December 1988

Another eBay special. This one’s thick enough for a real cutline on the spine (“Shag-bashing!”) near a discernible set of ultra-scrunched stacked letters reading SPY. Could the is have been Spy’s heyday? Am I being nostalgic? Isn’t this entire site nostalgic? Isn’t my present nostalgia ironic considering that this issue’s cover story – illustrated by “Teri Garr as That Seventies Woman” – concerns “A Return to the Decade of Mood Rings, Ultrasuede, Sideburns and Disco Sex-Machine Tony Orlando”?


The problem here? The December 1988 issue disproves William Gibson’s theory that citizens of the future will have no interest whatsoever in what the people of the past considered their past. Yet here I am in 2004 (!) recapping a 1988 (!) magazine that itself ironically recapitulated the 1970s, which last fact does not particularly merit a bang.

As Everything but the Girl so aptly put it, “The future of the future will still contain the past.”

Toshiba ad We’ve got another two-page spread for Aiwa “Compact Disc system portables” (actually, very well realized, with Franklin Gothic Bold underlined in black marker and a well-staged B&W product shot). We’ve also got another “insertion” of the Toshiba CD player advertisement. Or is that “Compact Digital Disc system portables”? “CDD player”?

I couldn’t believe this Warner Bros. advertisement when I encountered it in recapping this superspecial vintage Spy issue, and I still cannot believe it upon rereading it.

HOW TO SPEND LESS THAN $20 AND NOT COME OUT LOOKING LIKE A CHUMP blares the Bodoni headline, subtitled (in Gillies Gothic) “A Letter from Howie.” I gather that is Howie Klein, ancien majordomo of Warner Bros. (I feel all insider writing it as Warner Bros. and not Brothers.)

Dear Friends,

Well, another holiday season is upon us, and for some of you that may mean miles of mallways before you sleep. I hope not. Because in this season of cheer, there is even more reason to rejoice. Right on these pages you’ll find the perfect gift for under $20 – in some cases substantially under [!]. It’s called a Compact Digital Disc.

Now you can give that special someone a gift of rare musical quality –in a form that’s destined to last forever! It’s all just part of the Warners/Reprise pledge to bring you the best in contemporary music.

Don’t miss this chance to take the chump out of “chump change” and the hiss out of hit-and-miss giving! Give a CD!

P.S. The cassette is even cheaper!

Now, what are the competitors to the CDD (sic) whom “Howie” ridicules here?

Papal Shoe Horn
[details mercifully omitted]
Lint Removal Machine Spells Doom for Fuzz, You Too
Just the whirring of this infernal little contraption is enough to set anybody’s teeth on edge. Let’s face it, if the person is fastidious enough to want to shave the fuzz balls off their acrylic vest, dontcha think they’d get even more pleasure plucking them off one by one? And for you gals who think this little item offers the supreme solution for cross-gender giving, think again. You might as well save the $18.50 and just buy him a pair of toenail clippers on a chain. It’s about as romantic!
Free-Form Face Freezer Is Its Own Pain in the #$@%&*!
Fetching, isn’t she? Just think, you too can give a gift that says, “Here, have a migraine headache.” The latest in a long line of yup-scale gifts, the frozen face pack purports to relieve cranial aches through the simple principle of applied ice. Well, that may be fine, but the dang things never freeze to conform to your face, unless, of course, you stick your head in the freezer along with the pack!

Snappy writing. (Too-small Gill Sans type, but snappy nonetheless.) I like it. Now, what does Howie want you to buy instead?

Shiny Little Discs Save Space, Wear and Tear on Ears
Now hear disc! Scientists tell us they’re practically indestructible; audiophiles tell us they’re the wave of the future, and our friends drop big hints about what titles they’d like to see under the tree. That’s why we ordered a whole passel of these elegant little Compact Digital Discs from Warner Bros. and Reprise Records. You’ll find old favourites mixed in among the newest “trends” in contemporary music, so head straight to your local record store and dig deep! (Also doubles as a coaster.)

I will offer my own punchline. In the early ’90s I wrote a music column for the local homosexualist rag. Difficult, really. “Dancing about architecture” understates the case. Record labels sent me kilotons of “product,” much more than I could actually use and vastly more than I wanted. (In one notable week, 36 albums.) It took me two years to persuade labels to send me what I asked for rather than whatever was on the automatic list. In the meantime, I had a stack of CDs I actually did use as coasters.

