Getting In the Mach 3 Mindset with Blackbird Spyplane's Jonah Weiner
GARAGE chats with the gorp lord and esteemed cultural journalist about the Blackbird Spyplane newsletter multiverse.
Image courtesy of Blackbird Spyplane
Does “gorp” mean anything to you? What about the expression “unbeatable recon”? If this all sounds like gibberish, well then, you have probably never read Blackbird Spyplane, an elite menswear newsletter that sometimes feels like the psychic equivalent of sniffing glue or doing some gnarly tricks on a skateboard. Created in May 2020 by Jonah Weiner, an arts and culture journalist who has profiled everyone from Travis Scott to David Fincher, and his partner Erin Wylie, a talent scout for Apple’s industrial design team, the newsletter is heavily indebted to aughts blog culture, and highlights the duo’s love for copping weird, beautiful niche objects, as well as talking to cool people who make cool stuff. The newsletter has one of the strangest voices on the internet, one that has quickly gained fans—and also possibly haters. “X out of 10 people are going to show up and read that and just be like, ‘This is impenetrable, I’m out,’” says Weiner of his “funny” and “dumb” way of writing. “But for the people who stick around, I think that it adds to a sense of, ‘Oh, this is like an in-joke that I'm in on.’” The duo’s talent for engaging with creative people for a living also means that the newsletter features excellent interviews. Blackbird Spyplane was famously the only outlet to do an interview with André 3000 about his new commemorative jumpsuit merch this past summer; they’ve also interviewed the likes of Lorde, Jerry Seinfeld, Nathan Fielder, and even the brains behind trippy streetwear brand Online Ceramics. Weiner and Wylie often ask their subjects to pick out “rare and cherished possessions” to spotlight (some recent favorites include a stolen Cellino and Barnes sign from filmmaker John Wilson, and a Twin Peaks T-shirt that actress Rashida Jones got from her mother, fellow actress Peggy Lipton). Turning the tables, GARAGE chatted with Weiner over the phone about Blackbird Spyplane’s socialist ethos, narrative voice, and what exactly “gorp” means.
Can you tell me about the voice in the newsletter?
It's funny. You'll see in talking to me [that] it's not how I talk, [but] it is how I talk to myself. It has something in common with this insane hyperbolic voice that goes on inside my skull—it's a heightened version of myself. There is this blog from the Blogspot dot com era called U Mean Competitor, which gets its name from an old Method Man lyric. The blog is this super-weird, multi-part saga in which the anonymous narrator of the blog talks about time-traveling and switches between different multiverses trying to find Juelz Santana of The Diplomats, who had gone missing in the internet. So it was this weird, mid-2000s Blogspot [that] looks like a folk art artifact, but it developed this kind of following. A buddy of mine saw Blackbird Spyplane and was like, “This really reads like U Mean Competitor.” I think there's something where, either on a muscle memory level or otherwise, I'm just trying to pay a certain unconscious or semi-conscious homage to this weird moment in blogging, that on the one hand wasn't that long ago but feels like it was ages ago.
I really think the voice is so good. I also have had to ask my coworker to translate what some of these words mean. A couple weeks ago I was like, “What does jawns mean?”
A funny example of that, since you mentioned not knowing [what certain words mean]: when I was talking with Lorde for that interview about her trip to Antarctica—the context of that interview is that I have known her going back a lot of years now from my day job, but she caught wind [of] the newsletter totally without realizing that it was me, and then I got this text from her saying like, “Just realized Blackbird Spyplane is you”—but when we got on the phone she was like, “So I have to ask you, what does ‘gorp’ mean?” And she had intuited it in a sense, because of these context clues, which was funny since, of course, because then she went on to talk about wearing extreme cold weather gorp of the most hardcore order down in Antarctica. It was a funny one. [Ed. note: “Gorp,” commonly a term for trail mix eaten on a hike, connotes clothing that is influenced by outdoors style, camping gear, etc.]
What do you love about menswear?
It's almost as though the voice of the newsletter is a function of lacking a more traditional kind of vocabulary to talk about why I like menswear, or why I like clothes. I think one of the things that we’ve heard is it also expands the appeal. On the one hand, the voice is super opaque, but on the other hand, it’s opacity that isn't critical or feels like gatekeeping. The stereotypical [example of this] would be like, a certain impenetrable rock [music] criticism that is a code language shared by a group of insiders. [The Blackbird Spyplane] voice is actually like a function of me lacking a certain critical language and instead calling stuff dope and sick and dope and Mach 3 a lot.
Have you made any important purchases lately that you'd like to share?
There’s this dude Edgar Gonzalez, who is out of Texas and has a T-shirt line called AndAfterThat. I don’t know if you're familiar with him. He's pretty small. He made his first T-shirt to raise funds to pay for his brother's DACA application fees, and he put this it up for sale [and raised all the money]. Now all the proceeds just go to mutual aid funds, or to undocumented people living in his community in Texas. He has a super-cool graphic design sense. He’s made an “Abolish ICE” T-shirt and a bootleg Punch Drunk Love T-shirt, because he really loves Punch Drunk Love. And he made a bootleg T-shirt that was [based off of] Björk’s MoMA retrospective from a few years ago. We did a thing for subscribers with him, where he did a special blue version of that shirt that went out to [paying] Blackbird Spyplane subscribers.
Then the more obscene and beautiful and ridiculous thing is, in the course of doing “unbeatable recon for the newsletter,” I came across this brand out of Okayama called Cottle. And they make this very high-end, gorp-y fleece jacket. It's super beautiful. And it's made out of yak wool, a blend of yak wool and this really rare kind of cotton that apparently is used in luxury bath towels, which I didn't know until I did a little more digging. So, super-luxurious obscure fabric blend, but cut into this gorp-y outdoor fleece. And I saw it because I follow this very knowledgeable American dude who lives in Japan and he has done work with Cottle. I caught wind of it on his Instagram, and I was like, “Man, that is really lovely.” It has this paneling that has this really rich, earthy color that apparently comes from fermented persimmons. You got yak wool, you got fermented persimmons, and then you've got the luxury bath towel cotton, all combining in a fleece that they charge $990 for. So I saw that back in June and I was like, “Holy shit, cannot spend $1,000 on this fleece.” Then it just festered in the back of my mind for a few months. A few weeks ago, I got a paycheck in the mail that I wasn't expecting, and on some true frightening-lizard-brain shit, I was smashing the Apple Pay on the yak fleece without the check leaving my other hand.
Can you tell me about Blackbird Spyplane’s ethos?
We try to keep the vibes really kind and posi, except when it comes to a place like Amazon that is not only antithetical to what we are talking about, in the sense that we want to find things that are lovingly made in small number and hard to find, but also just in terms of the adverse effects on the world and the basic anti-human effect that Amazon has on the world. We want to acknowledge that there is a room for a political imagination in this newsletter, and just try to intuit the ways in which it makes sense to give that political imagination and voice. We interviewed this dude Yung Chomsky, who’s a producer on the podcast True Anon—he also is a big menswear guy. We did an interview with him, which was themed around the question of what is involved in reconciling one's love of copping jawns with one's interest in, for instance, socialism.
Do you think that it’s possible to be a socialist and also into cool jawns?
That is the conclusion I think you can reasonably draw from that interview. I mean, a lot of words went into that. Chomsky actually poses some tough questions of himself. Living under capitalism means living under contradictions. So, this is not like a contradiction-free state of existence, like talking of socialism and talking of clothes. But yes, to put it in a binary, like in a yes-or-no way, yes, you can. But there's a lot more nuance to that.