It's not very often that you'll find a book designer's name listed in large type on the cover next to the author and photographer, but Stacy Wakefield earns her billing with Please Take Me Off the Guest List. A book of Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner's photographs would make for a fine collection on its own; Zinner's got that rare ability to find the life hiding beneath the paper-thin, filthy carpets of seemingly abandoned hotels and airports and bars. His photos of life on tour with a successful band are a kind of autobiography, documenting his travels without throwing ironic quotes around everything.
But Wakefield's design transforms the book into a conversation between Zinner's photographs and a series of brief essays by Freshkills singer Zachary Lipez. The interplay is gorgeous: The pictures are just slightly larger than a standard three-by-five-inch snapshot, lending them an air of intimacy, and Lipez's essays are printed on smaller, thinner paper, bound separately and tucked into the larger pages like a series of found objects. Occasionally, activist Christian groups will sneak around bookstores they perceive as hotbeds of liberal activity, hiding their evangelical tracts inside books that glorify the satanic lifestyle; the effect with Guest List is something like that experience of disconnect that comes with finding an unexpected smaller story hidden inside the larger one you intended to find.
But Lipez is the weak link in this collaboration. A couple of his essays—one about why beautiful women sometimes wind up with hideous, talentless men (Billy Joel is the dominant example here) and one that is a digression-filled letter of resignation from the Strand bookstore—are witty, short bursts of ideas secreted away in the images. Lipez is at his best when he wallows in self-loathing. In his letter of resignation, he writes:
When I was 25, I swore that I would never be the cool guy in his thirties at the bookstore, playing in a semipopular band, sleeping with 21-year-olds. That would make me a failure. My success is that I am in a truly unpopular band and I sleep almost exclusively with girls in the 23–26 range.
He comments that a female coworker believes his taste in women places him "somewhere on the social hierarchy above pedophiles and below male models."
The Lipez of the essays soon becomes just another indie-rock kid who does too much cocaine, has too many bad relationships, and surrounds himself with depressing things almost as though he's eager to see how low he can get. He's the kind of trash-tourist who knows exactly what he is doing wrong but is having too much fun wallowing in the sleazy pit he's dug to try to extricate himself.
Further, Lipez's stories of dive bars and drugs are often too close in subject matter to Zinner's photos, and the narrative unnecessarily weighs the images down with too much meaning. Wakefield's sumptuous design allows for the possibility of so much jarring juxtaposition between photos and text; the idea of a Jon Raymond story about some nobody from a podunk Oregon town next to a photo of a pack of young women staring adoringly at Zinner is too delicious. It's a shame that the words and the pictures don't get to mine that tension; they could have made beautiful music together.