One emerges from his pointless and unproductive hiatus to return to what worked before: “Investing” (that is, sinking) hours of effort each month into Ten Years Ago in Spy.
Just by coinkydink, the issue on the top of the pile is one I do not ever recall having read: October 1987, a full-on “Separated at Birth?” XXXtravaganza whose cover photo involves Tama Janowitz and Grandpa Munster. (Separated at Area? Separated at the Mudd Club?) Oddly, that feature article is of so little interest I won’t even excerpt it here.
In other news, it will be revealed that I have yet again lost eBay auctions for early Spy issues. We’re well past the “This is getting ridiculous” stage and well into “What kind of a fuckup are you?” stage. Still and all, as I gaze over at the current Spy cover, I reassure myself that at least I look better than Tama Jamowitz did 17 years ago. She was already 30 by then.
1987 was still close enough, in geological terms, to the heyday of 1970s ITC typefaces for this issue of Spy to carry a few rehashes of preferred advertising fonts de l’époque. Surely you would buy Gordon’s gin advertised with a combination of Caslon Oldstyle and Eras, the latter being to this very day a favourite and mysterious face. Sensitive and curvaceous like an octopus, like the squid of Optima it furthermore hates having its dignity compromised through low resolution. One hope you have appreciated the foregoing metaphors.
Meanwhile, Futura gets blanket usage on facing pages that advertise shoes (inevitably), with Light and Black run right together, and for Caroline’s at the Seaport, advertising Tuna (sic) with a photo of a lobster (sic).
Did you know that Banana Republic (“Travel Clothing Co.”) published a magazine called Banana Republic Trips (“The Magazine of Authentic Travel”)? And that Dan Levy was publisher, Pat Carney was ad sales director, and their phone number was 212-334-1845?
What, did you spend the ’80s drugged out on mescaline or something?
Alex Isley was, by this point, very near to perfecting the Spy æsthetic of recherché typography (mixing and matching eras and styles in display and body copy) and layouts that promote multiple “entry points,” as they are now derisively called.
But “very near to perfecting” leaves noticeable room. The proportions and gutters are not exactly right. Tables and sidebars have too much whitespace and are set at body-copy size, which is fractionally too large. Type is too often set against murky backgrounds. The red spot colour is too salmony-pink. The organization of the many-page “Separated at Birth?” feature makes it hard to tell what’s being compared to what (again with the proportions and gutters, also rules).
On the plus side, the copy-editing is as rigorous as we later came to expect.
I have to stand up for all the businesspeople you artistic pinheads enjoy ridiculing in every issue.... You come in two basic shapes, the flamboyant eccentric or the ultrachic, always dressed in one colour, usually black. You are the heppest.
Why do I take this stance? You don’t care? I am not a person of business, but one of the most creative and artistic people I know happens to be one. A man of business. A professional. An entrepreneur. And believe it or not, he has an unerring instinct for ferreting out the favourite local bistro when traveling abroad. I’ve seen it.
So take your tiny nail-bitten hands off this beleaguered warrior of the marketplace and set him down and look at him. He (or she) is perhaps even hepper than you. He just doesn’t have to pretend.Ellyn Oaksmith
Excellent, Ms Oaksmith. Do you feel better now?
For the following letters, I had to steel myself against a supremely disagreeable photograph of a carbuncled and wizened Anthony Quinn biting his own fingers in an advertisement for Interview on the facing page. I’m assuming it’s him, but he’s too ugly to fact-check. He looks like he was carved from a brittle, pockmarked material that combines the worst features of cauliflower and rice cakes.
First, Spy notes that Jay Leno rang them up and got permission to read on the air a previous Spy piece concerning Elvis’s weight on other planets.
[...] More Words That Just Happen to Contain the Letters... [“Some Words That Just Happen to Contain the letters r-e-a-g-a-n,” by Andy Aaron, October]:
s-p-y b-o-r-k t-r-u-m-p r-o-n-a-l-d
- organ transplanted
I can’t believe you didn’t include yourselves in the Spy 100 [October], right up there with Ed Koch or higher. You have certainly included yourselves enough in the Letters section, where it’s a fair gamble there will be at least three or four mentions of what a great and unique publication Spy really is. Come on, guys, you’re sinking to the level of Penthouse.
