Before every corner of the world ended up with their own mini-version of Williamsburg, New York City represented something exciting and tangible to music fans, a grimy through line straight from the bowels of CBGB’s to the next NME-hyped NYC act. That sense of regional excitement may be a thing of the past thanks to the democratization of the internet, but in the massive new 600-page oral history Meet Me in the Bathroom, journalist Lizzy Goodman ties together all the forces that made the New York music scene in the early aughts so thrilling.
While on the surface bands like The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and LCD Soundsystem have little in common, Goodman brings together a huge cast of characters to detail just how these acts came to represent a pinnacle of New York music, style and attitude at the turn of the millennium, which had a rippling effect (for better or worse) across the music and fashion worlds all around the globe.
The oral history style can sometimes be an easy trick for authors to fall back on, but Goodman has brought together a staggering number of voices that demonstrate just how tightly inter-woven these seemingly disparate worlds were, including bartenders, DJ’s, journalists, promoters, label reps, models, bloggers and assorted hanger-ons. In addition to the numerous band member contributions, these voices show that a scene is made up of much more than a handful of bands — in this telling, a solid bartender hookup or early enthusiastic blogger were just as vital to New York’s prominence in this era as any member of The Strokes or Interpol.
The period the book details (2001 – 2011) is just fresh enough in most contributor’s minds that even those frazzled by the era’s seemingly inexhaustible supply of cocaine (seriously — these bands did a lot of drugs) have a good recollection of how the hype train once again re-launched the New York City scene into the public eye.
Goodman places the near-Beatlemania that greeted the arrival of The Strokes as the real turning point, although the nearly-unknown Jonathan Fire*Eater are made out to be the band that paved the way for the rest to follow. From there the book cuts between the rise of bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (whose Karen O becomes one of the breakaway stars of the era) and Interpol, to the burgeoning influence of electronica and DFA records with The Rapture, and eventually LCD Soundsystem.
Like any great oral history, there is a ton of gossip here, from the numerous recollections of nights (and days) of drug-fuelled insanity, to the accompanying egotistical dust-ups that eventually took down a number of promising acts from the era. Some of these stories will undoubtedly serve as cautionary tales, but for the most part the participants all look back fondly on those days, which lends the book a bit of a wistful feeling.
Meet Me in the Bathroom serves as cultural history of New York at a particular turning point — the horror of 9/11 led many to truly live as if each day might be their last, and the simmering internet culture of music blogs and downloading hadn’t yet dethroned the traditional old-school industry behemoths. Gentrification was rearing its ugly head, but bands could still afford to live and practice in Brooklyn while having the freedom to record and tour without holding down numerous jobs.
Meet Me in the Bathroom is an honest and often hilarious look back at the bands and wild personalities that shaped New York and pop culture in general during a very uncertain time. The book’s focus is only a few years back, but it already feels like a lifetime ago in so many respects. Bust out those old playlists on your iPod Classic and dive right in.