“As I neared the end of profiling these six people, I started to suffer separation anxiety. I’d gotten to know them, I’d gotten involved in their lives. I’d gone with them to jazz clubs, and to the podiatrist.”
He is the author of two previous books: Hip: The History (HarperCollins, 2004), and Why Kerouac Matters: The Lessons of On the Road (They’re Not What You Think) (Viking, 2007). Before joining The Times, Mr. Leland was a senior editor at Newsweek, editor in chief at Details, music critic at Newsday and an original columnist at SPIN magazine. Mr. Leland is a graduate of Columbia College and a dropout from the Monster Factory, a school for aspiring professional wrestlers. He did not last long, but he got a story.
“What’s easier now is that I know the approach I need to take. What’s harder is coming up with ideas.”
Legendary illustrator / designer / artist Seymour Chwast joins the show to talk about what it means to continue beyond “legendary” status. We get into his 60-plus-year career and why he can’t slow down (much less retire), the impact of Push Pin Studios, the (de-)evolution of commercial art, his mutant hybrid of typography and design, the process of overcoming the anxiety that Saul Steinberg made all the great work already, the immediate gratification of woodcuts, the reason he makes classic literary adaptations, his interest in different religions’ notions of Hell, how a gay dance instructor helped him avoid the draft for the Korean war, and more! Then, our very first Virtual Memories Show guest, Ann Rivera, drops in on the way home from MLA 2018 to talk about the future of the humanities, her love for Pete Bagge’s bio of Zora Neale Hurston, whether students should be seen as consumers or constituents, the success of the Yale history department’s revamp, the role of the public intellectual, the problems with academia’s insularity, and the novel she returns to every year. Give it a listen!
“We’re in a state of insecurity because we’ve forgotten our public function. And a big part of that public function is to serve the people we’re working WITH, not speaking TO.”
Seymour Chwast is an American graphic designer known for his diverse body of work, and lasting influence on visual culture. Born in 1931, in New York City, Chwast attended Abraham Lincoln High School, before studying illustration and design at the Cooper Union. He is a founding partner of the celebrated Push Pin Studios, whose revolutionary work altered the course of contemporary graphic communication in the 1960s, and continues to affect the field of design worldwide. In 1985, the studio’s name was changed to The Pushpin Group, of which Chwast is the director.
Developing and refining his innovative approach to design over the course of six decades, Chwast’s clients include the New York Times, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, and Print, as well as leading corporations, advertising agencies, and publishers both in the United States and abroad. His designs and illustrations have graced posters, packaging, record covers, advertisements, and animated films, as well as corporate and environmental graphics. He has created backgrounds for productions of Candide at New York’s Lincoln Center, and for The Magic Flute, performed by the Philadelphia Opera Company. Chwast is the author of over 30 children’s books, four graphic novels, and several typefaces. Pushpin Editions, the studio’s publishing arm, produces books on the arts and graphic design.
His work has been exhibited in major galleries and museums in the United States, Europe, Japan, Brazil, and Russia, including the influential “The Push Pin Style,” a two-month retrospective at the Louvre’s famed Musée des Arts Décoratifs, and several one-man shows of his paintings, sculptures, and prints. His posters reside in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Library of Congress; and the Gutenberg Museum, Mainz. In 2015, Washington University’s Modern Graphic History Library acquired a complete collection of Chwast’s posters, which will soon be available for study by students and the general public.
A member of the Art Directors Hall of Fame, and a recipient of the AIGA Medal, Chwast also holds honorary Ph.D.s from Parsons School of Design and the Rhode Island School of Design. He is a frequent lecturer, with recent speaking engagements at Design Indaba, Offset, Point Design Conference, and the upcoming Typographics. Chwast resides in New York City with his wife, graphic designer and painter, Paula Scher.
Ann Rivera is an assistant professor of English at Villa Maria College in Buffalo, NY. She attended Hampshire College along with your humble podcast-host in the early ’90s, which may help explain our mutual wariness of postmodernism. She has made two previous appearances on The Virtual Memories Show, in 2013 and in our very first interview episode.
It’s time for our year-end Virtual Memories Show tradition: The Guest List! I reached out to 2017’s pod-guests and asked them about the favorite book(s) they read in the past year, as well as the books or authors they’re hoping to read in 2018! Three dozen responded with a dizzying array of books. (I participated, too!) Just in time for you to make some Hanukkah and/or Christmas purchases, The Virtual Memories Show offers up a huge list of books that you’re going to want to read! Give it a listen, and get ready to update your wish lists!
