'Meet Me In The Bathroom' and the Mythos of NYC
How Lizzie Goodman's era-defining oral history of NYC rock fed my big city fantasies
By Brody Coronelli
I recently finished reading Meet Me in the Bathroom: Lizzie Goodman’s expansive oral history of how rock and roll was revived in New York City throughout the late ‘90s and early aughts. Before picking it up, I was already intrigued by the musical mythos of NYC, but this book took it a step further and swept me off my feet. By conducting hundreds of interviews with musicians, journalists, managers, A&R people, and others who happened to be around experiencing the collective roar of a genre and its pertinent culture coming back from the dead, Goodman fashioned a narrative that inspired me, made me laugh, smile, and—most importantly—made me wish I were there, living my life alongside these people who on paper seem larger than life and ready to explode from a kind of reckless, go-fuck-yourself coolness that I’ve never seen up close.
As Goodman makes clear within the first couple hundred pages, The Strokes are the common thread between almost every aspect of these surprisingly cocaine-ridden accounts of either making the revival happen or watching closely, wishing you were closer. The stars of the story also include Interpool, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Ryan Adams, The National, and Vampire Weekend, among others. Naturally, these bands became my soundtrack as I progressed through the book. During the sections where Julian Casablancas and Albert Hammond Jr. of The Strokes recount the carcinogenic, leather jacket-clad escapades of being a young band in the city, I also took in the fuzzy, late-night drawl of their iconic debut Is This It. When Karen O talked about trying on four different costumes before getting onstage, I took deep breaths from the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s grimy and electric debut Fever To Tell. When Paul Banks and Daniel Kessler of Interpol recounted what it was like being the only band not wearing leather jackets and ratty jeans onstage, I listened to Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures (just kidding—I listened to “Stella was a diver and she was always down” a hundred times and beat myself up for not being the one who wrote it). When the late and great writer and journalist of SPIN fame Marc Spitz recounted interviewing and spending long, drug-addled nights with a slowly-spinning-out-of-control Ryan Adams (who referred to himself as “trouble on wheels” at the time), I listened his sloppy, strangely brilliant, major-label protest record Rock N Roll. What I’m getting at is that this book completely changed how I was thinking, what I was listening to, and the lives I typically fantasize about living while reading it. I lived and breathed NYC page-by-page, and I've never even been there.
In a way, this book feels like it was written for someone who's never seen NYC up close, but has always been headed in it's direction. I grew up in a small suburban town, but I've always carried myself like I'm among skyscrapers. In high school, I wore a leather jacket and pointy black oxfords like my favorite bands, I listened to guitar rock and wrote articles about The Strokes and Joy Division for the paper, and I smoked cigarettes during lunch. These habits, as proud of them as I was, pushed me to the outskirts of the social hierarchy, which forced me to come to terms with the fact that I'd never fit in with the small town expectation of conformity. I knew I belonged in a city of some kind, living out the alternative fever dreams constantly on replay in my head. I'm still not there yet (for more reasons than one), but reading Meet Me In The Bathroom made it seem within reach. There I was, reading stories from people I wish I could call on the phone and go out on the town with, and while that's far from reality, those words on the page made me feel connected to where I know I'll someday end up. In the end, this book is about far more than just music; It's a testament to the mythos and allure of New York City, it's presence as a guiding light for young, artsy misfits yearning for a sense of identity, and how the cliche, ridiculous idea of moving to a big city to reinvent yourself isn't ridiculous at all.
I went into this book with the intention of furthering my already overflowing knowledge of rock music, but instead I found myself standing face to face with everywhere I want to be, everyone I want to know, and all the stories I want to be able to someday call my own. While this book, first and foremost, has the potential to be a powerful tool for anyone who witnessed this musical resurgence up close, it’s also vivid enough to take someone far removed—by both age and geography—and make them feel floored by it. For a few brief moments after I read the last page, I felt like a New Yorker, and that's really all a restless and wide-eyed kid from a small town who knows all the words to Is This It can ask for.
You can pick up MMITB everywhere now. Check out some of the best music from the book below.