Despite the cutesy bursts and ugly postmodern layout, I think you’re onto something, though. You should tackle the problem of california in one of your upcoming issues: What to do about it, how to deal with its inhabitants, whether or not to risk going there, and how to accept the fact that L.A. will be bigger (and thus more self-important) than New York by the year 2000.Jason de Menil
Spy is grateful to have even this ambiguous confirmation that – despite its many, many shortcomings in the eyes of Mr. De Menil – it has finally won his grudging approval. Now, we feel, we can go on – chastened, perhaps, but better for it.
And is this the opening salvo, as journalistic cliché has it, in the sparring between Spy’s editors and Jason de Menil that would amuse and exasperate us for years to come? Apparently.
A column whose sole raison d’être seemed to be the practice of building up, in a few short paragraphs, to deliver a dry and nasty punchline at the expense of some minor public figure, “Naked City” was never something I much felt like excerpting in this modest column.
Not this month. In fact, I have to cut back so that I won’t blatantly compromise Spy’s copyright.
- Nan Kempner, the knock-kneed socialite who once confided to Spy, “I eat whatever they put in front of me”.... er dining partner noticed that whenever he turned to chat with the woman on his other side, Kempner would reach over and swipe bites off his plate.
- ...Henry Kissinger sneaks food, to.. A companion who recently shared a limousine with Kissinger to the chubby socialite–war criminal’s home in Litchfield County, Connecticut, reports that Kissinger ordered the driver to pull into a Dairy Queen the kind of essential nourishment that his wife, Kissinger confided pathetically, will simply not allow.
- ...Five years ago Steve Jobs... bought the top two floors of the north tower of the San Remo for around $2 million.... Then he hired I.M. Pei’s firm. Do you suppose Jobs has grand ideas? There are 12½-foot-tall nickel-bronze doors.... Jobs’s ’bedroom windows will cost $79,000. Apiece. The cost of renovations may run to $15 million, and the apartment, in which Jobs has never lived, will not be habitable before 1989 .
- Over at Vanity Fair... It seems that one very sophisticated staff member sneaked into the office of one of the magazine’s editors and covered the walls with pinups of naked, Vaseline-slicked, ready-to-go boys. In the understated style of the magazine, unpopular managing editor Pam McCarthy called in a private investigator and warned one suspect, I just hope your fingerprints aren’t on those pictures. The detective... in a dazzling display of Joe McCarthy–era pressure tactics... tried to persuade staff members to name colleagues who were homosexuals.
- J.D. Salinger... who likes to divide his energies not publishing his work, fending off earnest liberal-arts majors, farming and suppressing biographies... once developed a crush on on then–Dynasty star and putative aristocrat Catherine Oxenberg.
Elsewhere in this issue, Ann Hodgman uninterestingly recounts the endless tours and third-rate restaurants that New York City tourists might undergo. Unlike a later Spy exposé, “The Ugly European,” the massive article told us little beyond the expected truism that real New Yorkers would never put up with that kind of tedium and dreck.
Meanwhile, “The Spy Trip Tip: Curse of the Mummers” talks about something or other called “he annual New Year’s Day Mummers parade.” Apparently it has to do with Philadelphia. “Yes, mummery is always fun, but who needs to attend this cold, unsightly display, when instead you can visit the comparatively-vomit-free Mummers Museum?”
Who needs to do either – especially 17 years later?
And why do I keep visualizing Kermit the Frog throwing to the Mummenschanz on grainy PAL-transferred video?
- An Auto-Erotic Misadventure, or A Memory Play Now & Then, a play by F.J. Hartland; at the Ward-Nasse Gallery, 178 Prince Street. With the world’s supply of unused titles getting dangerously low (thanks to people like Isaac Asimov), this playwright appropriates two. For a one-act play.
A Spy tabular comparison of New York Giants players’ ghostwritten autobiographies includes Point of Attack: The Defense Strikes Back by Harry Carson (who?).
- Strange but true
- Terrified of being hospitalized in San Francisco: “I had a nightmare that I’d be attacked by gays.”
Don’t drop your soap, Harry.
