Bobby Fischer was singing the blues. As he wailed along with a 1965 recording by Jackie ("Mr. Excitement") Wilson, his voice—a gravelly baritone ravaged by age but steeled by anger—rumbled through the microphone like a broken-down freight train on rusty wheels: "You go walking down Broadway, watchin' people catch the subway! Take it from me, don't ask for a helping hand, mmm, 'cause no one will understand!" With each note he became increasingly strident. "Bright lights will find you, and they will mess you around! Let me tell you, millions will watch you! Have mercy now, as you sink right down to the ground!" Even if you knew nothing about Bobby Fischer, listening to him sing this song would tell you all you needed to know. "There just ain't no pity. No, no, no, in the naked city, yeah—New York City."
This unlikely duet, featuring Jackie Wilson and the world's first and only chess grand master fugitive from justice, was broadcast live, on July 6, 2001, by DZSR Sports Radio, a Manila-based AM station that has embraced Fischer as a ratings booster. In exchange for these rare interviews (Fischer hasn't given a magazine or TV interview in thirty years), Sports Radio management has happily provided Fischer with hours of free airtime to spin his classic R&B records and to lash out at his enemies, both real and imagined. Fischer categorizes these enemies—including the former New York mayor Ed Koch, both Presidents Bush, and the Times Mirror Corporation—as "Jews, secret Jews, or CIA rats who work for the Jews."
This radio broadcast was Fischer's seventeenth in the Philippines. The bizarre karaoke interlude was a departure of sorts, but otherwise the broadcast was no different from the previous sixteen. Fischer's talking points never vary.
For chess buffs who tune in for some shoptalk from the game's most revered icon, there is this:
The No. 1 transgression, however, the thing that has devastated Fischer, embittered him, and made him screech at night, alone in his apartment, is the "Bekins heist."
The international chess community, which tracks Fischer's downward spiral the way astronomers track the orbit of a dying comet, has been monitoring his radio interviews since the first one aired, back in January of 1999. For the most part chess people have for years downplayed the importance of his outlandish outbursts, explaining that Fischer's raging anti-Semitism, acute paranoia, and tenuous grasp on reality are hyped by the media and misunderstood by the public. In the early 1990s Fischer's girlfriend at the time said, "He's like a child. Very, very simple." A friend who spent a lot of time with him in the 1990s says, "Aside from his controversial views, as a person Bobby is very kind, very nice, and very human." Another friend, asked how he could stand by someone so blatantly anti-Semitic, replies, "A lot of people wouldn't care if Michael Jordan was an anti-Semite if they could play a game of Horse with him."
Many Fischer apologists argue that Bobby Fischer is in fact deranged, and that as such he deserves not public castigation but psychiatric help. They are quick to point out that he was raised in a Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn, has had close friends who were Jewish, and in fact had a Jewish mother (information he has gone to great lengths to deny). It seems hard to imagine that his hate-filled rhetoric isn't an unfortunate manifestation of some underlying illness.
But even the Fischer apologists had to throw up their hands when he took to the Philippine airwaves on September 11, 2001. In an interview broadcast this time by Bombo Radyo, a small public-radio station in Baguio City, Fischer revealed views so loathsome that it was impossible to indulge him any longer. Just hours after the most devastating attack on the United States in history, in which thousands had died, Fischer could barely contain his delight. "This is all wonderful news," he announced. "I applaud the act. The U.S. and Israel have been slaughtering the Palestinians, just slaughtering them for years. Robbing them and slaughtering them. Nobody gave a shit. Now it's coming back to the U.S. Fuck the U.S. I want to see the U.S. wiped out."
Fischer added that the events of September 11 provided the ideal opportunity to stage a long-overdue coup d'état. He envisioned, he said, a "Seven Days in May scenario," with the country taken over by the military; he also hoped to see all its synagogues closed, and hundreds of thousands of Jews executed. "Ultimately the white man should leave the United States and the black people should go back to Africa," he said. "The white people should go back to Europe, and the country should be returned to the American Indians. This is the future I would like to see for the so-called United States." Before signing off Fischer cried out, "Death to the U.S.!"
The United States Chess Federation had always been willing to ignore Fischer's public antics, no matter how embarrassing. He was, after all, Bobby Fischer—the greatest player in the history of the game. But this was too much. On October 28 of last year the USCF unanimously passed a motion denouncing Fischer's incendiary broadcast. "Bobby has driven some more nails in his coffin," Frank Camaratta Jr., a USCF board member, says. The backlash has reached all the way to grassroots chess clubs. "It's because of Fischer that I'm involved in chess," says Larry Tamarkin, a manager at the Marshall Chess Club, a legendary New York parlor frequented by Fischer in his teens. "But I can't help feeling a sense of betrayal, anger, and sadness. You devote your entire life to one player and find out he's completely off his rocker. It ruins everything. He's an embarrassment." Asked about the possibility of a Fischer comeback, Tamarkin can't conceal his disgust. "We prefer that he doesn't come back. Because if he does, it will destroy the last vestige of magic."