But I mean these days? CDs? What a crappy present!

(See also: The most embarrassing thing the record industry ever did. Until they sued a 12-year-old.)

I return once again to the insular phenomenon of advertisements in Spy for other magazines, as though Spy chiefly attracted an insider clientele. Well, I suppose it does, rather presaging Weblogs, the latest medium for insiders. (Actually, the trope in Spy manifested itself in advertisements to advertise in other magazines. Demographics and suchlike.)

Did I mention that the Toronto Star “spiked” an article of mine about a Joey Ramone–chaired judging panel at CMJ because it was “too insider”? Insiderness is powerful enough that it needs to be doled out rather than wallowed in.

At any rate, this month’s insideresque advertisement comes from Condé Nast Traveler, the magazine with the baldest name in the universe (21st-century cinematic equivalents: The Lizzie McGuire Movie, The Powerpuff Girls Movie). Typeset in the rather oddball Vendôme (love that circumflex!), it tells us “Before you lay out 1,100 francs” – francs: how retro – “for a pair of Louis Vuitton gloves, there are a few things to consider. To begin with, Louis Vuitton doesn’t make gloves.... Such are the hazards lying in wait for the unwary traveler. But not for travelers who read Condé Nast Traveler’s ‘Stop Press’ column,” which I’m sure you all do. Hard-hitting investigative reporting hits the travel “press.” I am so there.

Proof of the insideresque nature of this advertisement? The tagline: “Condé Nast Traveler: The insider’s guide to the outside world.”

(See “Vogue.”)

Meanwhile, something I should be much more viciously ridiculing Spy for is its history of advertising cassettes, space-age cassette replacements, boomboxen, and Home Taping Is Killing Music–esque scare campaigns, viz.:

And this month it’s a permutation of the famous-for-15-minutes Maxell advertisement. When was the last time you, your lampshade, your hairdo, your martini glass, and your (inevitably) “skinny” tie (but not its enclosing leather jacket) were blown backward in the wash from your starkly-positioned single loudspeaker?

1988, perhaps?

I have an embarrassingly juvenile history with such advertising. It was Milton Glaser, I would learn only æons later, who drew the famous poster for Sony’s 1980-era campaign “Full Colo[u]r Sound.” Sony tape, no less. I swear I sent away for a copy of such a poster, though what I did with it I do not know.

The word cassette is much too fey, not to mention over-replete with letters, for the item it denotes. Tapes of all kinds are clunky. I should know, being a Betamax fetishist three of whose four Beta and VHS decks are currently on the fritz. I do not own a device anymore that can play a (Sony) tape of any sound “colo[u]r.” My esteemed colleague is sitting on my box of cassettes. I suppose a proper cassette deck could be used to rip them to MP3, but I have enough backlogged projects as it is.

Plus, my old Maxell Beta tapes are suspected of damaging one of my decks. Nothing but Sony seems to work properly in any Beta format. I digress.

(See also: “Party Poop.”)

What a stunning 1/6-page ad as seen 15 years later. Dynamite® Time is a clock that appears to be strapped to three tomato-red sticks of dynamite, complete with green and yellow (sadly, not red) wires for Harrison Ford to vacillate between when trying to decide which one to cut to keep Air Force One in the sky.

Time is ticking away

This unique, colourful clock has an accurate West German movement, an appealing British design, and a cheeky American sense of humour.

And an easy way to a special interrogation if you pack it in your carry-on luggage on a jetliner.

The upside? “Battery included.”

Bobby Brown ad I mused meanderingly last time about the history of Arsenio Hall: “I know we were ever so much younger then, but what were we thinking as we even bothered to watch The Arsenio Hall Show?”

Can the same not be said for Bobby Brown?

The accused spousal batterer was sharp-looking in his day, but that was, I suppose, before the superstardom he married into but could never quite achieve on his own went to his head. I cannot hum a single Bobby Brown tune. I couldn’t back then, either. Yet I remember getting into an argument with a red-haired German snobess over W. Houston’s powerhouse performance of “I’m Your Baby Tonight” on Saturday Night Live. (I suppose she equated it with packaging wine in Tetra-Paks or spigot containers, another of her little bugbears.) He’s a footnote to pop history, really, which is where most pop history ends up being written.