In this, the first full year of the magazine’s operation, Spy ran a single-column ad that listed upcoming stories, some of which are familiar now, others not. Selections:
A “Selling” column by Rachel Urquhart entitled “Polo, Anyone?” luxuriates in someone else’s conflict of interest:
Speaking of Esquire, wasn’t that Lauren on the magazine’s September cover...? “Ever since Ralph Lauren first told you to wear your blue jeans with a tie,” the introduction gushed, ”the world of mens’ fashion has been changed by choices.” And wasn’t that a swell fashion story in the very same issue of Esquire on polo? (The game, not the line of clothing. Or, perhaps more accurately, not the game but the clothes in which to dream of watching it being played.) [...] And weren’t those eight pages of Polo advertising in that very same September issue of Esquire really swell, too? It’s been more than a year since Lauren bought even a spread for his Polo line in Esquire, but it’s probably only a coincidence that he happened to choose that particular issue in which to do it. And finally, what better way to seal the whole beautiful mano a mano friendship than to feature Ralph Lauren in a full-page ad in the New York Times – for Esquire.
...was, curiously, of no interest at all save for a photo of gargoylish Pat Buckley (who?).
Am amusing researched piece – Spy made research amusing, it seems – on New York businesses that file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
- Caffè Roma
- “In the event that salaries are not paid, the debtor has good reason to believe that many of the employees will immediately leave the debtor’s premises and not return to work,” sagely pointed out. “Many of the employees rely on paychecks in order to meet their daily living expenses and to support themselves and their families.”
- Sasson Jeans
...Like some other jeans firms, Sasson hit the skids when the denim craze waned in 1982. For chairman and Tunisian intimidator Paul Guez – once arrested for bugging his wife’s phone, once arrested for assaulting a Manhattan artist (both charges were dropped), once allegedly targeted for assassination by a mysterious associate – the Sasson Chapter 11 was just one more thing to do at the courthouse. [...]
- Lawyer: How was Mr. Guez dressed?
- Paralegal: Only in his trousers.
- Lawyer: Pants buckled up and zipped?
- Paralegal: No, they weren’t. [...] Mr. Guez was very argumentative the whole time. He was yelling that these were his “fuckin’ papers,” that none of what I needed was there. That if I found a single Sasson document he would cut his balls off.... Instead of paralegal he called me a paraplegic.
- Playgirl magazine
When Spy asked Playgirl’s attorney what those various fields were, he replied, “Uh, well, I’m going to have to speak to the firm about that.”
Curiously, many bankrupts owed money to Captain Post, a purveyor of pickles and horseradish.
Yes, but is it postmodern?
Bruce Handy (who would later write the abovelinked article) tackles the insidious problem of espresso makers and home shredders head-on in this hard-hitting reportage (excerpted):
- It’s compact. It’s synthetic. It’s very quiet.
- It’s hard but may be rubbery to the touch.
- It was designed by Germans or Italians, or people who wish they were German or Italian.
- It’s probably electronic, maybe digital.
- It didn’t exist when we were children.
- Its quality is high – higher than we need.
- It’s not a necessity. It needs explaining.
- We felt a little silly and excited buying it.
- We feel a little guilty and proud showing it off.
But we’ve got a few problems.
Nonetheless, the piece is replete with bons mots (excerpted):
How to Know It When You See It
- Will the simple fact of owning it make me feel morally superior, even though it’s not a book or a record?
- Does it do something that at one point in my life never occurred to me needed to be done?
- Is it imported?
- Is it imported from a northern European country or from northern Italy?
- Would Steve Jobs own it?
- Would David Byrne own it?
- Does it involve halogen?
- Would I look sharp if I used it and a cordless phone at the same time?
- Is there no chance that my parents would own it?
- If ten years ago I had time-traveled ten years into the future and seen myself buying it now, would I have been embarrassed?
- Do I want it because – oh, I don’t know, because I just want to go for it?
- Is it both advertised and mocked in Spy?
Anywhere upscale surface flash is an end in itself, there’s yuppie porn: American Gigolo and Power and RoboCop are yuppie-porn movies;
No, they are not. The first is an exposition of a vacant personality playing dress-up; the last is an all-out satire. (“I’d buy that for a dollar!) Now, Power? What is that?
New York Woman and L.A. Style are yuppie-porn magazines; Vintage Contemporaries are yuppie-porn books; Gary Hart and Joe Biden were yuppie-porn candidates; surrogate motherhood and liposuction are yuppie-porn biology; this is yuppie-porn thought.
See also: Interview with Alex Isley, former SPY art director