Yes, it’s an excellent track by The Rapture. It could also be the title of this oral history (the actual title, Meet Me in the Bathroom, is a song by another prominently featured band, but we’ll get to that). This collection covers the movers, shakers, and hangers-on of NYC’s rock “revival” in the early hours of the 21st century- and man oh man are they a petty, catty, and jealous bunch!
The “speakers” of this history are a collection of musicians, bloggers, rock critics, club promoters, managers, record execs, and various significant others. They run the gamut from A-List musicians to jilted exes, and everyone in between. Unfortunately, these voices do not translate well to the audio format! While there are dozens of voices contributing to the story, the audio book is performed by only two people; a male narrator for all men, and a female narrator for all women. It is confusing, to say the least.
The female voice uses the same early-aughts “sexy” vocal fry for every person, and the male voice gives ridiculous accents to people’s names (think Pepe le Pew levels of cheese), and makes strange choices regarding pronunciation. For example, he refers multiple times to SiliCONE Valley, and calls the band ELO “yeelo”. Many of the people who contributed are British, and it was jarring hearing them use British slang and regional dialect while having an un-changing American accent. Well, there is one weird attempt at giving character, when the male narrator does a bizarre Bruce Springsteen impression. Many of the people contributing also posses well-known (at least in this field) voices, and while I understand that it would have been nigh on impossible to have all of the contributors read their own words for the recording, it was super weird hearing Marc Maron’s (among many others) words come from someone else.
The majority of this history is told chronologically, and it focuses on some of the biggest bands of the era. Now, “biggest” here doesn’t mean highest-selling or even best reviewed, but buzziest. The “record industry” as it had been known was falling apart thanks, in part, to the internet. Music journalism was changing at a rapid rate; publications like NME, Vice, and Spin were rapidly dethroning old giants like Rolling Stone, and New York City was ready to reclaim it’s grip on “what’s cool” in the music scene.
The Strokes, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Interpol take up the majority of the scope, but Jonathan Fire*Eater, Kings of Leon, Walkmen, and (towards the end) Vampire Weekend are all woven in throughout. James Murphy plays a huge role as well; I learned more about him and his work in DFA, and LCD Soundsytem than anyone else mentioned in the book.
Plenty of other musicians and talking heads pepper the book; Har Mar Superstar, the guys from The National, Moby, and Ed Drost all pop up, but they exist mostly to build the mythos of the “big three”. Eleanor Friedberger is a frequent commenter, but unfortunately there is no talk of her as a musician at all. The only time her “role” is brought up is when she is labeled as the girlfriend of Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos, which sucks because she is very cool in her own right.
Ryan Adams pops up throughout the story of The Strokes, and just like in real life- he fancies himself the star of the show. Ryan Adams has always been a prick, of that I am sure. He’s been in the news lately making public “apologies”, but not directly addressing the multiple women (and girls- “underage women” are children) that he abused throughout his career. We’ve known for quite some time that he treats women poorly, but this book made it clear that he treats everyone poorly. He’s a gas-lighter, and he has been trying to rewrite his own history and trick his “friends” into forgetting that he was a madman and a wannabe, copying other band’s sounds and expecting others to do heroin with him, among other things. Since this is an oral history, we get to hear writers, producers, other musicians, and people that he used to hang around with in general go into detail about his bad habits and tendencies to push them on others. One person after another details his creepy and abusive behavior, and every story of theirs is cut with him telling a completely different tale, where he is the hero of the situation, not the jealous creep showing up at other people’s places in the middle of the night and making them get high with him. He is a grade-A turd and I hope his current “redemption arc” continues to point straight to hell.
There is a lot of bad behavior in here, obviously. Almost everyone involved is jockeying for the title of hardiest partier, coolest person, biggest stud- there is a lot of over the top ego- but what else would you expect? It’s fun to hear people rib into each other, and to look back on their past wildness, but it can be a bit of a drag to hear these people go on and on about how “cool” they are. The word “cool” comes up so much! We’re in an era now where the most uncool thing you can do is strive to be cool, so all of these early aughts jerks sound just like the “old” people that they were looking back on with derision. The circle of life!
This period was a HUGE chunk of my life (well duh, a decade is a long time for anyone haha)- I was a freshman in High School in 2001, and I graduated college in 2011 (I had my own few years of running around with wild abandon there for a bit). I was obsessed with these bands; I traded burned CDs with friends, cut out pictures to plaster my bedroom walls, and hung around backstage doors in clubs that I was DEFINITELY not old enough to attend. I, like the music, mellowed by the time 2011 came around, but I still get an adreneline kick when “Room on Fire” roars to life or Paul Banks throws that little “aww” into the second chorus of “Evil”. This music is a huge part of my life, and while a lot of the behavior from the folks involved now seems embarrassing, I am still happy to have grown up when the way that we hear, make, sell, and produce music changed in a massive way.