This month, we travel back Ten Years Ago in Spy just as Kurt Andersen has half a mind to do the same:
But why live in the past when you can drag it back to the future?
One was recently in New York for various business dealings. Whilst in a taxicab back to the W, one passed Fifth Avenue at 56th St., the famed, and superswanky, Trump Tower. Its brass face and superbold Lubalin Graph typography captivated me, and then I noticed a Starbucks sign in the vitrine. If the Trump Tower has a Starbucks, couldn’t I drop by there, enjoy a double espresso, and review the February 1989 issue of Spy, which I had in fact brought with me?
Why, yes, I could. But I only discovered this landmark on Friday afternoon and had to leave of a Monday. However, now I know what to do next time. (“Cabbie! Trump Tower, and step on it!”)
Now. Last month’s issue, the dullest on record, concerned Washington. This issue appears to do the same: “Mr. Stupid Goes to Washington” blares the hed, with a simulacrum of Dan Quayle in a vice-presidential dunce cap. Subtle!
But it’s a good ish. I’m glad I found it, actually. Certainly it was very pleasant to sip espresso on Christopher and read a half-dozen page quiz-style bitchfest about Nancy Reagan.
How about Sharp? They’re back again, once more with their puny little organizers. “With incredible ease, Wizard remembers and reminds. Translates and defines. Stores memos, secrets, and world times. Even swaps data with your PC [sic].”
When was the last time you received, let alone wrote, a memo? About the same time you dealt with fax cover sheets, and about five years after your last telex?
Meanwhile, what would you do for an amaretto? I can’t say as I know what an amaretto is. The closest I came to that sort of thing was sniffing a trayful of Jägermeister sample shots (aren’t they illegal?) at Slack Alice during a date with a 6′6″ alcoholic. I remember a tang of clove.
Now, do you remember Coleman or Alt?
These, of course, are the Amaretto di Saronno cover models of the month – “Amaretto di Coleman” (which one?), “Amaretto di Alt” (the model, famed for her Spy “Rat City” cover). Coleman (who?) holds a basketball, while an actual black negro of colour is barely discernible out of depth of field in the backdrop. Carol Alt wears a yellow sweater, red gloves with brown leather wristbands, and electric-blue leggings (strangely out of focus, as if quivering). She squats and balances en pointe in ice skates. Frankly, she was better off with the rats.
Not quite Newport
Is Benson & Hedges owned by the same “tobacco-based megacorp” that owns Newport?
“For people who like to smoke... BENSON & HEDGES because quality matters.”
Dennis Miller once had hair
Speaking of advertising photography whose bizarre configurations are expected to function at some kind of subliminal level, when was the last time you had a margarita while standing in a drained swimming pool?
And the last time it happened, was there a handy black guy in a purple shirt nearby bearing a Moses-down-the-Nile-sized basket of potato chips?
Were you wearing a suit, T-shirt, white socks, and black loafers?
Did you have hair?
No. Me, neither.
Who, or what, is Tommy Tang?
I am no more racist than anybody else. (I deny being unracist. Is anybody?) But I have a sexual orientation, and it is much more detailed than simply “men.” It includes white guys and black guys, the occasional Indic, and one Orientalist in one hundred and fifty thousand. I have less interest in Orientalist men than I do in women. The thought of sexualism with women doesn’t actually disgust me, though the same cannot be said of the other option.
This, friends, is not racism. It is sexual orientation. I can’t help it, and I’m not gonna fight it, in the way I am not gonna fight liking guys.
I have worked extensively with (Southeast) Asian persons, including an excellent editor. I got my biketrials club on the Chinese cultural show, and was pitching A, the Asian-American magazine, for a story on why so many Chinese-heritage boys and even girls were interested in that obscure sport. I think that young, good-looking Chinese men and women (specifically Chinese) look fantabulous in good clothes. Crowds of good-looking, well-dressed Chinese young adults are a glorious thing. I took Japanese for a year in linguistics school; the second-year level was impossible, sort of like second-year syntax. My dermatologistrix is Chinese-Jamaican with an improbable Chinese surname (and no fluency in Chinese whatsoever).
So, you know, I carry out my life in a reasonably race-neutral way.
My question, then, is: Why do so many Chinese guys have diminutive first names? Combined with the almost invariably monosyllabic surnames, the effect is to undermine the credibility of the person named.
If I mention a name like Tommy Tang, well, would you trust him to fly your airplane?
How about cooking your meal?
A single-column ad in the current Spy is an object lesson in 1980s advertising design:
(Interestingly, TommyTang.com, in the brief moment before it redirects to an L.A. Times error page, betrays a similar 1980s design sense.)
