Ten Years Ago in ‘Spy’
Reliving one’s formative years of logrolling, short-fingered vulgarians and Separations at Birth

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February 1989

This month, we travel back Ten Years Ago in Spy just as Kurt Andersen has half a mind to do the same:

– Do you ever pick up old copies of Spy and page through them?

– All the time. I mean, not in a sort of pathetic, remember-the-good-old days kind of way. People ask me about particular stories, and I’ll go back to my bound copies and page through them. It’s not like I sit around and page through them hour after hour, but I do look at it. And it still seems fresh and fun. Actually, Graydon and I are considering putting together some kind of retrospective something, so I’ve been looking at it more lately.

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.

Sharp Zaurus Since the rise of Sony, the plight of the second- or third-rate Japanese consumer-electronic maker has only grown more plaintive. Would you like to buy an Hitachi – an Hitachi anything?

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?

Rather overlarge typography in the ad (Columna heds, Optima body), and it’s tacky/classy in that 1980s manner of Japanese electronic-tchotchke makers hoping to be taken seriously.

Amaretto di Alt 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 SpyRat 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

Newport In my dim prehistory, I recall an article in Spy deconstructing Newport cigarette advertisements. This was no postmodern autofellatio: There’s weird shit going on.

Is Benson & Hedges owned by the same “tobacco-based megacorp” that owns Newport?

“For people who like to smoke... BENSON & HEDGES because quality matters.”

  • What is the young woman doing in a captain’s cap and a tunic with a naval insignia?
  • Oh. It’s her birthday. Her cake is decorated like an ocean liner, with four flashlight-thick candles.
  • Why, though, is the banquet room’s door open out of field behind her, with a mustachioed ’70s porn type apparently holding a life-sized painting of a 16th-century woman in lace? She appears to be angling through the door, her gloved hand on the inside edge.
  • Why is the whole photo so grainy?

Dennis Miller once had hair

Dennis Miller throws a bitchin’ party 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?

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:

  • Teal and mustard solid background colours
  • Type on a coloured block offset from the margin with a ragged right edge to the block, as if a torn sheet of paper
  • Pink margin stripe with black mottling
  • Use of Univers Condensed Italic and Helvetica Condensed type, including type that is letterspaced to suggest paint spatter or flow

(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.

Apparently he’s got his own TV show these days. He is actually Thai, not Chinese.

Tommy Tang’s masculine, grown-up name reappears on page 46.

Chronicle of Bling-Bling Foretold?

Run-DMC Bling-Bling 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

  • An ad for A&S Plaza features models dressed in saturated yellow, purple, red, and teal.
  • A Cointreau 1/3-pager shows a napkin stained in peach, as does a full-pager for Chapelle (“European Sparkling Mineral Water”) a mere 24 pages later. Actually, the crudely-shaded illos at page bottom – line art of a Chapelle bottles, with dabs as if of paint – presaged iMac colours (banana, tangelo, orange, blueberry, peach, cranberry, sky – the ad copy actually reads “Pear. Lemon. Orange. Grapefruit. Natural. Peach. Apple. Pineapple”).

John Clancy East 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:

Roy Donald Raush says the best thing about living in Milwaukee is that he gets to read Spy “before anyone else.” Raush apparently works for our printer, Quad Graphics, in Sussex, Wisconsin. “Thank you,” he says, “for a magazine that bites and spits.” Thank you, Roy, for a printing press that does the same. (It’s a joke, Roy – please don’t change this issue’s pagination.)

Letters to Spy

Meanwhile, our Letters column this issue plumbs the depths of the in-joke:

Thank you very much for referring to me as a potential “slimy little killer.” I did not find one reference to Mark Kostabi in this issue, although he seems to me a perfect choice for James Bond. I thought my friend Hunt Hartford also deserved a listing as a possible James Bond. The Official Mark Kostabi Fan Club thinks Spy is the best magazine in the U.S., but won’t you mention Mark in the next issue?

No, you publicity-mad “slimy little killer”!


It’s always a pleasure to know that someone is dishing vicious to those who truly need it. But sometimes friends have to point out “errors in judgement.”

In October’s 100-lowest-of-the-low list [The Spy 100], Nº 48 is “Antismoking Hysteria.” On the facing page is a full-page ad taken by the propaganda organ of the legalized–addictive–and–cancer-causing–drug-dealing – oops, excuse me, tobacco-based – megacorp Philip Morris.

Sheer coincidence?

Naughty, naughty.

You’ll never believe this – we certainly wouldn’t – but it was an unfortunate coincidence.

Bottoms up!

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!

Perhaps I am gong bonkers, or have lost track of time, but more than six years ago Mr. Ossini approached me to write a treatment for an idea he had of an African monarch in search of a compatible bride. It was simply called The African Prince. I wrote the bloody thing, didn’t get paid, and totally forgot about it. In the intervening years I saw the “prince” a few times, and in each instance he claimed to have given the treatment to his friend Mr. Murphy.

