The life of a recovering know-it-all is one fraught with trials and travails. As a man whose past personal hubris rivals that of classic Greek tragedy, my later years have been spent coming to grips with a wealth of previously ignored shortcomings. For instance: despite a rich family heritage and decades littered with failed forays of understanding, I am forced to deal with the cruel reality that I am neither smart enough to understand jazz nor most poetry exclusive of that purveyed by contemporary urban griots. The wide world of Art is another slippery slope. Like many simple creatures, I enjoy things that are pleasing to the eye, but there is much therein that confounds me and my humble roots. I have been led to believe that such understanding requires a more cerebral theoretical side than I’ve been able to muster up thus far. Myopic artistic eye and lack of interpretive skills aside, I can claim to be a reader. Always have been. So there. Recent years have found me reading non-fiction almost exclusively, in hopes of perhaps regaining the arrogant intellectualism of my youth. I must confess to having enjoyed my time in the cold, but in my absence from the world of contemporary fiction, the worlds of art and design have merged in ways heretofore uncontemplated by my boorish self.
Case in point is Please Take Me Off the Guest List, a new collaborative release from Brooklyn-based indie publishing house Akashic Books. Readers will be unsurprised that Design is another art I have very little understanding of (most fundamentally how one makes a livelihood doing it) but Please Take Me Off the Guest List seems to feature a skilled hand. Pairing the expertise of magazine and art book designer Stacy Wakefield with the photography of Nick Zinner and prose from Zachary Lipez, this mini-book (a slim 150-pages) handily quashes the idea that Kindle and Nook technology is a superior form for delivery of print.
Zinner’s photos comprise the main visual element presented across the pages of this volume, often in gatefold form. Lipez’s prose is printed inside the covers and bound in mini chick tract form in the middle. Zinner is a gifted lensman, taking advantage of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ worldwide presence to capture stark locations on a variety of continents. Freshkills frontman Lipez acts on a more microcosmic level, recounting the life of a 21st Century Brooklyn Gram Parsons, shirking a semi-privileged background and semi-slumming it in the big bad city. When not writing red-eyed prose, our protagonist tends bar in Bushwick and works at venerable used book purveyor The Strand. His three offerings are well-drawn confessional snapshots from a gritty cocaine and Jameson-fueled life that is alien to most yet remains strangely alluring, a taste that fosters appetites that can prove dangerously all-consuming.
Please Take Me Off the Guest List is the fourth collaboration from these three parties and the first with Akashic. Previous projects were published through Evil Teen, a publishing entity founded by Wakefield. Their previous Slept In Beds (2003) collected all the beds Zinner rested in on tour, interspersed with poetry from Lipez. While I like the previous visual concept better, I’m glad that I got in on the prose end of things. It’s much less taxing on my limited faculties, and I think poetry would have had me embracing old-school reactionary values. Much like Zinner’s music, I enjoyed Lipez and his prose more than I expected at the onset, even morseo when incorporated into an artier medium. While Lipez and Zinner are the more immediate presences in Please Take Me Off the Guest List, it is Wakefield who deserves the highest marks. Her combination of the photographic and written elements into a third art form that is stronger than the sum of its parts is the linchpin that makes Please Take Me Off the Guest List compelling to a myriad of consumers, artistic or otherwise.