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October 31, 2006

Damn You Spy!

There's a new history of Spy magazine out that's getting good reviews. The publication was before my time, but it's really impossible to overstate how enduring -- and annoying -- its influence is. I've yet to work or intern at a single publication that didn't advise me to go look at old Spys, or didn't huddle around the editorial table trying to recapture the snarkathon's magic in a one-shot graphic. The management of dull and serious political magazines is populated mainly by folks who wish they were at Spy, or editing it, or writing for it, and so they demand funny charts. Now!

October 31, 2006 | Permalink


Did they keep a stash of old Spy's around the offices?

Posted by: joeo | Oct 31, 2006 2:25:38 PM

Nope. Would've made too much sense. (or, possibly, nobody kept their old copies)

Posted by: Ezra | Oct 31, 2006 3:08:58 PM

having been, in a previous life, a bitter, stained java jockey in the mid-90's in an overpriced college town, i'm more of an 'Onion' man, myself; although i did used to frequent a laundromat that always had the latest 'Spy' laid out for its customers.

i remember when david letterman was funny, too - when he was a whole lot meaner. like when he let burt reynolds bury himself on the air, just leaning back and chuckling evilly and letting him run himself into the ground. it was devilishly malicious and beautiful TV.

Posted by: r@d@r | Oct 31, 2006 3:36:30 PM

Whine if you must, but to me -- an egheadded kid in the wilds of Alabama before the advent of the internets, who read Time magazine for high school every week for mandatory pop quizzes -- _Spy_ fucked up my world. Discovering it first -- well, that and Camper Van Beethoven -- made me a golden god ... and hell, _I_ still keep my back issues just to savor the nostalgia.

Posted by: Greg Greene | Oct 31, 2006 3:58:11 PM

Oh, man. When I heard the book was out, I snapped up a copy.

I subscribed to Spy during its glory years (and hung in there during the non-glory years, and was upset when it folded). But no one keeps years worth of old magazines when they move around as much as I did in the 1980s, so I got rid of them during one of my moves.

I've tried to tell people about some of Spy's more amazing stories so many times they're sick of hearing about them. Now I can irritate my friends even more by reading the stories to them, instead of just trying to remember the most delicious details.

Posted by: CaseyL | Oct 31, 2006 4:30:39 PM

Ezra, you are welcome to borrow my old Spy magazines - they are nothing short of brilliant. Just reading the articles reminded me of so many things ("Bosomy Dirty Book Writers", "Sort fingered vulgarians", "Kissimee, no I kissayoo")... there's an article on Twinkies that has to be seen to be believed... and even better letter to the editor that followed it up. Plus, at its best, Spy had the brio to take on all sorts of sacred cows - charting Liz Smith, investigating the sham of Donald Trump's wealth, delving into the Bohemian Club and its summer camp for wealthy, elite men.

At it's height - which was all too brief - it was lamost unmissable. No one - not even Graydon at Vanity Fair - does it like they did it. If you come anywhere near it, I would be mightily impressed. Don't discount everything that's come before you. Some things from the past retain their value.

Posted by: weboy | Oct 31, 2006 5:08:33 PM

Oh, God - "bosomy dirty book writer Shirley Lord", "short-fingered vulgarian Donald Trump" - Spy was nothing short of fabulous. When they were good they were terrific; when they were mediocre they were still wonderful.

I was a charter subscriber and used to read it on the subways - I would burst out laughing more times than I could count.

Who doesn't remember and love "Tri-Athlete of the Night, Anthony Haden-Guest?"

What about the movie reviews? I can't remember who wrote them and sadly my copies didn't survive one of my many moves. [Walter Monheit?] Of course, it was also a time when satire was more easily recognized.

I will definitely get the book to chuckle over the golden years.

Posted by: Miliana | Oct 31, 2006 5:46:47 PM

Every magazine that today has a bunch of tiny graphs, tables, mini-stories in the first dozen pages--Spy invented that. Very innovative layout and design in addition to being teh funny (though I prefer 70s-era National Lampoon; shows my age I guess).

Posted by: kth | Oct 31, 2006 8:56:25 PM

Summed up in a single phrase, Spy's legacy is this:

"Former comedian, Dan Akroyd."

Posted by: Jimmmmm | Oct 31, 2006 9:19:42 PM

Miliana - You mean "The Blurb-o-Matic" of Walter Monheit? Loved those.

Also, just remembered - Nubbins!

Posted by: weboy | Nov 1, 2006 6:57:29 AM

I have a near-complete stack of SPYs in my basement. (I'm missing a handful from the first year). What's the opening bid? *g*

Posted by: Mary | Nov 1, 2006 7:57:07 AM

Isn't MIGHT the new SPY? MIGHT was the last magazine I absolutely thrilled to discover. Their relationship to SPY seemed about as successful an Oedipal slaying as you could have.

Posted by: Wrongshore | Nov 1, 2006 8:59:36 PM

OK, they did this one story which was kick ass. They called the producers of lame sitcoms and crime dramas and claimed to be the agent for some superstar or another. They'd say that their client (Sting and William Hurt are the two I remember) was a HUGE fan and would love if they could be written into a VERY SPECIAL episode. So if they could send over an outline of a possible episode, they'd run it by the client and see when they could schedule the time to shoot it. Spy then published the outlines.

Was a fucking trip to read. What stands out IIRC, is "Father Dowling Mysteries" writing in Sting as a rock star who seeks Father Dowling's help in finding his lost sister missing from the convent. If the episode wasn't called Sister Sister, it should have been.

Yeah that was a cool magazine.

Posted by: beowulf | Nov 1, 2006 11:40:41 PM

Map to the bathrooms of the Ivy League clubs.

This was before Barnes and Noble.

Posted by: Tom | Nov 2, 2006 10:48:35 PM

To this day, Spy is the only magazine I ever bought a copy of based solely on the cover, without even looking at the table of contents until I got home.

The cover was a Photoshopped wonder showing a naked a grinning Bruce Willis cradling his very hairy, very pregnant belly in the classic Demi Moore Vanity Fair pose.

I laughed all the way home at the very thought of it.

Posted by: pjcamp | Nov 3, 2006 9:16:30 AM

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