Lizzy Goodman opens Meet Me in the Bathroom with this quote from NME writer Conor McNicholas: “Everybody is living through their own golden age, but you only realize it afterward, so start living it now.” Get to the end of this book, read the first chapter again, and that quote makes perfect sense.
MMITB is Goodman’s wistful love letter to her New York City. What I mean by her New York City is that, as she establishes early in the book, people move to NYC because it’s an idea more than just geography. It’s a “fantasy” (Luke Jenner), a “narcotic” (Dave Sitek), an “ultimate dream” (Walter Durkacz). Goodman’s NYC was a specific time (’97-’07ish) in which she and her friends created something that helped shift the whole world, in a way. Or not. But to her and her friends, it was Shangri-La with cocaine. So much cocaine. I think Goodman loves that time of her life and wants everybody else to love whatever scene they’re a part of, wherever it may be.
If you like The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, LCD Soundsystem, Vampire Weekend, and/or similar bands, MMITB is a very entertaining oral history. Goodman uses interviews with band members, music writers, and scenesters to create her narrative.
It in, The Strokes are this kind of reincarnation of 1970s NYC, with Julian Casablancas as the Prince That Was Promised, the guy who saved rock and roll. To Goodman, The Strokes opened the door for all of these new bands. Because the The Strokes were first, they never quite reached the fame they should have. No one knew what to do with them, and their rise coincided with the fall of the music industry. The argument is that other bands, like Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Killers, Kings of Leon, Vampire Weekend, The Hives, etc., became the next big thing because of The Strokes.
Personally, I’m not that into The Stokes. The recordings sound too slick and I don’t like their guitar tones. That being said, a lot of bands that I do really like love The Strokes, so I wouldn’t argue too much. If you aren’t familiar with some of the bands discussed and interviewed in the book, I recommend streaming their music while you read the book. It adds some extra texture and depth to the experience. For example, I got really into Interpol in the few weeks it took me to finish this 600 page book. Yeah Yeah Yeahs were already one of my favorite bands, so do check out their first album, Fever to Tell.
My favorite parts of the book dealt with the bands that I already liked: Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Killers, Kings of Leon. I also liked hearing about the NYC social scene of the time. I was in Williamburg in Brooklyn right in the middle of the book (visiting, not living), and it’s just cool to get firsthand accounts of all of the revelry. As a lifelong music lover and longtime musician, I also liked just hearing bands talk about being in bands. Deep dives into the recording and writing process would’ve been fun for me, but I understand that might not exactly move books. I do wish there was a little more of that.
Finally, the book covers 9/11 and the gentrification of NYC, especially Brooklyn. I thought that was fascinating since I grew up in Austin and still live in Central Texas. Austin is name checked a few times, and writer/podcaster Andy Greenwald mentions that these hipster scenes are kind of homogeneous around the world, now. It’s a plus and minus of the internet age that we all have access to the same things. It’s a little harder to be weird or new. On the other hand, I liked this quote from Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig:
That is what it is to be a music fan these days; you grow up surrounded by everything, so every album you make is not so much about finding new things, it’s a bout dismissing things and actually zeroing in on what you think is cool at the moment. You can always rediscover things and re-contextualize things.
I don’t know if “scenes” will ever be as possible because of the internet. Am I an old grumpy person? I guess.
Some other random quotes from the book I liked:
“There was this sense of ‘There is no place for me to hide.’ Like, nothing matters, and everything is temporary. We were walking around a grave site, breathing in the dust of smoking bones every day. That part was really fucking dark. There was also this pronounced sense of individual destiny-making. If you didn’t already know it, now you really knew that you were going to have to do it on your own…I mean, if you believed in institutions, if you believed in the moral arc of the universe inevitably bending towards justice, those two events are cataclysmic. Now you knew that there were no systems or institutions in place hat were going to make it okay for you. Your life was going to be something that you determined.” – Alex Wagner on 9/11.
“Let’s be clear, a lot of people met because of cocaine.” – Sarah Lewitinn
“Failure is the best. After you fail, your free.” – Tunde Adebimpe
“By that point the whole world was ready for some dirtiness and sweat and some sex and some rock and roll.” – Nathan Followill
“The best bands always have their own universe. They kind of land from outer space and have their own world that you can plug into.” Imran Ahmed
“This is seriously how we’re going to fucking die. I don’t care, though, it’s fine.” – Rob Sheffield
“There was this amazing time, before we had to record the first record, we’d play to eighty people or something like that, but no one really knew us. We could just walk around town and think, “I’m in this band, we can bring people to shows,” and that was, by far, the best time. Everything was so innocent. Somehow you lose the innocence through time and through doing too much, then you spend a lot of time chasing that same innocence.” – Albert Hammond Jr.