will be performing live at the Metrodome. And, if I am correct, I’ll be one of the first Hip-Hop artists to perform in the Metrodome for the pre-game show.

RB: If Joe Mauer wrote a song called, “The A&R Theme Song,” what would it sound like? Does a keen batting eye translate directly into strong mic skills?
A&R: I would say it would sound full of life. Actually its funny you said that because Joe writes music from time to time. If Joe was to write a “A&R theme song” I know automatically it would put a smile on everybody’s face because that’s the type of person Joe is. He would bring out the brighter side of me and the accomplishments. The “Eye on the Prize” element will make it a hit. It’s something about being in the zone that brings out the best in everything and I was definitely in the zone when I wrote “The Joe Mauer Theme Song.”

RB: St. Paul guys seem to have a special connection. How would you describe that city bond?
A&R: The bond is extremely strong I think it stems a lot from our up-bringing because we were groomed to always stick together. Its like a brotherhood. No matter how far in the world each person could be, no matter how much success you gain, you are still connected to your brothers. There are very few who actually keep those values in the world so we make it a point to always hold that. A lot of times St. Paul is also overshadowed by Minneapolis because of the success of people like Prince. And, the Metrodome and Target Center are in Minneapolis. But, the one thing we have is our structure and togetherness that really always sticks out.

RB: Not to be picky, but in the theme song (which I enjoyed very much, by the way), you found audio footage of a Joe Mauer home run. Where were you able to find that?
A&R: Aside from being a friend of Joe’s I am also a fan, so I kind of keep highlights of my own for personal memorabilia. I’m a huge sports fan and I always keep special things of the players who have had an impact on me and my life. People like Jerry Rice, Magic Johnson, and Joe, and it just so happens that it fit well for this song. And it’s kind of a way that certified that this was supposed to happen. And so when me and my DJ (Dj MV) listened through them, it was perfect.

RB: Any chance your work with Joe (and him having a good year) will lead to the entire lineup commissioning you to write theme songs? Because as much as I like hearing “Cherry Pie” every time Brendan Harris comes up, don’t you think he and others might benefit from a change?
A&R: Yeah, I think they would benefit greatly, and I think that has a great possibility to happen. I’m a lifelong Twins fan so I could put a lot of everybody’s personality into the song that would make it great for everybody. It could be a great thing to uplift the entire team.

RB: All kidding aside, what other projects do you have coming up?
A&R: Well in a week on Aug. 8, I will become the first Hip-Hop artist to ever perform at the James J. Hill Mansion, which I’m very much looking forward to. Sept. 2008, I have a documentary film that will premiere at the AMC Mall of America titled “Green Light.” I have an album coming out soon that will be the soundtrack to the movie. For those who’ve seen my billboards that I did with CBS on Pascal and University in St. Paul, right across the street from the Midway Shopping Center, I have two new ones coming up. One is with Peter Parker from B96. I have ringtones available; just text keyword “Joemauer” to 67463 to get the “Joe Mauer Theme Song” on your phone. So things are looking great. Always staying busy, and with every move I’m elevating the name “A&R” to something bigger and better.