Please Take Me Off the Guest List

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Photograph by Nick Zinner, from the book Please Take Me Off the Guest Listby Nick Zinner, Zachary Lipez & Stacy Wakefield. Reprinted with permission of Akashic Books.

Over a decade ago, Nick Zinner, Zachary Lipez and Stacy Wakefield were just three people living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, playing in bands. “Not many white kids in bands lived there, there weren’t many places to go. There was basically one bar called Sweetwater,” says Wakefield. “There were the beginnings of a music scene, but everyone tended to play at loft parties because there weren’t venues in Brooklyn at the time.”  Wakefield was in an all-girl band called the Turn Offs, Lipez in a band called The Candy Darlings and Nick Zinner, now of the infamous Yeah Yeah Yeahs, played with a band called Challenge of the Future. “We were playing in bands together, so we saw each other, and not to indulge in nostalgia, but the reality was Brooklyn was a very different place,” Lipez says. This burgeoning Brooklyn music scene is how the three initially met, and how over time, they would eventually collaborate on four different books together—No Seats on the Party Car, Slept in Beds, I Hope You Are All Happy Now and, most recently, Please Take Me off the Guest List.

Although music brought them together, each had interests outside of playing in their respective bands. Lipez was a writer. Wakefield studied book design at the Rhode Island School of Design before graduating in 1994 from the Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam. Zinner studied photography at Bard College.

According to Lipez, the first book that they published, No Seats on the Party Car, came together as a result of “blind dumb luck.” Wakefield claims that the process was more “clear-cut.” At the time, Lipez had been writing a lot of poetry that he wanted to get into the world. Zinner had many black and white photos taken in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. The two had the idea to publish something, knew that Wakefield made books and approached her to see if she would be interested in participating in the project. “Within a week, she had a dummy copy of an entire book,” Lipez says. No Seats on the Party Car was published in 2001 through Wakefield’s publishing company Evil Twin Books.  “[No Seats on the Party Car] was somewhere between a zine and an art book. The first one was pretty rough,” says Zinner.

Making the first book was a fun experience and, according to Wakefield, it made them better friends. In 2003, they decided to do it again, publishing their second collaboration, Slept in Beds. This project followed some of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ first big tours and the initial idea started with a photo series where Zinner took a photograph of the different beds that he slept in each night.  The photos were printed on shiny magazine paper and Wakefield picked Lipez’s poems to go with the theme of the photographs, silkscreened the poems onto fabric, included a piece of a sheet in the back of every book and hand-bound every single one. “It was very much an artists’ book. It was very satisfying. I made them all by hand by myself,” Wakefield says. Zinner says, “It was just a beautiful art object. It felt very special. It wasn’t quite a book of photos or a book of poetry—but very much its own unique object.”

In 2005, I Hope You Are All Happy Now was published after Saint Martin’s Griffin approached Zinner to work on a project consisting of his travel photos with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The book consisted of 500-600 of Zinner’s images that Wakefield then divided into different themes. “I think that was the angle that was interesting to Saint Martin’s. For them it was a music book,” says Wakefield. Although Lipez was not the primary writer for this project, he did contribute an essay to what Zinner calls a “visual juggernaut.”

This past October, the trio released their fourth collaboration, Please Take Me off the Guest List, through Akashic Books. “We hadn’t released a book together for a few years, so we said, ‘let’s get together and do a book,’” Lipez says regarding their most recent collaboration.

The result is a delightful back-pocket sized book that is ideal for an intimate reading experience. Zinner’s photographs (all shot with color film mostly using a Contax point and shoot) are given a gallery-style treatment—very clean and framed with enough white space to force viewers to really focus on them. Lipez’s writings are presented as five different mini-zines within the larger book—respectively titled:  “Boring Coke Stories,” “Strep Throat Lover,” “My Letter of Resignation,” “I Like My Metal Like I Like My Women … False” and “You Can Always Do Better.”

“I truly despise using the word mature—but unfortunately it is somewhat applicable in this situation, maybe just because the attitude is looking back on events that have happened in an ‘I should have known better’ way,” says Zinner regarding the theme of the newest project. “The title is supposed to be funny, but we also wanted it to be somewhat tragic. I think with this book, it’s really up to the reader to decide what the theme is. It’s open ended.”

