Meet Me In the Bathroom reminds me of the old saying: “You don’t eat until you’re full, you eat until you hate yourself.”
In this case, you party until you kind of hate yourself.
(Buckle in, buttercups, you’re in my car now.)
The pendulum had swung from ’80s excess to the grungy austerity of the ’90s and settled somewhere right of boyband pop when the ’00s rolled around and punched us in the face with rock ‘n’ roll you could dance to. People were ready to forget the dot-com bomb, even if they were the lucky ones that weren’t ready to forget the money they lost. The rest of us longtail Gen X’ers were lucky to get a job when we got out of college, while the kids that came after just went straight for barista life.
The naughty naughts (for a lot of people I knew) were about living in a shithole so you could afford more booze and cocaine. The ’00s were about drinking all night and rolling into your day job (if you were lucky enough to have one after 9/11 and the ensuing downturn) so you could browse Livejournal on a T1 line while you were ignoring your hangover. Texting was minimal and pictures were still taken on cameras; message boards were king.
I was an anomaly in the ’00s: I was in a committed relationship, but was going to shows by myself multiple times a week. I had a job at a start-up that paid better than my friends’ retail, music industry, and teaching jobs, but I was showing up to work in an office sweating out Jack Daniels and nursing bruises from stage-crashing from the night before. I lived one of the last puffs of the OG Douglas Coupland’s Microserf-esque success while the software industry crashed and burned and resurrected as Web 2.0. The Internet wasn’t (just) for porn — it was for finding weirdos that were into the crazy-ass shitty music I was, sending each other MP3 bootlegs, and sharing information about secret shows and reporting back to the group about who fell off the stage that night and who didn’t show up even though “they fucking promised!”
So, I was fucking PSYCHED to read Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2011. I was waiting to read about all the assholes who spilled my beer and handed me bottles from their riders as apology, about the grrls and bois I split hotel rooms with in various cities, and I especially couldn’t wait to read the pithy bon mots from the modern bard/ettes I followed all over the East Coast and into European cities.
I got very little of that.
Weeks after reading this book, I’m still not sure what I got.
(Before Lizzy Goodman and her NYC scene queen friends pop up and tell me I’m full of shit: I know I’m full of shit, friend. I’m from Boston.)
In order to read this book and understand what the fuck what was going on, I had to photocopy the “Cast of Characters” from the front of the book. This happened about five pages in. In the grand tradition of Paris is Burning– uh, I mean Please Kill Me — this book presents as an oral history. Where it falls down is that the chapters are pieced together from what appear to be separate conversations and (this is what kills me) have no context. It’s basically like a transcript from a multi-episode Behind the Music television special. Here is a perfect example from page 321:
Anthony Rossomando: I looked awful, I was dirty, I had shit under my nails. But Paul [Banks]! He’d have this sweater tied around his neck like fucking James Spader — James Spader of the music scene.
Paul Banks: Anthony who?
Now, in a fucking video segment, you’d know these two fuckers weren’t in the same room, the edit would have been underscored by a beat and musical flourish, and y’all would have laughed your goddamn asses off. In a book, it still got a laugh from me, but it underscores how fucking obvious it is that these people aren’t in the same goddamn room. (And I only know who Anthony is because he’s from Boston (REPRESENT!) and ended up playing guitar in the Libertines after Pete Doherty got tossed out (for a while at least). And if you don’t know who Paul Banks is, please get yourself a copy of Antics.)
The best kind of storytelling (IMHO) is entirely transparent or specifically unreliable. The entire book is unspecifically unreliable because it’s impossible for the reader to hold the thread of a narrative. “Who the fuck are you?!” (also: “And you are?”) was a common refrain back then, but I’m old now, for fuck’s sake, and I need someone to help me fire those synapses and remember if this was (1) the dude I pissed off by putting a mug full of whiskey down in their pile of coke (2) the dude who slept on the floor so I could sleep in a bed or (3) the girl who needed a safety pin because her skirt fell apart right before she went on stage. The shambolic experience of spending a night gigging in one city and waking up in another is not something I can maintain for 500-plus pages. (At least not pushing 40 years old.) I had to pull out a pen and write the names of bands next to everyone’s names and underline the best bits to feel better about using the amount of cognitive energy on a book I haven’t spent since university. This was supposed to be a fun read, goddamn it! I spent days confused. DAYS, GODDAMN IT!