Now, was he ever in the Spy demographic? MCA Records must have thought so, since a full-page advertisement this month shows Bobby Brown in a grey houndstooth suit, white mock turtle, and matching white pocket kerchief, plus what we would later come to know as bling-bling on the right wrist. “Spy on a Class Act” reads the echt-’80s typography of the headline, marred by its blood-red colour on a black drop shadow.

The ad’s body copy, also echt-’80s (letterspaced Univers Condensed caps – at least they aren’t scattered across the page like the exudate of a dripping paintbrush), in turn features actual hanging punctuation. Somebody cared. Mostly. But who cares about Bobby Brown now?

Sharper Image ad This month, the Sharper Image remains undead, and they retain their hideous colour sense. “Panasonic clears the cable jungle” declares the Plantin Bold headline for this combination TV/VCR, “so when you want to take a movie up to the bedroom, or out on the veldt – it’s as easy as picking up your TV set.”

One, 20″ TV sets are simply not “easy to pick up.” Two, this “veldt” business comes from the advertisement’s bizarre conceit of (an obviously gay) Tarzan, shown swinging a vine with a milquetoast Jane as a monkey looks on from alongside the television.

And this makes sense how?

Anyway, it’s actually an ad for the Sharper Image, with its overtight Machine Bold type in too-pink red. You’re gonna mail-order a television set?

Cutty Sark. The very name conjures Russell Crowe in a ponytail. The downside of the whiskey’s nautical theme and packaging is that it actually isn’t rum, let alone sodomy or the lash.

Dad, who is suspiciously blond and shaggy-browed, smiles fearsomely at sonnyboy. Both wear black tie (Paul Fussell would peg my class attribute for using that term) and wield crystal tumblers. Funny how you can tell they’re crystal even in a black-and-white ad. It must be Christmas: They stand in a drawing room out of a ’60s drama, a train set and toy presents on a table before them. PASADENA is emblazoned on the tiny water tower.

What’s the problem? The problem is that the toy presents are the size and proportions of toy-train boxcars, and they’re pointing at all angles. Essentially, dad and sonnyboy debate congratulate each other on their stock portfolios as they loom over a train wreck – no doubt caused, Exxon Valdez–style, by drunken driving.

“Cutty Sark,” the headline reads in the rarely-seen Caslon Antique. “Uncommon quality.”

Aalbork Akvavit ad Now, if you’re from Minnesota, or if you simply do not require patrician WASP accoutrements when out to get plastered, why not try Aalborg Akvavit (no relation)? Sorry: “Aalborg Akvavit ‘The water of life’  (A DANISH SKÅL LESSON).” Yeah, it makes about as much sense as that. Interesting type, though (Novarese), set ultra-tight.

It’s some kind of Scandinavian 80-proof vodka substitute. I guess you’re supposed to freeze it, and then make “a deliciously untraditional Bloody Mary – the Danish Mary.”

Couldn’t I just go to the disco in Copenhagen and pick one of those up?

Saint Laurie ad Anyway, you’re going to need something to wear to match your crystal. Maybe not black tie (“Cocktail party not exactly as illustrated”), but something at least respectable. What you need is Saint Laurie Ltd. Why, even the name is classy! And the look – well, “The look is Ralph Lauren. The price is Ralph Kramden.”

How can we keep prices reasonable without sacrificing quality?

Volume? No, not quite.

Using our space to manufacture our suits, not hype them. That’s because we think you should be able to look like an English gentleman, even if you’re a member of the Royal Order of Raccoons [Buffalo, shurely?!].

Which of these advertisements is out of place here?

Spy has weathered its most intensive hate-mail campaign since the students of Henry Wise Wood High School of Calgary.... The recent uprising was prompted by our June Spy map... which pinpointed such areas of interest as... Good Sam Recreational Vehicle Club International Samboree and Ku Klux Klan outposts.... In no time a call to arms was sounded in the Good Sam’s Hi-Way Herald’s “Through Our Windshield” column under the headline RVERS RIDICULED BY MANHATTAN-BASED MAGAZINES.... [W]e should have been a lot more generous in scattering Winnebago symbols around the map.... Spy apologizes if it has offended its considerable recreationally-vehicular membership.

