How rock’n’roll was brought back to life in New York City
‘Meet Me in the Bathroom’ is a brilliant oral history of the rock and indie scene in NYC from 2001-2011
Julian Casablancas, Nick Valensi and drummer Fabrizio Moretti of The Strokes performing in New York in 2002. Photograph: J Vespa/WireImage
Every scene needs a chronicler like Lizzy Goodman. When she took a summer job working in a New York cafe in 1999, little did she know that she was in the right place at the right time to document a new musical scene. All she knew was that one of her workmates was a dude called Nick and he played in a band called The Strokes.
Fast-forward to 2017 and Meet Me In the Bathroom: Rebirth & Rock & Roll In New York City 2001-2011 is a meaty oral history of those fascinating years when New York was once again the centre of the musical universe. Bands such as The Strokes, Interpol, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, LCD Soundsystem, The Walkmen, The National and others put the city back on the map and produced a scintillating soundtrack.
Like all great oral histories, Meet Me In the Bathroom is a wild read because you’re getting the opinions and recollections of some colourful characters - not all of them remembering it in quite the same way. Aside from the bands and musicians, we hear from the bartenders, DJs, journalists, promoters, label reps, models, groupies, bloggers and assorted hanger-ons who made up the scene.
Goodman conducted more than 200 interviews to make sense of the multiple layers around bands forming, developing and growing. She talks about what New York was like in the mid- to late-1990s, anticipates the changes which were about to happen in the city (the move to Brooklyn and the gentrification of Manhattan’s Lower East Side were still a little way off) and introduces the characters who were at large.
It was The Strokes who changed everything. Their debut album Is This It was a gritty, exhilarating call to arms, and suddenly, the uniform of leather jacket, skinny jeans and Converse runners became ubiquitous.
Some of the best yarns concern DFA Records and LCD Soundsystem. There’s Irish interest in the shape of Dominique Keegan (from Plant Records and the Plant bar), Marcus ‘Shit Robot’ Lambkin and David Holmes, all of whom played roles in the formation of that label. There’s some fantastic observations and colour – for example, James Murphy having to get permission from his therapist to try ecstasy for the first time.
Aside from tales of the rise and fall of various acts, Goodman is excellent when it comes to drawing out the context and cultural shifts of the time. There are passages which delve into the emergence of music blogs and their effect on new acts, the gentrification of Brooklyn, and how the indie rock scene was used by major label bands such as Kings of Leon and The Killers.
The first-hand stories are gold. You may not have been there, but you get the lowdown on the early DFA sessions, watch the Yeah Yeah Yeahs come together and witness The Strokes take off. We see how the likes of Conor Oberst, The National, Vampire Weekend and Ryan Adams became part of the fabric. We hear about the effect of drink and drug abuse on The Strokes as they struggled to cope with early fame.
As a vivid, candid, compelling and beautifully rendered account of what New York was like before it became the city it is today, Meet Me In the Bathroom strikes all the right notes. As oral histories go, this is one of the very best.