This year’s Guest List episode features selections from 36 of our recent guests (and one bonus guest)! So go give it a listen, and then visit our special Guest List page where you can find links to the books and the guests who responded.
Also, check out the 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 editions of The Guest List for more great book ideas!
The guests who participated in this year’s Guest List are Pete Bagge, Kathy Bidus, Sven Birkerts, RO Blechman, Kyle Cassidy, Graham Chaffee, Howard Chaykin, Joe Ciardiello, John Clute, John Crowley, John Cuneo, Ellen Datlow, Samuel R. Delany, Nicholas Delbanco, Barbara Epler, Joyce Farmer, Sarah Williams Goldhagen, Paul Gravett, Liz Hand, Vanda Krefft, Michael Meyer, Cullen Murphy, Jeff Nunokawa, Mimi Pond, Eddy Portnoy, Keiler Roberts, Martin Rowson, Matt Ruff, Ben Schwartz, Vanessa Sinclair, Ann Telnaes, Michael Tisserand, Gordon Van Gelder, Shannon Wheeler, Wallis Wilde-Menozzi, Matt Wuerker . . . and me, Gil Roth! Check out their episodes at our archives!
He’s been blackening the blank page for more than 50 years, and now Nicholas Delbanco joins The Virtual Memories Show to talk about writing, teaching, and sleepwalking through life! We get into his new essay collection, Curiouser and Curiouser, the importance of establishing a writing routine or habit, the process of revising a decades-old trilogy in light of his growth as a writer, the art of faking spontaneity on the page, the value of a good MFA program, his refutation of his friends’ belief that language is a finite resource and not a renewable one, his assessment that he’s a minor writer (or, even worse, “a writer’s writer”), and the place the deracinated consider home. Plus: I fall back into the trap of Acquisitive Alchemy!Give it a listen! And go buy Curiouser and Curiouser: Essays!
“Writers probably don’t have more than two or three major topics, and the passage of time is one of mine.”
“Everybody working today asks me, ‘How did you get away with THAT?’ I tell ’em, ‘Same way you could: if you had balls.’ And talent.”
Legendary ad-man George Lois joins the show to talk about 50+ years of shaping American culture and to give us some Damn Good Advice. We start out with the day he quit his life as the Greek florist’s son, began art school, and met the love of his life (all in the same day), before getting to the most prolific period in his monumental career, his experience as one of the first “ethnics” in the ad business, what goes into having The Big Idea, how he and Muhammad Ali busted each other’s chops, how he created the ad that created Tommy Hilfiger, making those Esquire covers, getting fired off the Xerox account three times before making Xerox a household word, what he wants to do next (at 86), and more! Give it a listen![NOTE: This one’s got some N-bombs in it, but not in a derogatory way. If use of that word offends you, don’t listen to this episode.]
“He said, ‘You like slogans? But that’s so old-fashioned!’ I said, ‘Phil, f***ing is old-fashioned, but it works!”
The legendary George Lois is the most creative, prolific advertising communicator of our time. Running his own ad agencies, he is renowned for dozens of marketing miracles that triggered innovative and populist changes in American (and world) culture. In his twenties he was a pioneer of the landmark Creative Revolution in American Advertising.
He introduced and popularized the Xerox culture; he created the concept and prototype design for the New York supplement for the Herald Tribune (the forerunner of New York magazine); made a failing MTV a huge success with his “I Want My MTV” campaign; helped create and introduce VH1; created a new marketing category, Gourmet Frozen Foods, with his name Lean Cuisine; and (by inventing yet another new marketing phenomenon) persuaded America to change their motor oil at thousands of Jiffy Lube stations. He made the totally unknown Tommy Hilfiger immediately famous with just one ad; and saved USA Today from extinction with his breakthrough “singing” TV campaign.
In 1994, almost overnight, he changed the perception of ESPN from a “Demolition Derby” sports channel to the number one sports network with his dynamic “In Your Face” campaign. Additionally he created the winning ad campaigns for four U.S. Senators: Jacob Javits; Warren Magnuson; Minority Leader Hugh Scott; and Robert Kennedy. His list of breakthrough ad campaigns goes on and on.
The only music video he created, Jokerman by Bob Dylan, won the MTV Best Music Video of the Year Award in 1983. And in 2008, the Museum of Modern Art installed 38 of his iconic Esquire covers in its permanent collection, celebrated by a year-long exhibit: George Lois: The Esquire Covers @ MOMA by George Lois.