Well, time for more embarrassment, I guess.

Did you know that my obsession when growing up – in the 13–16-year-old range – was trailers and motorhomes? I absolutely lived for each month’s new issue of Trailer Life, which was, I understand now, written by and for rich Republican retirees. Actually, I remember an unpleasant day when finally the new issue came in at the Sobey’s, I extracted the right amount from my mother, and came home nearly in tears of frustration when it turned out not to be enough once tax was added.

For some ungodly reason, I loved the idea of cruising the (American) boulevards in a motorhome. Trailers were less interesting, unless they were engineering experiments like the Combi-Camp or design triumphs like the Airstream, which I could recognize as such even then. I also adored the front-wheel-drive, six-wheeled GMC {M,m}otorhome, a dilapidated specimen of which used to gather dust in a gas-station parking lot here in my hood. (Front-wheel drive?)

The Good Sam(aritan) Club was a social and service club of RV owners. Naturally, they met at campgrounds (I was always repelled by camping, by the way, rather putting a damper on trailer life), but they also helped each other out on the highways and byways when, for example, one of your six tires blew out or your Airstream got dented, Tin Man–style, in an hailstorm. And naturally again, every Good Sam member was an old biddy with presbyopia and an “America! Love it or leave it, pal!” attitude.

Precisely once did I observe a yellow-haloed Good Sam decal in its natural setting: An American trailer being towed down one of the main drags in Moncton of a grey, overcast day, as so many of them were in my memory. Actually, perhaps it was a fifth-wheel trailer, another engineering curiosity that fascinated me (and is now actually hypothetically respectable if you hook one up to an Escalade, say). I spotted the decal and screamed “Good Sam!” with a little flurry of the arms and a doubling over, all of them girlish.

Fortunately, my single-summer-long infatuation with golf was the only other case of fantasizing out of my age range. At least in that context.

So yeah, don’t get these geezers angry at youse. Besides, isn’t “Manhattan-based magazines” another way of saying “New York,” which in turn is another way of saying “Jewish”?

Interestingly, I can now reveal archæological evidence that Daniel Richler (official page; inexplicably-different official page if you hack the URL) wrote to if not for Spy. “To Daniel Richler of Toronto [and five Americans] who shared their thoughts on the list of dead rock ’n’ rollers that appeared in an advertising supplement that had nothing to do with actual editorial material: You’re right – glad it wasn’t really in the magazine!”

Oddly, I reviewed that issue but did not at any time mention the “rock ’n’ rollers” supplement – odd given my outright hatred of other Spy “special advertising supplements.”

Not much action this month, save for the following, which elicits the question “Where is Bill Todman and what have you done to him?”

By what possible distortion of reason could Mark Goodson be included on a list of “has-beens”...? How could an individual be so labeled who produces five programs totaling three and a half hours of airtime, seen every weekday?

In a medium where tow or three years is considered a good run, Mark Goodson has had a show (usually multiple shows) on the air since 1948! Currently Mark Goodson Productions has a pilot about to be shot and several shows in development.

Some “has-been”!

All right, there is another one, ideal for a phone-number fetishist like me.

To suggest that the 818 area code in southern California is the New York equivalent of the 718 area code is an outrage.... 718 is urban, ghettos and slums, while 818 is suburban sprawl, “strip malls,” and also mountains and deserts. From one who has lived in the 212, 718, 516, 213, and 714 area codes, I can attest that 818 is more equivalent to the 914 or, while admittedly a longshot, the 201 area code.

That’s what we get for using local (411) instead of southern California (818-555-1212) information.

Finally, from C. Parker of Friendswood, Texas: “I AM SEEKING INFORMATION REGARDING THE FORMAT/CONTENT OF YOUR MAGAZINE. THERE IS A MAGAZINE THAT CATERS TO THOSE SEEKING INFORMATION ON CELEBRITIES PRIVATE LIVES. IF THIS IS WHAT YOUR MAGAZINE IS ALL ABOUT PLEASE SEND SUBSCRIPTION INFORMATION.” We are seeking information on the proper way to describe our magazine’s format/content to you, Mr./Ms Parker. There is a way to describe our format/content to those seeking information. If we can find the way and it is the format/content you desire, we will send you subscription information. Over.

