October 1989

It’s another Spy eBay special this month as we “enjoy” the very worst cover in Spy history: George H.W. Bush with “The 100” carved into his haircut. (Did we have Photoshop back in ’89, or was this, as they say, “airbrushed”?)

Ostensibly, “The Spy 100” is “Our Annual Census of the 100 Most Annoying, Alarming, and Appalling People, Places and Things.” Like what, hiphop haircuts? At least back then rap music was worth listening to.

Trump Shuttle Even back in the day, I didn’t bother reading the frontmost editorial section, “Great Expectations.” It was all too clever in its efforts to weave together Topical News Anecdotes into a narrative. (Musto does such a better job in his gossip column.) Quel bore, really. Trite. Undermines the bite and viciousness of the rest of the book.

This month, one’s eye was caught by a news photo of a jetliner post-emergency-landing. Emblazoned superclassily on the fuselage (itself a superclassy word): TRUMP. (Not Lubalin Graph, either. I guess the Donald wasn’t rich enough for slabserifs yet.) “[A] Trump Shuttle flight was forced to make an emergency landing. The nasty part, just possibly, will be the public-relations impact.”

Trump Shuttle: The Hooters Air of the 1980s?

We get, as we know, letters. Lots and lots of letters.

Three European numeric irritants: They cross their sevens, decimal the recording of time (8.30), and transpose the order of day and month (22/10/63).

(Elan’s birthday, shurely?! And just in time for this issue date.)

We have a wee typographic error in a separate response from Spy: “According to papers filed with the FEC, she is both a psychiatrist ( therefore an M.D.) and a Ph.D.” Who is this mystery woman? Frances Lear, of course.

And do you ever have to be old to remember who she is.

Funny, I didn’t know the term used below was that old.

As a Spy-reading Randroid who is neither a too-rich self-made tycoon nor a picked-on computer nerd, I took exception to Bob Mack’s snipe at Ayn Rand [“Meanwhile, the Most Influential Conservative in Young America is... Dead – and She Has a Hard-to-Pronounce Name,” July]. Although Rand’s philosophy has its flaws and her fiction tends to fall into the category of sledgehammer-over-the-head prose, I am tired of people assessing her work without understanding (or reading) her books. How else to explain the inclusion of Rand (an atheist and antiracist who was a disenchanted with the conservative right as she was with the liberal left) in an article about Bible-thumping bigoted pigdogs?

Spy, Vanity Fair and other recent Rand-bashers seem comfortable tagging her as a fascist cheerleader. As any Objectivist will tell you, Rand’s ideas were much more complex (and humane) than people (i.e., jaded journalists) think.

I was somewhat bemused by “The Boys Who Would Be Buckley,” which prattled on [sic] Bill Buckley – positioning him, as it were, for a kick into the dustbin of rhetorical has-beens. My husband and I were among a gang of 98 who recently voyaged 23 days on a continent-hurdling circumnavigation of the globe via the Concorde.

Our regimen was one of journeys on sight-seeing coaches, train trips, helicopter dashes over a smouldering volcano, whirling over New Zealand alps, gazing spellbound at a primeval canvas of elephants, lions, zebras in Kenya.

Since Bill Buckley was the celebrity presence aboard, he was an object of perfunctory curiosity on our ærial excursion. I recall him ensconced pencil in hand before sheafs of paper perusing and researching for his commentaries. Among our 98 empyrean sojourners, we saw no ink-stained wretch or tedious raconteur, caricatured as a “toothless cat in winter” in your imaginative yarn.

I’ll remember Bill Buckley as one always amiable, given to civility, an infections smile and piquant wit.

Take heart, Bill[,] baby. [T]here was once another “intellectual lion” who in his sixties rallied the world to a triumph of the human spirit. I allude to W.S.C.

Did you talk this way before your continent-hurdling circumnavigation, Mrs. Gladwin?

[Jason] Stelix has since become a regular Spy reader and has a few questions (veteran readers, please bear with us). The answers:

  1. Well, it’s really just a completely random list.
  2. Because the New Yorker doesn’t; we try to get them to answer; we really don’t know whether they mind.
  3. The Naked City design, which uses strips of different drawings or photos every month, is there so that some other magazine can eventually imitate it.
  4. Three years this month!
  5. Yes[,] you are and yes[,] it is.
  6. He is one great (albeit trademarked) guy, and no, he’s actually much smarter.

