Thursday, October 20

Top 50 or so of Something-or-Other of the Century of the Week

What, no love for Sonny?

This time it's the American Society of Magazine Editors Top 40 covers of the last 40 years (slide show here). It's interesting in no small part because it's the sort of thing most people outside the industry would have no opinion about, unlike, say, Rolling Stone's Top 25 Hotel Rooms Trashed by Vince Neil. I, on the other hand...

Well, I have an opinion about this, because in terms of covers I was an avid reader of probably the two greatest magazines in their respective golden ages: Esquire in the 60s and the National Lampoon in the early 70s.

Both get some recognition; Esquire's got three in the Top 10, and four over all, if I recall correctly. But as usual, the list would have been much better if they'd just asked me.

First, celebrity covers at Nos. 1 and 2? Naked celebrities??? And the nude Lennon/clothed Ono thing is just voted in on sentiment (it was taken the day he was killed). Sentiment is fine at #8, say, but not #1. And if it's iconic of anything it's the disturbing infantilism that seemed to mark what little the man got of middle age. Plus it has Yoko. The Demi Moore thing I don't have a problem with. It was a great cover, it created an enormous amount of buzz, and it works even though it's Demi Moore, though if it had happened a few years later her breasts would still have been larger than her belly.

But it's not number one by default, because the #1 cover of all time comes in at #7: the glorious Nat Lamp Death Issue:

C'mon. Comedy gets no respect, I know, but the "The New Yorker's view of the country" is Number Four, and it's just a mild giggle. Not only should this be Number One, there should be a statue of Ed Bluestone somewhere for coming up with the idea. And the photo by Ronald G. Harris is brilliant, and was probably done for less than what Annie Leibovitz spent on lunch for either of the top two.

And that's not even the biggest gaffe; the omission of the Sonny Liston Santa cover is criminal. Esquire reportedly lost a million dollars in advertising on that one. In 1962 dollars. Imagine anybody willing to offend an advertiser for 1/10 of that in current dollars today for the sake of a great idea. Imagine being the guy who had to adjust that hat on Liston's head.

That cover summarizes the state of race relations in the country at that time, and it had to strike White America in its very Protestant marrow. Not only is Santa black, you crackers, he's got one-punch knockout power in either hand, and then he's gonna sleep with your wife. Merry Christmas. The first African-American woman on the cover of Glamour makes the list (Overcome!) and this gets forgotten.

Then there's the Lampoon. No Nixon as Pinocchio fold-out with Jimminy Kissinger?

The Nation's Alfred E. Bush (hey, I love that one, too), but not the thirty-years earlier Lt. Calley?

No Self Portrait With Banana?

[In case younger readers don't have the reference, "I can't hear you, I've got a banana in my ear" was a classic Sixties schoolyard joke.]

Anyway it was fun, but I don't think it's going to spark the sort of water-cooler debates that TV Guide™ does. Because I don't have a water-cooler.


Anonymous said...

I was always partial to the NatLamp cover with a bunch of homeboys hanging out on a stoop with what looks like an insurance salesman (complete with briefcase, IIRC) statue in front of them in the classic lawn-jockey statue pose. (Damn, I wish I could find the cover instead of feebly trying to describe it.)

Anonymous said...

anon, you're right about the natlamp cover. after i read your description of it, i saw it in my mind's eye.

and thanks, doghouse, for reminding the young'uns about the glories of the past.

Anonymous said...

I've never heard of National Lampoon the magazine. Does it have anything to do with those Chevy Chase vacation movies?