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

We hereby cast our eye back on SPY, “The New York Monthly” – that exemplar of “irony,” memorably belligerent, bilious adjective chains, and thrillingly recherché typography, from which our entire writing style (and ironic, memorable, belligerent, bilious, and recherché personality) derived.

Where possible, we do actually attempt to stick to a precise ten-year retrospective, but we reserve the right to mix and match.


November 1991

Now with ILLUSTRATIONS thanks to Michael Russell

We’re still in the thin-issue, large-print era, but one rationale for being so late with this reportage is how very dense this month’s issue is. Whatever decline Spy faced was apparently slower than our time-compressed memories (themselves the subject of an article this month) had led us to believe.


We get lots and lots of letters. “From the Spy Mailroom”:

Gail Hagen of Charlotte, North Carolina, hated the Dylan piece, and directed considerable anger at the opinions expressed therein by that “big bag of hot air named Milton Glaser.” Poor Milton Glaser, who, after all, only supplied the illustration that accompanied the article. Queenan is the name you want, Ms Hagen. Q-U-E-E-N-A-N.

Now, what about that Dylan article (“The Free-Fallin’ Bob Dylan”)?

When the late Claud Cockburn guest-edited Private Eye, he would gather the staff at a pub and ask them who the sacred cows of the day were. Someone would mention an icon like Albert Schweitzer and Cockburn would yell, “Right! Let’s have a go at old Schweitzer!” This spirit seems to animate your piece about Dylan. Let’s face it, though: Poking fun at Dylan is like tossing stones at a toothless old lion. Why don’t you try something truly dangerous, like a profile of everybody’s hero, Springsteen? The material is all there: His divorce settlement, and whether it forbids Julianne Phillips ever to write about him; his earnest political correctness vs. his Draconian on-tour labour practices vis-à-vis underlings; his Machiavellian handlers–cum–rock critics, and the rest of the brownnosing press that lets him live the unexamined life.

R.W. Rashand
Heber City, Utah

Meanwhile – and this was some time before Spy ran nude muscle photographs of him – what was Arnold Schwarzenegger up to in 1970?

Or rather, what was Joe Weider up to on behalf of Ahhhnold?

In “Pimping Iron” [by Irvin Muchnick, June] you say, “Some former associates say Joe [Weider] fixes his contests to suit the needs of his business empire. He practically admitted as much in 1970, when associates asked him why Schwarzenegger had won that year’s Mr. Olympia title when Sergio Oliva, a black Cuban, had clearly had the better physique. Joe smiled and said in his clipped Quebecois-by-way-of-the-shtetl accent [sic!], ‘I put Sergio on the cover, I sell x magazines. I put Arnold on the cover, I sell 3x magazines.’ ”

Your writer should have been more thorough in his research. I remember the 1970 Olympia quite well; it took place at Town Hall in New York City. Because of the lack of room backstage, we (the judges) had to observe both Sergio and Arnold in the basement, just under the stage. It was a close decision. Arnold won by only one vote. Sergio was clearly not the winner. He was good, but he lacked the overall symmetry and muscularity of Arnold.

I also judged the Mr. Olympia in 1965, ’66, ’67, ’68 and ’69. I produced the Olympia in 1973 and ’74, and many other IFBB events. In no way whatsoever did Joe Weider have any control over the judging of any of those competitions.

Tom Minichello
Fort Myers, Florida

I go back as a judge some 25 years or so.... Believe me, I never took part in a fixed contest. The pre-judging took place in the afternoon, and if one judge asked for a recount at the contest at night, it was done. I’ve seen times when the tally of votes changed and the order of winners from the afternoon prejudging changed. This was one reason the judges were told not to tell anyone who the afternoon winners were.

I remember when Sergio, Arnold and Franco Columbu were competing for the Mr. Olympia title. In the prejudging, all the judges decided they would judge at night. Come nighttime, the judges were still undecided – it was agreed the contestants would come backstage in a well-lighted dressing room, and we would scrutinize the three competitors again. The winner was Arnold.

