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October 15, 2010

Book Notes - Zachary Lipez ("Please Take Me Off the Guest List")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Please Take Me Off the Guest List recounts the indie rock lifestyle through the photographs of Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner and the essays of Freshkills frontman Zachary Lipes. Zinner's photography is captivating (I strongly recommend his other collection of photographs I Hope You Are All Happy Now), and Lipez's often hilarious self-deprecating essays always ring true, but the true star of this collaboration is designer Stacy Wakefield, who arranged Zinner's images and Lipez's stories into one of the year's most stunning books.

The Stranger wrote of the book:

"It's a gorgeous book, but there's more to it than that. Wakefield is a designer; she juxtaposed Zinner's photos with Lipez's stories of life in the rock and roll gutter in a really unique way. There is literally no way you could make this book into a satisfying e-book. It's a beautiful artifact."

In his own words, here is Zachary Lipez's Book Notes music playlist for his book, Please Take Me Off the Guest List:

After writing this, I felt like I should have written more about the actual songs, their makeup and sound, rather than my feeewings about them. However, I'm the singer of a band and, as any guitarist will happily tell you, singers don't know shit about music. But we sure do know how we feel about stuff.

The following songs varied in their influence on Please Take Me Off the Guest List; some where an influence on the style of the writing, some were the soundtrack to the activities described, and some were just songs played on repeat while the book's collaborators fumbled through the last ten years.

For the record, while writing this, I was listening to White Lung, White Boss, and Doctor Israel. I mention these, admittedly, obscure artists not to be a snoot, though god knows I am that, but to encourage all to purchase their fine, fine albums.

Ok. Let's go!

Eyehategod - "Sisterfucker (pt.1)," The Clash - "Guns of Brixton," Renegade Soundwave - "Biting My Nails"

Nick and I don't really agree on a lot of music. He pretty much will only listen to Ethiopiques Vol 1-11, anonymous internet gossip, and Slayer. But these are three songs that we both know are totally awesome.

Subculture kids often believe that if the music they play is "scary" enough, the Socs will leave. This is never the case. If there are bodies with sex organs in a room, no jerks are leaving, no matter how many Cabaret Voltaire deep cuts you play. Eyehategod is the only band I've ever played in a bar that actually made people leave. I'm under no illusion that it frightened them in the least but, whatever, at least they left. I'm a terrible DJ.

Everybody loves "Guns of Brixton" and they're right. Nick says it's the best song ever. I'm hard pressed to think of a better one.

Renegade Soundwave are, technically speaking, considered a "dance" band. I've never actually seen anyone (let alone a female anyone) dance to them. But I keep trying. Reading the stories in the book, one might think I'm a negative person. I'm not. I actually have a lot of naïve dreams. It's just that most of them are about people dancing to Renegade Soundwave.

Electrelane - "The Greater Times"

Cocaine use is a large part of the essays that make up Please Take Me Off the Guest List. If you're going to develop a coke habit, you had better invest in a couple Electrelane albums. Otherwise, you're never going to get to sleep and, if you do, your dreams will be horrible. Conqueror by Jesu is also good, if girl's voices make your lady jealous.

Dinah Washington - "This Bitter Earth"

I like Armond White. I don't really agree with anything he's said, ever, but I like him beyond just the fact of his orneriness. I think he's an interesting writer, stylistically, and, at the end of the day, I'm more inclined to dig a son of a bitch who can write than any real swell who gets their B+ by overrating The Royal Snoringbaums. Hell, I even like that fascist bootlicker, Charles Krauthammer, so, you know, I'm a bit of a moral moron. Sorry. I also, truth be told, can sort of relate as I am maybe not the most likable writer. I have my critics. Now that "hipster" has replaced "pornography" as the go-to "I know it when I see it" boogie man of uptight squares all over, I get that shit all the time. Hey, man, I, being entirely lacking in self awareness, hate hipsters too.

Anyway, more than even the film itself, Armond White's liner notes to Killer of Sheep made me go out and buy a Dinah Washington CD. I love this song. It's lovely. So I'm tremendously grateful to the film AND Armond White for turning me onto it. I don't know if criticism is ever truly useful. Motherfuckers are going like what they like. But I'm thrilled when it's not entirely useless.

Watain - "Sworn to the Dark," Black Sabbath - "Mob Rules"

Jayson Green (funny guy, lots of bands. Google that shit.) and I used to do a monthly DJ night at Second Chance Saloon, called Super Friends (because we like each other), then Propaganda Is Hippies (after a Finnish hardcore comp that I liked and he tolerated), and, finally, nothing (I had to take a Friday shift at Beauty Bar). I would play pop punk, Pegboy, and whatnot and Jayson would play whatever variations of Dio he could muster. In the essay, "I Like My Metal like I like My Women…False," I write about my life as an all around poseur, both metal and intellectual, and I talk about listening to Dio era Sabbath. It's more a nod to my fondness for Jayson then, you know, the truth. The piece was written before Dio died. Now I feel like an even bigger jerk. Sorry, Heavy Metal.