“Format” is an elusive concept. Ten Years Ago in Spy is (in) a Web-site “format,” I suppose, but not a Weblog format, though that is what I used to call Weblogs. Does “format” have a free-standing meaning here, or can it be used only comparatively, as if to say that Spy and the Atlantic Monthly had different “formats”? How much of this is unrelated to graphic design? (Very little, though the gossipy sections, including “Party Poop,” would retain a “format” even in a text-only printout.)

One had almost forgotten this occasional feature, delicious though it may be, for the simple reason that I am a New Yorker arriviste and only started reading it when they switched to PageMaker for composition. (Were you aware they did? Quark’s tracking was too machinelike and regular. The magazine has since joined the Borg.)

Dear Mr. Shawn,

I haven’t enjoyed a blessed thing in your book since that magnificent five-parter in 1984–5 on corn, potatoes, wheat, rice, and soybeans. What’s up?

“Mr. Shawn”? He probably took all the agricultural five-parters with him when he left.

The second letter, concerning Jackie Mason’s “outrageous insults,” is offputting because Jackie Mason himself is.

Fun cartoon from Ziegler: “Scenes from the Bible Belt.”

Go, Bobby, and sin no more.
Sure thing, Dad!
Hey, Cindy! Go and s—
Yeah, yeah, Pop, I know.
Fido, g—

“What’s in a Name?” is reliably present this month, offering the usual anagrams (Geraldo Rivera: OR A REVILED RAG), while just below it sits “What’s in a Name? II: Anagram Fun for Our Dumber Readers.”

Henry Kissinger
Jane Fonda
Noboru Takeshita

Or perhaps “Vogue.”

“Is This Any Way to Run a Bunch of Wheezy Upscale Picture Books?” by Marcy Coughlin annotates (“Anna-tate[s]”) the mastheads of Vogue and HG. Selected excerpts:

  • [Grace] Mirabella was fired after 37 years at Vogue and 17 as editor to make way for HG editor Anna Wintour, Condé Nast’s rising star. Mirabella learned about her dismissal from a friend, who had heard the news on TV.
  • [Ruth] Ansel, a frequently-reassigned Condé Nast perennial, was moved to HG.
  • In a promotion apparently unrelated to Wintour’s hiring, [Anne] Kampmann was moved over to Self as fashion director.
  • [Ivy] Becker was told late on a Friday not to come in the following Monday.
  • [Barbara] Plumb was told that she and her department had been eliminated.
  • Mikael T.] Zielinski was fired, having been given a raise earlier in the week.
  1. Wintour moved to Vogue.
  2. Talley moved to Vogue.
  3. Doppelt moved to Vogue.
  4. Flood moved to Vogue.
  5. Boodro moved to Vogue.
  6. Schechter moved to Vogue.
  7. Martinez moved to Vogue.
  8. Alexander moved to Vogue.
  9. Silberman moved to Vogue.
  10. Ungless moved to Vogue.
  11. Duka moved to Vogue.
  12. Truman moved to Vogue.
  13. Lejeune moved to Vogue.

But are we done yet? Not hardly!

“This Is Not a Puff Piece” is unbylined but carries the subhed “Our Second Condé Nast Story in As Many Pages” and the dek:

Here, in case you missed them – and as a special Spy public service – are the 42 pages from recent Condé Nast magazines devoted to lavishing no-doubt-completely-justified praise on Condé Nast editorial director Alexander Liberman’s book, The Artist[e] in His Studio, which, after being out of print for 28 years, has just been republished by Random House, another arm of Condé Nast owner S.I. Newhouse’s sprawling media empire and not technically a part of Condé Nast.

And yes, Spy does indeed reproduce 42 of what we would now call “thumbnails.” “Magnifying glass not included,” the dek further tells us. I got the fucker over on my lightbox (the top of the stove, with its brilliant heat-resistant lightbulb right overhead) and couldn’t read anything smaller than headlines (“in the ATELIER,” “Revealing Moments,” “The ARTISTS in their STUDIOS”) because of the dot screen.