Although many of the darkly humorous short essays read like memoir, according to Lipez, not everything he writes is autobiographical. “It’s not my diary. Some stuff happened. I’d like to think that I’m not that much of a prick all of the time,” says Lipez.

The book opens with Boring Coke Stories—which is exactly what it sounds like—a collection of vignettes, brief memories if you will, of all of the truly unglamorous times spent snorting drugs. The stories arose from Lipez’s hatred of the typical drug memoir, which he sees as following a few different templates—either a Bukowski style romanticization, or the contemporary drug narrative, which focus on how terrible drugs made the author’s life and how their recovery has made them a better person. “It’s a lie. People are the same shitty people they were to begin with. Or the same fine people they were to begin with,” Lipez says. “And you can’t be funny … You can’t make drug jokes unless you acknowledge that [drugs are] the worst possible thing you could ever do. And that’s boring … and it’s not true.”

Wakefield, who edits all of Lipez’s work, thinks that he has achieved his goal of treating drug use in a morally neutral way with the stories. “A lifestyle choice doesn’t have to be elitist, it doesn’t have to be moral. You don’t have to rationalize—what I’m doing is better than what everyone else is doing, or worse. It’s just this self aware, coming to terms with where one is,” she says.

Zinner’s photographs reflect the same sort of small moments captured in Lipez’s writing—something that comes from his style of shooting. “I’m into the ‘shoot first, ask questions later,’ school of thought. It’s usually just instinctual—whether it’s ‘wow that’s beautiful’ or ‘I don’t want to forget this—and I know I will.’ It’s a combination of all of those things,” says Zinner. Although the photos aren’t meant to be illustrative of the writing, they complement the style. “[It’s] like a companion to the tone of the story,” Zinner says. “I really think that’s where a lot of Stacy’s brilliance comes in, playmaking those two elements equally and [making them] supportive of each other.” Lipez agrees that Wakefield does a lot of the “heavy lifting” with her designs to make all of the pieces seamlessly come together.

The initial design of Please Take me off the Guest List was more complex than the final result. The ideas of printing on long scrolls of paper and tiny scraps of plastic bag were disgarded for the mini zine within the book—partially because Lipez didn’t feel that the format made the stories accessible, but also a decision that was made once Johnny Temple, publisher of Akashic Books, contacted Zinner about releasing some sort of project. “What he wanted was a book that would sell pretty cheaply, because he was picturing the audience of the book being pretty young people, probably not being an audience of people who want to spend $50 on some coffee table book,” says Wakefield.

Although initially complex design ideas were scrapped for simplicity, the decision wasn’t one made in vain. “I’m very partial to pocket sized paper backs. I feel like they are the most fun to read,” Wakefield says. “I feel like for a photo book too, you’re just so much more likely to spend more time with it and really pay attention to it than some big special book that you only get out on special occasions.”

One of the keys to making the stories, photographs and design all work together is the book’s simplicity. “It’s not the kind of book that anyone would look at and think that it even was designed,” Wakefield says. “I just wanted to make sure if you were spending time with the book you were just focused on the photos and the story and not distracted by anything else. I really wanted the story to be their separate books so you are really in there reading from beginning to end and not be distracted. I wanted you to be able to be absorbed in that experience.”

Ultimately it’s this simplistic design that allows Please Take Me off the Guest List  to work as an art object. Regardless of where the process begins, it always ends with one complete collaborative project. “It’s something where [the photos, stories and design] work together to make something else,” Zinner says.

Please Take Me off the Guest List can be purchased from for $15.95.

Photograph by Nick Zinner, from the book Please Take Me Off the Guest Listby Nick Zinner, Zachary Lipez & Stacy Wakefield. Reprinted with permission of Akashic Books. Photograph by Nick Zinner, from the book Please Take Me Off the Guest Listby Nick Zinner, Zachary Lipez & Stacy Wakefield. Reprinted with permission of Akashic Books. Photograph by Nick Zinner, from the book Please Take Me Off the Guest List by Nick Zinner, Zachary Lipez & Stacy Wakefield. Reprinted with permission of Akashic Books.