I would like to take this moment to express my exasperation with the Guess and Amerikanski Express advertising campaigns of this era. I don’t like the Guess logotype (red-bordered equilateral triangle with scrunched type) or the artistique smash-contrast of the red on black-and-white photography. It’s much too jarring, and also trite – Eurotrashy.

Stephen Sondheim as landed gentry Whereas the AmEx ads try to insinuate a kind of high-class insinuation. This month it’s Stephen Sondheim who is “Cardmember since 1959.” For a low, low 18.9% compounded interest rate, you too can stare off into the distance and wonder why you didn’t cut to the chase and put on your jodhpurs rather than bother with this getup of white linen pants, matching shirt, and cream suspenders, hat, and bow tie. The shoes, of course, are priceless, but that would become some other card’s slogan only later.

I know that lesbiana Annie Leibovitz shot this series, and how could one really forget the gratuitous leg shot of speed-skater Eric Heiden (I do still have a clipping), but really, this is the ’80s at its tawdriest. Please give us Studio 54, teal rayon sweaters, and clunky cassette boomboxen instead of ersatz chichi bullshit. I want the real ’80s, not Ralph Lipschitz’s gentrified analogue.

‘Get on the Blower’ I totally promise you that I started using the phrase get on the blower to mean “call up on the telephone” as a direct result of Spy’s retro subscription advertising campaign.

We would now interpret the handsomish youngish man (actually, he’s winsomely cute and marriageable) chatting on the candlestick telephone (so they are named, if I am to believe the audio-description script of Road to Perdition as a Matt Drudge manqué. It will be noted that Drudge induced the Toronto Star to print a retraction to Antonia Zerbisias’ claim that he is gay, despite the fact that he seems to be nothing but. Given this data, it would be unreasonable to characterize the Spy layout as “retrosexual.”

(Do you really want the mental image of Matt Drudge’s having any kind of sexualism whatsoever? If he were smart, he’d pull a Morrissey and claim celibacy.)

  1. Cinco de Mayo (ugh) Spanish-catchphrase alert: If I write the term Cinco de Mayo, does your mental voice render it in rather a singsong fashion, with lots of stress on the first syllable and no distinction between the last two words (“SEENko deMAAAyo”)?

    Yeah, it’s annoying.

    “Celebrate Cinco de Mayo. Now and Forever” reads the hed on an advert for Cinco de Mayo (stop saying that!), a restaurant with two location in New York. One has rather a hard time spotting the font. Thus I have two sources of frustration here.

  2. ‘Dress British. Think Yiddish’ But right on the next page, we are subjected to a Novarese headline commanding us to “Dress British. Think Yiddish.”

    The founder of Saint Laurie [what?], Samuel Kozinsky, always said there’s more than just looking smart, there’s thinking smart.

    Which is why [shouldn’t this be one sentence?] we offer handsome, hand-tailored suits at prices that won’t insult your intelligence. The secret is, we manufacture all our clothing on the premises, which enables us to give you that rare combination of high quality and fair value.

    So walk into Saint Laurie today. You can actually walk out looking like an English country gentleman, without feeling like a shmo.

    But what if you’re a British Jew? (Like that cute nebbishy actor Paul Rudd?)

  3. We continue. Grand Hotel: The Musical is appropriately advertised using the non-script typeface most amenable to use in wedding invitations, Weiss. Who would have thought the words TOMMY TUNE could look so very nice?

  4. Guinness When I was a schoolgirl, I mooned over the ITC specimen book for the unique typeface Eras, by two Frogs whom even then I thought were gay but are probably just French. Strange semi-italic sansserif, with voluptuous curves and eight weights. Compare the Ws as the weights increase. Supremely difficult to use; along with Optima, the original PostScript versions came in two parts, low-res and high-res, the former of which actually made the characters upright. In essence, they painted a moustache on the Mona Lisa. With Optima and Eras, there is no such thing as too much resolution. I’d personally like to see stone inscriptions at a twelve-inch cap height.

    (Worst-ever Eras mangling was witnessed at a recent conference: Burntsand. I couldn’t even read the word it was so horrible.)

    This month, Guinness reveals its tackiness in a hideously-designed advertisement that also misuses Eras. They even manage to hyphenate a word. I’d flunk a design student for a comp like this even in their first-ever week of school.

