Please Take Me Off the Guest List, a new collection of photographs by Nick Zinner (of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and prose by Zachary Lipez (of the selfprofessed “truly unpopular” Freshkills), resembles nothing on your shelf. Their missives were melded into one unique tract by former Artforum designer Stacy Wakefield, initially told by printers that her vision for the book’s format—palmsized printings of Lipez’s pieces placed between a pocket-friendly selection of Zinner’s pics—was technically impossible. The result is elegantly accessible, like a Book of Common Prayer wedged between sleeping drunks in an Alphabet City dive.
A wry, raw view of our city awaits within this volume, the trio’s fourth collaboration. “We met in Brooklyn, about 11 years ago,” says Lipez. “We were all in bands that played together and frequented both Sweetwater Tavern and Happy Birthday Hideout. We hadn’t done a book together in a few years. I missed them.” The title is a running joke between Zinner and Lipez: “We wanted to write a late ’90s, early 2000s response to Legs McNeil’s Please Kill Me called Please Put Me on the Guest List,” says Zinner. “But over the years, seeing good times turn into bad, and keeping in tune with the darker, ‘Thank God the party’s over’ feeling of the stories, the title changed.”
Lipez’s medium has also shifted, from poetry to prose. In Guest List’s pointed essays, he skewers topics as varied as snorting cocaine while skydiving, post-coital showering and the Strand bookstore, to which he’s drafted a spread-eagle letter of resignation. Asked if it’s fair to assume that he’s the “I” in the book’s first-person, oft-abrasive narratives, Lipez says, “‘Fair’ is a great word that allows all sorts of wrongheaded shit, because everybody is ‘entitled’ to believe what they want. Who cares how people take it, as long as they’re at least mildly entertained?” This urge to be no burden runs throughout Guest List. Lipez writes, “There’s always a cleaning crew, and if you have one essential goal in life, it should be to make their lives no more difficult than absolutely necessary.”
The text and photography alike slog toward maturation, while greeting any pretty young things coming ’round the bend. “It’s really not for my peers,” says Lipez. “Instead I hope it helps convince wonderful 15-year-old weirdoes of all sexes, sexual orientations, races and shoe sizes that New York City is still a worthwhile place to move to. And I hope it convinces the squares that if they move [here], they will instantly contract an STD and the bar staff will almost certainly be licking their straws before they put them in their drinks.”
Zinner’s contributions have equally evolved, now years removed from his photography major days at Bard College.
In Guest List, he finds the Gothically grotesque in bright climates, in pursuit of what Zinner calls an “abstract but universally acceptable aspect.” Shot on film with Contax cameras and inspired by Robert Frank, William Klein and cinematographers like Lance Acord and Christopher Doyle, the photos share with Lipez’s text an inquiry into our vices and revelry.
“‘I Was Wrong’ by Sisters of Mercy pretty much informs everything I write,” says Lipez. In poring over the book, one passage from said song seems particularly parallel: “I can love my fellow man/ but I’m damned if I love yours/ In a bar that’s always closing/ In a world where people shout.”
On a recent Monday at Union Square’s Barnes and Noble, the Guest List trio performed a staged reading set to music. Hearing Lipez aloud, underscored by Wakefield and Zinner’s dissonance, proved the ideal means of ingestion. On the page, each essay has moments of vainglorious smugness, oozing with conceit. To hear Lipez read them himself offers a funnier, more affable, humbler rendition. Knowing whether or not these caustic statements are genuine proves inconsequential—they’re good jokes offered in a time when we could use more laughs. To be young and self-aware in New York can be austere: there’s rapture in those who’ve lived in that hyperserious subculture long enough to know how to poke its ribs.
Onstage Lipez’s voice carries gravitas and gravel, punctuating jokes with unfeigned smiles without begging for one in return. It’s a knowing smirk crossed with a yearbook picture snapped before one is ready.
After the reading, on the store’s descending escalator, a young couple wearing identical jean jackets and similar snarls reacted to what they’d just seen.
“Hell, I could have written that,” he said.
“No you couldn’t,” she said. “I mean, you could, but he did.”
This same exchange happens countless times each year in American life. It’s the genesis of any artistic achievement. You can have this conversation in the gutter, or here in this chain bookstore. Because it’s happening here and now, for one fleeting ride on slow-moving chrome, this truly seems the place to be.