Ed Jubinville
Chicopee, Massachusetts

Irvin Michnick replies: “There are various ways to fix contests. There’s Joe Weider’s way, which on the continuum of subjective sports judging ranks somewhere between boxing in Vegas and gymnastics in Dresden: He appoints ‘respected individuals’ like Minichello, then an IFBB promoter and an owner of the Mid-City Gym, where preliminary judging for the 1970 Mr. Olympia was held. Minichello’s conflict of interest was huge, but I’ll take his word that 1970 was an honest call, though it’s hard to fathom how Arnold could win by only one vote when ‘Sergio was clearly not the winner.’ Ed Jubinville’s defense of the Weiders’ scruples has the same comical logic. Why weren’t the results of the afternoon pre-judging made public – afraid the fans might figure out who had the early lead or something? Even Jubinville describes how the judges made up the rules as they went.”

Advertising analysis

Cathy Dennis: Busty! Our advertising this month is unusually scarifying. I suppose, thought, the unimaginably horrid typography exceeding even early-1980s PageMaker excess cannot really be said to “mar” an advert for Cathy Dennis (who?) given how very little she ever mattered. The combination of overcondensed and overexpanded letterspaced Century Oldstyle Italic is, nonetheless, nauseating. The midnight-blue backdrop does nothing for Cathy’s milky-white cleavage.

Unidentified Talent Remains Meanwhile, we find evidence that the blowhard recycler of tropes from Angels in America named Brad Fraser – recently Peter Principled to the writing staff of Amerikanski Queer as Folk – actually did make it to Broadway. The advert, for some play or other with an impossibly long and malapropist title (Cf. Nation of Ulysses), looks like something mimeographed in 1979, with a quasi-solarized illustration that softens the reality that the two figures depicted lying down together are guys.

What has Brad done with all his money since then, I wonder?


This month’s “Music” column (byline: Jeffrey Ressner, possibly a real name) details the misadventure of Hollywood Records. The accompanying illustration by Tim Gabor of Donald Duck tricked out in every accoutrement of the superannuated rock star (most notably a ring through his beak, which I swear I can actually feel) is quite shocking.

But it doesn’t end there.

Paterno chose David Klein, a man who found it necessary to overcompensate for his whiteness with the nom-de-jive Funken-Klein [and] landed in hot water... for letting Funken-Klein pursue a recording deal with rapper Professor Griff, the former member of Public Enemy booted from that group after making anti-Semitic comments

I met Funken-Klein. For some reason, I covered the CMJ conference circa 1991. I met a couple of fags in the music industry, one of whom would come to town for a Sony conference years later and find himself quite appalled by my squareness. But I also simply had to stop and chat with the only guy in a wheelchair at the conference, who looked as though he considered being in a chair more embarrassing than the ghetto-fabulous clothing sitting baggily on his bones.

We had an uncomfortable miniconversationette. (The discomfort stemmed from my squareness.) Funken-Klein, it seemed, had a tumour on his spine that would shortly be removed, but for the time being it was keeping him from walking.

He may have been an overpaid, rash, arriviste hiphop Jew (Beastie Boys: Your time is up), but he was crippled by a cancer that would take his life in 1995. “Gangsta Limpin’ ” was the title of the column he wrote. Fitting, I guess.

I have no explanation why I particularly care about this. I’m supposed to be all blasé. But some conditions that cause disability are miserable, agonizing, and terminal, a fact I tend to forget by hanging out with paraplegics in stable health.

Let’s warp the timeline again, as it were

“Time Warped” by James Collins takes an overlong and underedited peregrination through the modern recycling of previous eras. While surely intended to be “deep,” it succeeds merely in being “obvious.” (Chronicle of “Deep inside media criticism” foretold?)

Well, I’m being unkind. There’s muscle amid the flab, in fairness.

The big splash in literature recently was A.S. Byatt’s Possession – remarkable for its pastiche of nineteenth-century poetry. [Chronicle of Aaron and Gwyneth foretold?] [...] We do not reject the past these days; rather, we reclaim it with relentless efficiency and thoroughness. We seek out tiny artifacts like Rosalind Russell’s Auntie Mame period and Birkenstocks, then polish them up and reuse them... [O]ne idea or event leading to the next, but all the ripples seem to have broken against the side of the tub; now they are rippling back. [...]

Details, the Mademoiselle for boys, recently listed the best vintage-clothing stores in the country with a description of their wares – mostly in gabardine and rayon. The accompanying photographs showed a young man who apparently yearned to be a member of a bowling team in 1947. In a recent cover story, Sassy, the Seventeen for girls who are cool, told its readers how to creat a 1940s look with their nails, make-up and hairstyle.... Sassy, my favourite magazine, quotes 20-year-old Ian (he may be 22; there is a controversy here) of the band Nation of Ulysses as saying, “[We’re] against interpretive dancing, voguing, hippie dancing.”