  5. Inner Space Would you mix Garamond with ITC Kabel, sometimes in the colour red? Fifteen years ago, perhaps, if I were that same student. And I’d still flunk you. Dig the cuttings, slicings, and clippings in the layout. Very Arquitectonica-cutting-a-hole-out-of-a-building. It even carries a byline: Guy Dill 1989.)

  6. In further type analysis, the Tanqueray booze advertisement’s tightly-set Korinna ad copy works particularly well in conjunction with the emerald green. We have proof of my contention because, on the subsequent right-hand page, Korinna works rather less well amid ice blue. (Back in the day, when I worked as a night typesetter, my working-class boss [it was actually worse than that: A working-class unilingual anglo in Montreal], actually taught me something: Korinna, though widely despised by certain designers, looks perfectly nice set supertight. And it does. I call for a revival.)

Aiwa Well, how hard to well-meaning liberal-arts graduates at Manhattan agencies have to work to sound hip? Aiwa advertising still has that fake-graffiti action happening. SQUARES BEWARE!

When was the last time you spontaneously used the word square to mean “unhip”? It isn’t unironic even in Pulp Fiction.

What, I wonder, did HEAD GAME and MAX CD SHOCK seem to mean during the pitch meeting? How about after the liquid lunch?

One enjoyed, but does not feel like retyping, “Insane or Inarticulate? You Make the Call!” which renders statements by then–Iranian head of state Hashemi Rafsanjani and the man with the words carved into his hair. Let’s just excerpt some bons mots.

I figure I am playing ’03-style dirty pool here by not bothering to retype. Spy’s ’89-era dirty pool you hear worse than on playgrounds these days. Or on Weblogs, of course.

A New Yorker–calibre number by Shanahan. Guests mingle at a social function holding pitch-black tumblers and stemware.

– What the hey? [BANG!] My drink went out! Just like that!

– Mine too!

– It’s not just our drinks... Everyone’s has gone out!

– Damn it all! There must be a line down somewhere!

Shanahan Cartoon

Chronicle of our Death Foretold? I must say I love running gags. They beat originality hands down. (“Hi, Dr. Nick!”) Spy’s “Chronicle of Our Death Foretold?” is of course my all-time favourite.

“My pal Donald Trump... said that Spy magazine is in trouble financially and will not be around much longer. I chided the handsome mogul, of whom I am very fond... that he should not indulge in wishful thinking. He said, ‘No, you’ll find this is true if you just investigate. I predict they won’t be around in a year.’ ”

– Liz Smith in the Daily News, September 29, 1988

(As I write this, we’re comin’ up to the 15th anniversary.)

The odd thing was that the Donald’s prediction could only come true. If you live long enough, you die. If a publication publishes long enough, it ceases to publish. The difference here: It took six long years (chemo, radiation, yoga, positive thinking, entire sets of new owners).

But this month, we’re not done yet. “Death Be Not Short-Fingered”:

The Department of Health and Human Services says that Donald Trump is in trouble statistically and will not be around much longer. We chided the large, impersonal government agency that it should not indulge in wishful thinking. But it said, in effect, “No, you’ll find this is true if you just investigate – as indeed we have. A white male of Trump’s current age, 43, has an average total life expectancy of 74.7 years. We predict he won’t even be around in another 31.7 years.”

As the calendar below the piece showed, “11,579 days and counting.” (He’s down to about 6,161 days. As a drag queen mentioned on TV once [rather chilling this writer, who has a hard time dealing with the passage of time], “It’s later than you think.”)

You’ve never had more of a need to distinguish O and 0 than in Martin “Not Greg” Kihn’s “1-800-READ-THS,” a kind of Spy anagram analysis of government departments and the “words” their phone numbers spell.