I do, however, love corpse painted, Lemmy looking, probable weenies in real life, Watain. I don't care if they haven't killed anybody. The black metal pose (or not pose, what the fuck do I know?) is a side issue to them making some of the most compelling melodramatic rock and roll music since Roxy Music. Hardcore is great but it made a lot of dullards apply "authenticity" to more irrelevant shit than a cultural studies major high on cheap port. People who just need the truth all the time should stick to Celine Dion and Earth Crisis. I like a little chocolate in my milk.

Nice and Smooth - "Sometimes I Rhyme Slow"

I feel bad that there's no contemporary hip hop or R&B on this list, but I'd like to avoid it becoming one of those things where the writer says "I like They Might Be Giants, Wilco, Arcade Fire, aaaaaand, I dunno, Outkast?" I like contemporary hip hop/R &B just fine, mainly because so much of it sounds like "The Metro" by Berlin, but I have absolutely nothing interesting to say about it. But all the characters in the book listen to it incessantly and mock me mercilessly for my inability to pronounce Cam'ron correctly. So here's the one rap song that I know all the words to. And, thematically, it's pretty much the same as the book. Sometimes I like to sing it to myself in Andrew Eldritch's voice.

The Birthday Party - "Release the Bats"

So, l spend a lot of my waking hours thinking about Nick Cave. It's important, in NYC, to keep your Nick Cave game up. Sure, a lot of those goth girls are just Asian school girls when you see them from the front, but some of them aren't! And if you're in your twenties and thinking of moving to New York, you should probably get all The Birthday Party records first. Even the live bootlegs; if you can pull off a passable Cave impersonation (I would suggest the "Thank you, I like your haircut as well" line from Live ‘81-82), then I can pretty much guarantee that the next book will be about you. Or someone like you. I cover my Nick Cave fixation in the story that's included in the 7" we did for a limited edition of the book.

The Staple Singers - "Respect Yourself"

In the essay, "Boring Coke Stories," I make mention of my atheism. It's one of the (many) parts of the essays that isn't strictly speaking true. My faith is…fluid, but I give thanks every day. Bartending in Williamsburg and the Lower East Side for so many years has made me believe in a God. A God of wraith and fury, who wants to slap the living fuck out of dudes with neck tattoos who think anyone who believes that Jesus is their savior must be some sort of flipper brained thalidomide baby. I'm the first to admit that much of my belief system is based on opposition to what irks me; if I was living in rural Kansas, I'd most likely have a Bad Religion tattoo, but if you think for a second that Pop Staples would be Pop Staples without some sort of grace having entered him at some point, than, well, I respectfully disagree. Unless you're buying the drinks, then, yeah, of course, god is dumb, but let's both agree to buy the new Mavis Staples record. Even if the dude from Wilco produced it.

Ella Fitzgerald - "Give It Back To The Indians," Dave Van Ronk - "Duncan and Brady," Paintbox - "Provided Railroad," Totalitar - "Psykopaten Bestammer," Odetta - "Easy Rider"

I believe in right and wrong and love and a lot of other jive besides, I hope the book sometimes gets that across, and even if I don't want to talk about all this like a Pollyanna in tight pants, I still want music that conveys some sort of wonder in the world. When I was doing the first draft of the essays that would later be in the book, I was staying in my mom's house in Bisbee, Arizona (pre-boycott, Connor.). She wasn't living there, but had left a bunch of CDs- Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Van Ronk-stuff that moms enjoy, essentially; and it's what I listened to more than all the noisy shit combined. I was trying to write something attractive and a bit poisonous. But I'm impressionable. If I listened to too much contemporary stuff, it would have been a lyrics sheet. I needed an absence of irony (I understand that Ella Fitzgerald is singing songs that are beyond clever but she sings so sweetly that my brain is numbed to it, so it still works). I also listened to hardcore from other countries, so the language wasn't an issue. And, maybe it was no coincidence; the foreign bands I love are as pure and earnest in intent as Odetta.

Finally, I have to mention Challenge of the Future - "Pensamuerta" and Hamsoken - "Abrecan," Nick's first band and Stacy's current band respectively. They are, after all, my collaborators, my right and left ventricles, the two main sections of my cow stomach. COTF was the band Nick was in when I first met him. They were great. Their hair was great. I saw them play dozens of times and they informed how I thought of New York, what I found attractive and what I found unattainable. Eno and Sabbath worship for the second wave of Williamsburg gentrification. My first band, Last Year's Man, played our first show with them, at Coney Island High. We were awful, and they really were so handsome. I think you can still get a copy of their first and only album.

Hamsoken is the upstate black metal band Stacy has with her husband, Nick Forte. The notion of upstate husband/wife black metal is endlessly appealing to me, but my sap sentimentality takes nothing away from their requisite frostbitten grimness. It's not easy music, but I don't particularly want my easy music to be easy music, if you know what I'm saying. Even married couples know when it's cold outside. That's why they're together, duh.

Zachary Lipez and Please Take Me Off the Guest List links:

the author's band
excerpt from the book

The Stranger review
Tottenville Review review

Jewcy review
New York Press profile of the contributors
Oregonian interview with the book's contributors

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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