I am aware that retro wasn’t a reflex in 1988, merely a semi-novel mode de vie, so art directors were probably not as jaded as they are today, able to use retro as a substitute for original thinking. Accurately depicting periods from the last five decades tempts the designer to be ironic, to show distance and contempt from the material. Hipsters are so accustomed to cheesy reuse of the “look” of earlier eras that it’s surprising when a sincere period piece comes along (Boogie Nights and The Ice Storm qualify). (They’ll also laugh ironically at sincere genres like Westerns. I have witnessed this firsthand.)

Retro is also used inappropriately. We’re not talking Swoon here, with a daring collision of eras. We’re talking about Parsons grads who can’t put a sentence together, tend to use (pirated) fonts whose names begin with letters high up in the alphabet because they occur first in their Font menus. Illiterates, essentially.

This month in Spy, homosexualist art director B.W. Honeycutt has the dream job of illustrating Tony Hendra’s “The 1970s: A Dynamite Spy Boogie-Down Celebration of the Most Embarrassing Decade of the Twentieth Century.” He must have been happy as a pig in shit. He could go completely to town, yet be on topic.

I am pretty sure I have never witnessed five-inch-tall Garamond 3 type before, neatly counterbalancing the platform shoe diagrammed right above it (complete with measurements l, h1, h2, and θ).

Imagine a once-aspiring rock ’n’ roller–turned–aspiring televangelist, searching his attic for some elusive income-tax records, when he comes across a pair of calf-high purple alligator-skin boots with two-inch soles and five-inch heels.

A teardrop forms...

Imagine Brent Junior asking Brent Senior, “What’s that, Dad?” as Senior cleans out the garage to prepare for the family’s move to Seattle. Without answering, Brent Senior lifts the handset from the rotting, rusted transmitter. “Breaker one-niner,” he whispers softly to no one, “what’s your handle?”

A teardrop forms...

Imagine one of San Francisco’s most respected public defenders visiting New York for the first time in a decade. He passes a bar on Christopher Street a block from the Hudson. Its storefront has been vandalized – even the FOR SALE sign is peeling. So many nights, bellied up to the bar, red bandana in left back pocket....

But “Hey – Just When Were the Seventies?” Spy ran a reader contest, no less. Gonna have to look up the results. But:

I believe the seventies began... And I believe the seventies ended...
  • the day the guy was killed at the Altamont festival (December 1, 1969)
  • on January 1, 1970
  • with the Kent State killings (May 4, 1970)
  • when the Mary Tyler Moore Show premiered (September 19, 1970)
  • the day the first American craftsperson produced an owl made of two twigs and macraméd synthetic yarn (circa winter 1972)
  • the day the Paris peace accords established a truce in the Vietnam War (January 27, 1973)
  • the day Richard Nixon resigned (August 9, 1974)
  • with the release of Elvis Costello’s first album in the U.S. (1977)
  • when Roller Boogie failed at the box office (1979)
  • on January 1, 1980
  • the day Ronald Reagan was inaugurated and the hostages in Iran were released (January 20, 1981)
  • the day the first AIDS-related story appeared in the New York Times (August 29, 1981)
  • when they stopped manufacturing Quaaludes (1993)

(Type in that sidebar is rather weird, with what seems to be a hand-applied acute accent and an ultra-tiny Metroblack caps “Spy.”)

With dizzying two-inch-high (if you prefer, 144-point) translucent green drop caps and background images (Woody Allen in a fat suit? What’s that from? Sleepers?) behind everything that would get you flunked under WCAG, I was barely able to make out a few entries under “Seventies Icons Not So Big in the Eighties,” including “earnest Fifties nostalgia” (like this article, displaced 20 years?), “referring to black people as Afro-Americans,” and my favourite, Sensurround.

Return with me now to the motion-picture extravaganza Earthquake (“in Sensurround”). I was nine and a brother took me to see the film in the historic, vaulted Capitol Theatre. The thunderous sound effects were indeed so thunderous I held my fingers to my ears most of the time and was scared out of my mind that the historic vaulting was going to collapse in on me, rather like what I was watching on the screen. Apparently Battlestar Galactica and Zoot Suit were two other Sensurrounded movies.

