Mad Men Drain Your Soul


Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.

December 1, 1960, Vol. VI, No. 6

Saloon Society

By Bill Manville

Two speeches in an uptown saloon; one delivered to me, one overheard. The one delivered, first:

“You know,” my Time-Life friend said, “you and your artistic-type friends sneer at a million bucks. I’m always hearing about you guys not wanting to sell your soul. But most of you never been asked to. Everybody sneers at a party he hasn’t been asked. But you, you’re one guy who may be. I’m beginning to think maybe you’re going to get a chance at a million bucks. If you want it. And the price is just what your downtown friends think it is. You got to drink the Lethe water; you got to forget everything else.

“And the devil who makes you the offer? You just wish there was one. No. No one offers it to you. that’s it. You got to fight for it. That’s why you want it. You got to fight with guys as smart as you are, who could have been artists if they wanted to. But guys who are tougher than you are. Guys who are smart, tough, talented, shrewd, hard; guys who have nothing but contempt for you if you get sucked in by the artist swindle; guys who are shrewdest, toughest on earth. Guys,” he said with a pause and a smile, “your arty friends would call fallen angels.”

We looked out at the RCA building. The afternoon sun was on the great wall, turning the windows into a massive, dazzling sheet of burning ice. The side of the building was in shadow.

“Do you really think the guys who run this city,” my friend said, “are dumber than you?”

And here’s the other one I overheard, same saloon, same time:

“What we need,” one rotund haircut was telling the other (who seemed to work for him), “is a theme, an idea for the campaign, the line, the words. The wrap-up. You know. Our junk is a cordial, just like the others. If you work hard enough on it, it gets you drunk. If you drink enough, it kills you. It’s cheap. It comes in a bottle. It’s got a label. Go home and think about it. I’ll tell you what the story is. Put this in four words, and you’ve got it. It’s the kind of sauce a broad buys when she’s stoked up on Saturday Evening stories and she wants to live graciously one time. You know, she figures she’s going to cook Harry a special dinner, hide the kids, wear beads, turn off the lights. She sees it, she really sees it: she’s in the beads, WQXR is playing violin sonatas on the radio, candles on the table – don’t forget the candles – and them eating, and then this cordial, and there they are: they think they’re happy.

“That’s what we’re selling them. Put that in four words. Promise that poor broad that if she puts this green, too-sweet, tooth-rotting ink on the table, Harry won’t come to eat in his undershirt, that he won’t scratch his belly after the meal and run into the next room and look at the Knicks on TV and suck on a beer bottle. Promise her he’ll stay there and talk to her, talk to her. Promise her her moment of elegance, promiser her what she thought she was going to get when she married the bastard. Find out how to say it, put it all in a four-word slogan – and you’ll make the agency even richer. Give us our pound of flesh. And meanwhile – have another?”

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]