This book is exclusive in a way that is entirely opposite of this time in music history. The great rebirth of “American” rock ‘n’ roll (it’s “‘n'”, not “and” — I don’t care what the Harper Collins style guide says) was all about inclusivity. I met people from all over the world expressly because the NYC scene (with The Strokes as the leaders) opened up the world to so many of us in the ’00s: people who had never been to a gig without their parents before, people who never thought about cutting their hair short until they saw Karen O, women who dressed like men and men who dressed like women, and humans who realized for the first time their biology didn’t define them. We bought drinks and shared snuck-in flasks with people we didn’t know. We shared URLs and burnt CDs and clutched each other and cried when our favorite songs were played. We showed up in basements and watched the openers. Some of us learned how to take killer photographs while in the pit. Others of us learned how to talk to strangers. Even others learned how to smuggle drugs past security. But we did all of that to embrace each other, and bring each other into the party and make it fun for everyone.
Reading this book, I missed all of that loveliness — that fun. I missed the connection to the global fans that made it so different , the underground current of electricity that ran through and made this “scene” (ugh, gag me with a goddamn spoon) so fucking special and huge. (And, yes, fuck you, fun.) The fact that a huge portion of the book is devoted to The Strokes busting their asses being their own (unashamed) publicists (using snail mail!) and it doesn’t focus on how the global fans helped make this shit happen (using the interwebs) is a huge miss.
Before you point it out: Yes, there are “bloggers” and scene royalty quoted; however, it’s such a small portion of the book and the ones included appear to be humans Lizzy G knew personally. What about the fucking ordinary humans who hosted MP3s and dragged their broke-down cars to multiple cities to stand in the front row and sing along to every single word? Yes, it’s a book about New York City; however, the world/Internet made this happen. (And thanks to the WayBackMachine, there’s a written record of it. You could have asked, girlfriend.)
In the end this book just wasn’t fun — it was hard to read and difficult to recall.
Maybe that was the point.
Maybe Pete and Carlos Libertines were right: “There were no good old days.“
tl;dr: Read this shit with a photocopy of the “Cast of Characters” and a bottle of your favorite booze (lay off the drugs, you gotta work tomorrow). When you’re done, find your old Livejournal log-in (if it wasn’t deleted in the purge when it was sold to that Russian company) and re-read your Friends page from 2005 and see if you can track down one of the humans you tongue-kissed in the front row of a shitty venue. (And remember fondly the last time you saw a gig where everyone wasn’t watching through their cameraphones.)
P.S., Here are some amazing bits that could have been included if it was a video documentary:
- “Wonderwall”, Ryan Adams (If you don’t appreciate this song, you never experienced Noel Gallagher’s rendition, so gofuckyourself. “I don’t believe that anybody feels the way I do about you…!” That pause is everything. It’s real. Stop looking at me. IT’S HAPPENING! In Boston, too, where I might have made Jesse slow dance in the aisle stage left with me.)
- “The Good Old Days”, The Libertines (The Libertines may not have been “important”, but they were “special” and pushed a shitload of European bands to get off their asses and make something of themselves — Bloc Party, I am looking at you.)
- Interpol, Best of 2001-2015 (But, really, these fuckers in Chicago in 2003 with terrible sound.)
- “Tears in the Laundrette” (w/ commentary), The (Special) Needs (Get your goddamn tissues; this is an amazing band that got FUCKED by Mercury in the middle-years, after Alan McGee blew so much smoke up their asses Jonathan Richman must have smelled it. Their album got lost in limbo, and even though Andrew Needs got in a scrap at the NME Awards, the band never had a chance in the industry downturn.)
P.P.S., I will say this: I had no idea LCD Soundsystem was SO full of drama. The best bits that are the most cohesive and lend itself to a true oral history (that doesn’t owe itself solely to the fans) is the rise and fall of this iconic band and associated label. James Murphy is TRUE representation of the New York City scene during this time period distilled into one amazingly talented yet fucked-up human. Tell me the fucking T, frenemy!
P.P.P.S., Lizzy Goodman, you had huge dreams. And you did it girl. You got PAID TO WRITE A BOOK. I fucking salute you. Next time: Just write a book about James Murphy (and the beef with Tim Goldsworthy). Please, girl, I will fund this shit. (Remember, I actually saw multiple start-ups through. Text me!) Just bring your basset hound Jerry Orbach, who will hopefully be sweet and not want to eat my face.