I will fault Spy for falling into the trap of viewing the ’70s as the decade that taste forgot. “ ‘I’m looking for a vest – something in an avocado Ultrasuede?’: Mortifying glimpses of the taste-free decade” runs two-thirds of a page of incriminating photos. Diane Keaton’s is the worst, with her faux-knowing, faux-naïve, faux-kooky, faux-lovable smirk, sidelong eyes, and outstretched hand; plus she’s wearing a zoot suit (in Sensurround). But many of them are fine, including Jimmy Carter’s and Cher’s. Mary Tyler Moore looks fine.

As we reëvaluate certain fashion choices of our past (something we often do over Scotch [Cutty Sark?] of a winter’s evening), the seventies prove the weakest link in the long chain of rationalizations we must construct. It’s easy to come to terms with the skinny tie we wore to see Mission of Burma at Hurrah in 1980 (the same one, in fact, that we wore to the Kennedy inauguration in 1961); from today’s perspective, it just isn’t all that damning – there’s no reason to burn the photos and donate the tie. Likewise, the high, stiff collar and petticoat we sported at the turn of the century, the scarlet riding jacket we paid too much for on Carnaby Street in 1964, our fifties ducktail, our thirties pencil moustache, our twenties spats – all of them are excusable as brief, giddy, harmless fashion skirmishes. Crazy kids, we chuckle. Can you believe we ever looked like that?

It’s appreciably harder to come to terms with the way we looked 5 years ago – and some of us, thankfully, spent that decade well out of the public eye. Celebrated people are not so fortunate. After all, it’s one thing to wear a three-piece suit made entirely of petroleum-based fabrics with no tie, chest-wide lapels and a flapping collar spread to the shoulders when you’re nobody and just buying oleo at the A&P.... It’s quite another to wear the same outfit to Studio 54....

As the article says elsewhere, “In an era of chronic shortages, we wore everything long, high, huge, and, above all, wide.” Of the photos printed on the page, Don Johnson most qualifies for that description. He was so blond! And not a single chest hair!

Now what were the “exactly seven glamorous seventies jobs”? Here’s a couple.

Professional tennis player
  • multiple tennis rackets
  • sweatband
  • Adidas
  • Gatorade
  • eyeglass strap
Foreign correspondent
  • epaulets
  • bush jacket
  • microrecorder
  • Minox camera
  • ceiling fan

And by the way, this was another of Spy’s overlong articles – twelve pages of copy plus a gatefold running over 18 pages.

Meanwhile, Jay “Not Yann” Martel’s “Why Johnny Can’t Act: The Caring, Sharing, Feeling Sadism of New York Acting Teachers” worked better as photojournalism than as body copy, though the lad with the full head of hair, suspenders, and sneakers standing on a stool with a gun at his crotch was a bit de trop.

Certainly the very bestest Spy exposé of 1988 is “I’m Sorry, Mr. Shearer, Jacket Required,” in which Harry Shearer – yes, that same Harry Shearer; is anything he does unfunny? – gets busted at restaurants for not wearing a jacket. So he borrows one of theirs!

The faux–fashion magazine puffery in the photo cutlines is almost as much of a gem as Shearer’s expressions. “[T]he mortifyingly crummy jackets kept on hand for us... what – fashion rebels? casual dressers? schlumps? Now casually-schlumpy fashion rebel Harry Shearer goes out on the town – sans jacket and tie but avec pencil and notebook and Sara Barrett, photographer.”

