Meet Me In The Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2011
From 2001 to 2007, I ran a music website called Mundane Sounds. One of the biggest headaches I had to deal with was this incessant push that somehow I would “like” the New York scene, that because I was an “indie” internet blogger, that I simply must be into The Strokes, Interpol, Bright Eyes, The Walkmen, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and any and all associated bands. Worse still was the onslaught of sound-alikes and wannabes I had to deal with, kids armed with little talent, their tuition bankrolling their band, a copy of the Indie Bible, and a desire to be rich. It didn’t take any real effort when one visited the website to see that I was most certainly not into those bands, but these industry people, hangers-on, and poseurs never actually read my website before insisting that they were the next big thing connected to the New York scene.
And I hated every bit of it. It reeked of privileged kids making music because they could afford to be artists, all style over substance made by kids with the right record collections, reckless drug use, and a sense of arrogance about themselves, their scene, and their place and influence on the world. That I spurned the tastemakers at the time probably stunted that website from growing into something more, but what could I do? Lie about what I liked for hits and a little bit of nonexistent advertising revenue? (One ‘tastemaker’ tried to approach me in a cold–pitched email; having never visited the website, she enthused greatly about the things she could do for me, yet when she visited the site, she soon wondered where the reviews of the ‘hip’ bands were, and then declared to me that Mundane Sounds was “too indie” for her hip, indie marketing company, and that, they say, was that.)
Lizzy Goodman’s hefty tome, Meet Me In The Bathroom: Rebirth And Rock And Roll In New York City 2001-2011, is an oral history of this scene, and it was my curiosity that led me to check it out, encouraged by a journalist friend who was a willing and active participant in the scene during the decade in question. She sat down and cornered hundreds of people from the scene and got them to open up about that phenomenon, to shine a light on what that New York Scene was all about.
Turns out, my assessment of the scene was spot-on.
I’d be lying if I denied that Goodman’s writing and organization doesn’t offer up an engaging read. But the music itself, it doesn’t really stand up, does it? Yeah, it does turn out to be true that Interpol were obsessed with fashion over form; sure, The Strokes were party guys who wanted to be rock stars, and yeah, the scene was amazingly pretentious and self-serving in its sense of self and its destructive habits, and the music had very little to do with it all.
The most compelling story, though, is that of James Murphy, Tim Goldsworthy, and DFA Records’ inner turmoil. To watch two men who share a love of music and a shared vision of redefining and making a new, unique musical voice is admirable; the descent into acrimony, bitterness, and hatred toward each other is heartbreaking, if not a little unsurprising. It’s a story of two like-minded yet Odd Couple personalities taking for granted their interpersonal communication; one feels if the two had simply not taken for granted that they shared a similar vision and could complete one’s thoughts, then their friendship might have survived.
I wasn’t sold on this scene back then, and after reading Meet Me In The Bathroom, I’m still not convinced that it was anything but a long-con. In spite of Goodman’s writing talents, ultimately what disappoints about this book is it becomes the story of only one or two bands, and not really about the scene at all. After all, why no mention of Brand New? Taking Back Sunday? Sufjan Stevens? Liars? All of those bands fell into and out of that artistic community, yet their mention is nil, and that’s a shame. Instead of being the thorough history it proclaims itself to be, it’s more of a scene report that only offers a very, very limited glimpse into a select world. Exciting to read? Sure, I couldn’t put the book down. Does it offer up anything particularly substantial? Considering the subject matter, it doesn’t really tell you anything that Buddyhead or the online gossip columns, chat rooms, and forums didn’t already say.
Listen, kids: don’t believe the hype. Meet Me In The Bathroom is the story of excess from someone who had access, and though it’s somewhat myopic in its scope about a scene best left to fade into obscurity, it’s still a smorgasbord of gossip that’s heavy on the dish but surprisingly devoid of sustenance.