Buildings – Unsafe and Illegal Use
Correction Business Information [what?]
Correction Inmate & Visit Information [ah]
Corruption – NYC
TALK, Y00!
Federal Information Cent[re]
2: OH! HI! OH! [letters “and round at both ends?”]
Hospitals, municipal – Information
Income Tax – Federal – Forms Only (24 hrs.)
Liquor Authority – NYS
Mayor’s Office
Secret Service – U.S.
GO MIG! 00
Sidewalk Repair
KOMA 0-0W!
Stock & Bond Complaints
Taxis – NYC – Complaints
TOXIC DR[iver]

Ripped pages Don’t bet on an outdated technology. In “The Spy 100,” which was such a borefest that Alex Isley actually parodied the boredom by illustrating many ripped pages o’ Spy and upping the number to 1000 (“Dust”), we eventually plod through to Nº 47:


1988 rank
Inherent Loathsomeness
Embarrassingly unfunny trend articles (JUST THE FAX, MA’AM; FAXCESSORIES; FAX OF LIFE; JOY OF FAX) contributed to USA Today–ification of America; idea-barren media devoured any human-interest story involving fax – fax dating service, faxed marriage proposals, faxed deli orders and so on; fountain-pen-using, George F. Will–esque Luddites wax rhapsodic about loyalty to the timeless inconvenient ways, while hypertech trekkies tie up machines faxing requests for Emerson, Lake and Palmer songs to FM DJs. [Score:] 8

“The New York Review of Looks” is a solid, well-illustrated, hugely overlong treatise on images and headshots of contemporary authors. Paul Rudnick, be not proud.

A novel is certainly an accomplishment, but today’s bronzer-literate readership demands more. After all, a few hundred typewritten pages tell you hardly anything about an author’s true self – what do his eyes say? Tama Janowitz can turn a shapely sentence, but let’s talk bottom line: Tama’s got best-selling hair, hair the reader can go back to again and again, hair that you can’t put down, Book of the Month Club Main Selection hair. And while we’re at it, how about adding a swimsuit competition to the National Book Awards? And why is PEN tossing fundraisers only to end the suppression and imprisonment of rebel Iron Curtain novelists and poets? What about the dissident Czech models, the men and women whose radical views on winter white and the New Cropped Pant make it risky, often impossible, for them to set foot on a Prague runway? Speaking out for Salman Rushdie is all well and good, but please – get a look at the guy. Salman, you’ve got some time on your hands: Hit the rowing machine, price some hair plugs, and rethink that monobrow.

Give Rudnick extra credit, though, for five simple words that function as well as a meme today as the meme-equivalent of the 1980s, the catchphrase, might back then:

Modeling and writing, fall collections and short-story collections, Ernest vs. Margaux – it’s become a dizzy blur, a truly fin-de-siècle shivaree of forms. Some pensées are in order.

The problem is, only one of them is any good:

Supermodel Paulina Porizkova is paid perhaps $10 million to appear in Estée Lauder ads. Superwriter Stephen King is paid perhaps $10 million for his next three horror novels. Q. Who is better off? A. Stephen King, because he makes that kind of money and he can buy food.

All is redeemed, however, in the sidebar photo essay “Making Over Mr. (Or Ms) Write,” in which authors’ headshots are Photoshopped into greater glamour. But wait! Photoshop did not exist in 1989! So this would be known, I assume, as airbrushing.

Mona Simpson (Anywhere but Here)
No more Yaddo yearbook, Mona – let’s go Lulu, for Knopf’s Playmate of the Year [what an idea! Sonny Mehta naked!]. Turn-ons: Fireplaces, writing alfresco, rainy-day tutorials with Gordon Lish.
Renata Adler (Reckless Disregard)
Get thee gone, Pocahontas braid; today it’s a TWA Renata. Coffee, tea or cleavage – we’re ready for takeoff, Mr. Pulitzer.
Salman Rushdie (The Satanic Verses)
Hey, dude! It’s Surfer Salman hidin’ out in the big curls off Catalina. Sorry about the ayatollah’s [well-written?] decree – endless bummer!
Alice Walker (The Temple of My Familiar)
Do the write thing, Alice – dump those Bo Derek braids and move Beyond Thunderdome.
Stephen King (The Drawing of the Three)
Rob Lowe shades, an Armani binge, Michael Jackson’s spit-curls – it’s Malibu Steve [Stacy, shurely?!], a horror no more.
Joyce Carol Oates (American Appetites)
Gentlemen prefer novelists. Busty, lusty, the writer with a whip – go for the glamour, Joyce Carol Wild Oates!
Jan Morris (Hong Kong)
I dreamed I sliced off my penis in my Maidenform bra. She’s all author[ess] and all girl. A shave and an upsweep, a powdered Adam’s apple, and Jan’s ready for the Times list – a regular breast-seller.