Le Cirque: The Power Lunch Plugs in
Here, double-breasted not only makes a comeback – it’s as if it never left. Sleeves come to the knuckles for added luxury. The red-and-white diamond-patterned 100%-silk tie by the Custom Shop (who buys at the Custom Shop? Zimbabwe’s fashion commander-in-chief, that’s who) comes with a quality-in-the-details explanation from Le Cirque’s coat checker: “We don’t have any other ties right now – they’re out being dry-cleaned.”
Palio [who?]: Superman, the jacket
“Don’t photograph me or the Sandro Chia mural,” the bartender hisses.... Is one of the buttons hanging tenuously by a thread? Next week, everyone’s button will be.... “It’s the only jacket we have left,” the coat-check woman apologizes. “If it makes you feel any better, Christopher Reeve had to wear this one the other night.”
The Four Seasons: Accessories, Thy Name Is Bic
Sure, the padded shoulders and three sleeve-buttons might be enough accessorizing if you were dressing yourself, but the Chance Dresser loves discovering this too-busy-to-care touch: A pair of topless Bic ballpoints, point[s] up, in place of the boring old three-point handkerchief, in the breast pocket. Sure, I’ll dine, the pens say, but I may have to make some important notes, too.
Le Côte Basque: Hommage à David Byrne
With shoulders and sleeves roomy enough to accommodate most steroid users, this – “exclusively tailored by Rizo’s, New York City” – is one jacket that won’t have to be unbuttoned as dinner proceeds. The coat-check girl shrugs and makes a face as she hands it over, paired with a taupe silk tie by Sulka. But who dresses to impress the coat-check girl? Touché!
The Rose Room at the Algonquin Hotel: If This Jacket Could Speak...
Obviously a Chance Dressing Mecca: Every one of the spare jackets is out and the room is empty, but rules are rules. “We don’t want to lose you,” our ingratiating host confides, “so we’ll check the laundry.” Moments later – “where there’s a will there’s a way” – a faded blue busboy’s jacket materializes. Neo meets retro, as sleeves come pre-rolled, buttons are for elevators, and unconstructed is the shape in this short cotton jacket. It’s a look as at home in the kitchen as in the great Rose Room or, if you dare, beyond. As the ghosts of the Round Table hover amusingly nearby, we ask: What is a jacket? The Chance Dresser, unlined but unbowed, quips back, What isn’t?

The rest of the mag is written overlong and is a bit too sincere. In all fairness, this is a weakness of the era. But Honeycutt does another bang-up job with a double-page spread, going to daring homosexualist lengths in rotating it like a centrefold: “It’s a Wonderful Life 1988: How Would the World Be Different if the Mayor Had Choked to Death or the SDS Had Blown Up Dustin Hoffman or George Bush Had Not Been Rescued at Sea?” by perennial longform overwriter Jamie Malanowski.

I think the pictures are the only good part. (Certainly the only concise part.) An Ed Koch manqué, face down on a disheveled restaurant table, tie over shoulder, on the front page of the New York Post: “Hizzoner’s Last Words: ‘How’m I Chewin’?’ ”

An interesting concept, poorly executed, and now as hideously outdated as the pony express, Spy did in fact run classified ads, including personals.

This month? Let’s check the Books heading.

69 OTHER USES FOR A CONDOM. The hilarious illustrated book from London! $10. SNORK, 6 Saunders Ave., Toronto M6R 1B8 Can.

This turns out to be a tiny street in echt-Parkdale. I wonder if the current residents are still receiving baffling mail orders with $10 U.S. bills inside?

This I cannot believe: “Party Poop” this month is a terrible disappointment. Spy updates us on its 1988 Ironman Nightlife Decathlon, which I have not really been recapping, plus there’s this gem alongside photos of ultra-busty girls in harem costumes:

HAREN SCARE’EM [sic]: Spy’s two favourite ladies whose weight has been redistributed to make them look like inflatable swimming-pool toys: Casey Kasem’s extremely natural, Meryl Streep–of-her-generation TV-actress wife, Jean, and former New York fatgirl Dianne Brill at one of the rare awards ceremonies the show-business community in Los Angeles throws for itself.

Yeah, fine, obvious line there. And mocking “Oscar de la Renta’s friend Annette Reed” and her “bony grasp,” who “hangs bonily from [too-rich-and-too-thin Nancy Kissinger]’s arm,” was also a bore.


In a curiously cyclical development that may indicate porosity in the editorial/advertising wall at Spy, the Ironman Nightlife Decathlon coverage mentions that

McInerney goes on to gain points by discomfiting Bernstein in front of Bernstein’s date, Kathleen Tynan, evidently by holding forth about the merits of digital audiotape, which Bernstein pretends to understand. McInerney apparently tries the DAT [DCC, shurely?!] gambit again (less successfully this time) with Bernstein’s other date, Shirley MacLaine, who has a miniature solar system dangling from her ear.

Even mighty Spy threw its weight behind this orphan format. If only they had chosen more wisely. If only Spy had lobbied for MiniDisc.

You are here: fawny.orgTen Years Ago in SPYArchives → December 1988

Posted: 2004.01.25 ¶ Updated: 2004.05.09

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