It will be pointed out that Nation of Ulysses, for a brief but salutary moment, wore the crown for most evocative lengthy album title: 13-Point Program to Destroy America. (Why do they hate America so?)

Along with architecture, design has spent the past few years simply mixing and matching. A Regency desk is called a Regency desk because it is distinctly of the Regency period.... What is the signature design style of the 1980s and early ’90s? Retro.

I suppose I could spend the rest of my day wading through this rough, but its jewel is surely an Edward Tufte nightmare chart that plots eras against the later times in which those eras were deemed the good old days. Though a tad questionable at the more ancient end (the 1910s considered the 1820s the good old days?), it is certainly shockingly accurate in its more modern timelines. The caption says it all: “Better cue up Wall Street on the laser-disc player [sic]. Time to break out the Cristal. Did someone say ‘Grenada’? That’s right! Come 1992, the eighties will be back!”

Weren’t they? I’m too caught up in ’70s revivalism to keep track.

My beef with roadkill

Devout readers will recall the mention of Tony Hendra’s “The Joy of – Screech! Thud! – Cooking.”

“The right equipment and the freshest food refine a family tradition”
Martha Stewart

Well, here it is: “Spy’s Guide to Politically-Correct Meat-Eating, the Roadkill Way.” The lush, dark, cozy, gamey Middle Ages place settings photographed by Peter Ardito are quite disconcerting – especially the taxidermed raccoon with a cherry tomato in its fangs and a fake tire track on its abdomen. (Or is the constellation of gourds surrounding the poor beastie even worse?)

Thanks to the efforts of animal-rights groups like PETA and assorted herds of New Age nutritionists, the cultural status of meat-eating is currently on a par with that of drunk driving and headed down toward pedophilia.... You are a carnivore – a mad, rabid pariah feeding off the carrion of your innocent fellow travelers on Spaceship Earth.

Well, tell us something we don’t know, Tony.

[R]oadkill has long been recognized as a hearty addition to French country cooking. In many rural regions of the U.S. as well, it has been a mainstay of traditional local cuisines for as long as there have been beer coolers in pickup trucks.

You know that clichéd, peremptory article-closing formula overused by hacks, “I think I’m going to be sick”? Well, I’m more experienced: I stopped reading the recipes, true-life photographs, and whimsical illustrations (entire possum fed head-first into hand-cranked meat grinder!) after I already was.

Anthony Bourdain, your time is up.

“Edge of Night Life”

“Review of Reviewers” this month (byline: Humprey Greddon) fairly describes Michael Musto as a “funny, clever and inspiringly vulgar” gossip columnist, then takes the New Yorker to task for its own palsied, tweed-jacketed foray into nightlife coverage – a column with the hilarious soap-opera-recapitulation title (retro, shurely?!) “Edge of Night Life.”

All this would be tolerable, perhaps, if the word scribe were not used so often, if hyphens were not so overindulged in (as in this phrase from a column on the Limelight – another urban-studies utopia: “No other dance hall has been nearly so rafter-packed, and with so wide, so racially-culturally-generationally-and-socially balanced, so sexually hard-to-read a mix of get-out-of-my-way-and-stop-staring-at-me-though-boy-I’m-horny partygoers”)...


T. Coraghessan Boyle [No relation – Ed.], the goateed, jokey-pretentious and astonishingly annoying novelist, wrote about his house in California for Architectural Digest.... Boyle continues with plaintive simplicity, “It gets dark at six, and then, with the expiration of daylight savings time, at five.” Well, it would, wouldn’t it? If it got dark at six and then at 3:45 after the time change, the light in California really would be spooky. And the next morning? Then, at dawn, the sun comes up, ever in the eastern firmament.

“Party Poop”

“Party Poop” this month is a tad dull, with one item remaining stubbornly incomprehensible even on repeated reads.

This one, however, wins it.

Having received a sterling-silver tray from New York City mayor David Dinkins, rug-wearing musical colonialist Paul Simon holds it up high above his head so normal-size people can see it.

At least it wasn’t propping up an overrun raccoon and a spray of decorative gourds.

You are here: fawny.org → Ten Years Ago in SPY

Updated: 2002.12.01


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