And what are we advertising? The perverse 1980s concept of the “video cookbook.” A cartoon Tang appears to shake an upside-down plastic VHS case, spilling words, a prawn, garlic, a clamshell, a mussel, and a fowl. T. Tang has long hair in the back that cascades over his white-tunicked shoulder.
Tommy Tang’s masculine, grown-up name reappears on page 46.
Chronicle of Bling-Bling Foretold?
Did Run-DMC spokesmodel for Swatch? Somebody resembling either side of that hyphen is displaying a lot of what is now known as bling-bling on page 21. And it carries the weirdest credits this side of the hallway signage at Area 51: “Human photo by Lou Salvatori.”
Further ’80s colours
Since we’re talking graphic design, I’ve never seen a bigger use of Italia than in the black-and-white line-art advert for John Clancy’s East.
A ginormous insert for the Gap (“paG”), printed on its own stock, carries on for page after page and features a surprising number of now-forgotten faces and names (Susan Mulcahy, Mimi Kramer, Peter Howe). Fabian Baron has his name misspelled, but shocked the hell out of me by looking like 25. That would make him roughly my age, and what’s he doing these days?
Anybody remember Art Against AIDS? And its four-quadrant square logo, with black or reversed Flyer type?
Well, with what has now been revealed as my shite colour sense (great with type, lethal with a paint can), I was totally in love with it.
The Art Against AIDS advertisement this month has the same page layout and typography (Caslon) as a Honda ad.
“From the Spy Mailroom”
We gain further insight into the finely-honed Spy production process:
Letters to Spy
Meanwhile, our Letters column this issue plumbs the depths of the in-joke:
Our Letters column this month reveals that Andrew Sullivan wrote for Spy!
Naturally, about Rhodes scholars (October 1988). Bottoms cannot stop themselves from overflowing with envy.
You’ll never write a letter to editors in this town again
Spy Letters-page mascot Taso Lagos is back again!
Coming to America: An object lesson to us all.
Carrying metaness a little too far (or perhaps “a little too ‘far’ ”):
Rivaling “Name That Tune, Mr. Spock!” as most memorable Spy article title, “Heart Attack-ack-ack-ack?: Billy Joel: Rock Music’s Self-Fulfilling Prophet” (how does one punctuate that?) explores how lyrical passages came to pass in his own real life.
You know that, during the 1980s, a tiny subtrend in Manhattan involved the recontextualization of Maritime place names?
Actually, the only example I can think of is Mabou Mines. A drunkard on my floor at Dal was in fact from Mabou.
I suppose there’s Laura Ashley MacIsaac trolling the bars of Manhattan hunting for rented beer. But that one’s too easy.
“Letters to the Editor of the New Yorker”: “On October 3 your reviewer traveled to the [Nobel Prize–size] “peninsula” of Labrador. Triangular shape does not a peninsula make. Maybe your critic thinks Labrador juts off the island of Saskatchewan.”
And Spy replies:
You see, not only did I remember the headline “Heart Attack-ack-ack-ack?” for all these years, I remembered “We called Labrador.”
Look, don’t be surprised. This is a retrospective. If I didn’t love it, we wouldn’t be here.
I suppose it’s a moderately interesting concept to imagine the impact energies of megastars if they jump to their deaths from 20 storeys high. Cute retro photography (man in hat cowering clownishly under angled umbrella) camouflages the fact that the only interesting entry (not even “Benji”) is “Elite fashion model”:
Two sharp cartoons this month:
Spy Calendar: Nonsoporific
The monthly “Datebook” column is never ever interesting. But:
It’s Yiddish for dick
Hear the word weenie much these days? In the context of “penis,” rather than that of “specialist”/“fetishist”/“otakuist”?
“Papa’s Got a Brand-New Mag”: “What sort of man writes for GQ? One who likes to write about Ernest Hemingway.”
“What If the Brontë Sisters Had Been in a Heavy-Metal Band?”
Wouldn’t they be Kittie?
In a Nobel Prize–size design boner, the “Naked City” running hed and the dateline heds in this section are in nearly-invisible silver-grey.
You Are There!
I miss these dioramas. Were they the best thing ever about Spy? Yes, actually.
Spy’s review of subscription promotion tchotchkes (Golf umbrella [“green-and-white strips of tissue-thin plastic stretched over hanger-width wire”], a Time phone with pushbuttons that still dials rotary) was, I suppose, droll, but I was getting tired on the plane.
Overlong story (“If I Only Had a Brain,” Terri Minsky) about Hollywood faux-intellectuals.
And on the other end of the scale is “Who Does That Dame Think She Is?” by Ned Zeman, a Q&A all about Nancy Reagan.
Posted: 2003.05.25 ¶ Updated: 2003.06.06
See also: Interview with Alex Isley, former SPY art director