Spy’s trademark overlong feature stories were actually worth reading this month. A full-on exposé of the case of three whales locked under the ice around Barrow, Alaska, was great fun to read, even if I was shocked to remember the actual case (and a snippet of television footage of one or more whales breaching their noses through an ice hole, as though it were a film loop). On the other hand, tales of Just How Different Life Is Up North are old hat in Canada.

So what about decorators?

“But Was the $18,000 Curtain Beautiful?” by Michael Walker runs 13 pages, complete with sidebars.

“Most decorators,” says an important New York decorating editor, “grew up poor, on the edge of a swamp. Their work as decorators is a nose-pressed-to-the-glass experience. Decorating, for them, is the ultimate expression of arrival. They all, however, try to leave you with the impression that they spent their childhoods romping on rolled lawns.” In this sense, the $18,000 curtain becomes, in all but its particular form, no different from the 24-karat-gold Kimball concert grand piano at Graceland. [Jay] Spectre grew up in Kentucky, [John] Saladino in Missouri. And although [Mark] Hampton freely admits that his father was an undertaker and farmer in Indiana, he has a very flutey, non-farmer’s-son accent. “There’s so much pretense in the business,” [Mario] Buatta says. Decorators “think they’re so much better than the client.”

Recently, Buatta says, he watched “one young [decorator], a southern guy, he’s one of the most pretentious people you ever want to know, and of course, who is he with? He’s with a typical New York kind of client, and the banter was so funny: She’s just plain housewife; she thinks he’s somebody but he really isn’t.” The architect-turned-decorator Peter Marino, who grew up in Queens, also has a strangely raffiné accent, the better to make clients such as fashion designer Valentino and richest-wife-in-America Claudia Cohen defer to his extraordinarily expensive æsthetic suggestions.

Later: “Mario Buatta Talks About Golddiggers, Parasites, Parvenus, Extreme Jealousy, Famous Freeloaders and People Without Taste.” (Have we left anybody out?)

On new money desperate to look like old money
Our business is made up today of so many people who have just come into a lot of money. They’ve never had anything; they come to you with nothing. They don’t know who they are, and they want you to give them a backdrop – instant heritage..... [They buy] furniture we used to turn up or noses at – late-nineteenth-century stuff....
On billing shrewdly
When you send the bill, you have to be very careful. There’s psychologically a right time and a wrong time to send bills. First of all, you never send big bill, since big bills knock their socks off. So you send lots of little bills; you don’t wait until the job’s complete and send one big bill. It’s easier for them to swallow the little bills.

  1. Geof Kern Geof Kern’s photo illustrations are extra-terrific this month. Will someone please publish an anthology?

  2. Now. How the hell was “convergence” ever going to work in the late 1990s when its predecessor concept tanked like the Exxon Valdez nearly two decades prior? “Ministry of Information: Backward Marches Time” by Macaulay Connor:

    If ever a word confused the wage apes who stalk the corridors of Time Warner, the giant cable-TV and movie concern, it is the one so regularly bandied about during the months leading up to the takeover of Warner Communications by Time Inc. The magic word, needless to say, is synergy. No amount of wishful, carefully-crafted agitprop memorandums – at least one written by Peter Quinn, who worked on Mario Cuomo’s dramatic keynote address at the 1984 Democratic National Conventions – was able to establish the precise working definition of synergy, or how it would apply to Time’s once-lustrous stable of magazines that includes Time, Sports Illustrated, People, Fortune, Money, Life, and, of course, Cooking Light.

    (By the way, synergy is Nº 45 in the Spy100.)

  3. Did you know that Spy ran personal ads? And given the magazine world’s leadtime, what a ridiculous concept that is. By the time the advertisement appears, you’re already knocked up by someone else. And no longer age “34.”

    Button Cute, Rapier Keen Art World Snobette, 34, seeks Cartoon Clean Brainiac Man for Funkadelic Downtown Dates. Must be taller than me and nearly as smart. Friendship 1st. Note & Photo. Spy Box #2.

    You had to write away to Spy’s “box” to respond? When she lives in the same town and paid for the ad three months previously?

    Aren’t heterosexualists pathetic?

    Oh, wait. This was before online personals. I apologize. Except even those don’t make sense for straight people.

Party Poop

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

Posted: 2003.10.12 ¶ Updated: 2003.10.30

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