I am not involved in any lawsuit, nor do I wish to be. The whole episode has left me sick and disgusted. If there is any retribution over this, I’ll just leave it up to God, Buddha, Steven Spielberg and whoever else is running the planet these days.

Coming to America: An object lesson to us all.

Carrying metaness a little too far (or perhaps “a little too ‘far’ ”):

What is going on in “From the Spy Mailroom”? The tick problems in Connecticut, the search for the Zoom kids (send it to Zoom!), and even a request to see Malcolm Forbes in a push-up bra [Motorcycle, shurely?! – Ed.].... Also, true to your postmodern roots, you now publish letters about people trying to get their letter published.

It is scary ho low people will sink to see their names typeset [In Garamond 3, shurely?! – Ed.] in the pages of your superexcellent, matchless magazine.

Your irreverently self-referential letter about our publishing letters about people trying to get their letter published caught our eye as just the type of letter we like to print.

“Heart Attack-ack-ack-ack?”

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.

September 1977
“I’m not much good at conversation” – “Get It Right the First Time”
November 1978
Joel tells woman who asks him not to yell in hotel hallway at 3:00 A.M. to “shut the fuck up”
March 1980
Cover of Joel’s Glass Houses shows him hurling rock at building [actually, merely winding up to hurl it]
June 1980
Co-op board of Dakota blocks Joel’s bid to buy apartment


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:

Labrador is a land shrouded in mystery, if not water. Spy called the New Yorker and was assured that Webster’s New Geographical Dictionary considers it a peninsula (we checked and it does: “Labrador – large peninsula”). We called Labrador. Labrador said, “Labrador is not a peninsula.”

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.

Terminal velocity

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”:

Ærodynamic profile
Airline flotation device
Impact aftermath
Chipped curb; roommates on edge of nervous breakdown; memorial party at M.K.


Two sharp cartoons this month:

  • Emergency Wallpaper Service“Emergency Wallpaper Service”: “No way, ma’am. The florals are out, the Eiffel Tower print is out, not enough time. It’ll have to be the granola-bar collage or the Superman print. C’mon, now! Let’s do it!”
  • “Handling the British” (itself the best concept of 2003): “Why, yes, that is true – we all carry guns”

Spy Calendar: Nonsoporific

The monthly “Datebook” column is never ever interesting. But:

Super Bowl XXIII, in Miami.
Groundhog Day. Exactly why does this persist?
Valentine’s Day. Spy expensive art-department symbols that stand for words.

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.”

February 1988
Mordecai Richler gets to the heart of the matter in reviewing a forgettable oral biography of Hemingway. “The question, put plainly, is what were the true dimensions of Papa’s weenie? Was it inadequate, so-so, or Nobel Prize size?

“What If the Brontë Sisters Had Been in a Heavy-Metal Band?”

Wouldn’t they be Kittie?

Emily rejects ritual indoctrination in the domestic arts; vows to create a “towering wall of sounds.”
Anne throws straw-poke bonnet into seething concert crowd at Albert Hall.
Charlotte returns to public house to trash furniture and have sex with publican; locks manager, Mrs. Rochester, in attic.

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.

Backstage at the L.A. Coliseum: Bad guy Michael Jackson, the biggest star in the room, shares a breath of fresh air with this closest primate friend, Bubbles the Chimp, and entertains a celeb-studded legion of well-wishers while waiting for his cue to turn on that Michael magic and dazzle thousands of discriminating concertgoers. Michael’s friend (and fan!) Ultrahunk Nº 1, Sly (Over the Top) Stallone, trades art-collecting tips with Ultrahunk Nº 4, Chuck (The Delta Force) Norris, and yob-for-hire Bob Hoskins chats up Saturday-morning sweetheart Pee-wee Herman – who can’t seem to keep his eyes off the forlorn-looking fellows trying to charm their way pas the bodyguard. Turns out they’re former members of Menudo (a popular singing combo). Maybe there was a mix-up with the guest list!

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.

The nice thing about conspicuously owning or carrying a book is that no one has to know you haven’t read it. A few years ago, the New Republic’s editor, [Ultrahunk Nº 2] Michael Kinsley, wrote about an experiment in which one of his colleagues went to Washington bookstores and slipped typewritten notes into a dozen copies of Strobe Talbot’s Deadly Gambits, a book about arms control that was then fashionable to say you had read. The notes, placed about three-quarters of the way through each book, promised a cash prize to anyone who found one and called the New Republic’s offices. No one responded.

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.

True or false: Nancy can play “Born Free” on a miniature piano with her tongue.

Answer: False

During a Hollywood party long ago, she was unexpectedly discovered in the coat room, apparently having fallen onto a bed and apparently being helped to her feet by a friendly TV actor. [Who?] Gardner McKay, the star of television’s Adventures in Paradise

You are here: fawny.orgTen Years Ago in SPYArchives → February 1989

Posted: 2003.05.25 ¶ Updated: 2003.06.06

See also: Interview with Alex Isley, former SPY art director