My last week was spent partying like a rockstar with my friends in a seaside mansion. Charmed life, right? Technically, we rented it for a work project, but since we spent days and nights blaring music, drinking champagne, and feeling like rockstars, the setting was appropriate for my latest read, Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001 - 2011, by Lizzy Goodman.
This book was getting a lot of buzz in music press lately, so I picked it up without knowing much about it. The author studied romantic poetry and Greek literature, and (perhaps for that reason, or more likely following the footsteps of other rock biographies) chose to pen this book in an oral history style. Maybe it was the champagne, but it took me a solid 5 pages to realize the entire book is in this format and not just the first few pages. Filled solely with direct quotes from the artists and relevant NYC music scenesters, the verbal buzzing makes for a fast and candid read without narrative flair. And I'll be honest: I'm a little jealous that she lived in the scene while it developed. She writes,
"When you ask people whose art has gone on to matter to millions what it was like to be there in the beginning, they'll often tell you there was nothing mythical or portentous about it at all. It was just the way life unfolded. James Murphy was a frustrated indie sound guy with a wallet chain, looking for someone he could really talk music with when he met Tim Goldsworthy. Karen O had to do something to stave off depression during winter term at Oberlin, so she decided to learn guitar...But it also wasn't really about bands. We didn't even think of them as bands, exactly...We were all--every kid in the crowd and every person on stage--chasing the same thing: a feeling of rebellion, of possibility, of promise, of chaos."
The range of bands covered is impressive: The Strokes, The White Stripes, Interpol, Jonathan Fire*Eater, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Regina Spektor, Vampire Weekend, The Moldy Peaches, TV on the Radio, and more. Clocking in at 621 pages, it is chock full of enticing interviews--over 2,000 hours worth. More about the parties and how their fame unfolded than a musicologist's analysis of the sound, the characters and anecdotes are wildly entertaining. Take the following description of the Kings of Leon's bassist:
"Nick Valensi: They were very young. Jared, the bass player, was fourteen. Literally, I'm not even exaggerating. He should have been in ninth grade, and he was on tour with us. It was really not an appropriate environment for a fourteen-year-old. It wasn't really appropriate for anyone.
Steve Trachtenbroit: My favorite Jared quote was from NME or Q. He said , 'I'm only sixteen and I've already had crabs three times.' I was like, 'Good for you, man.'"
The most surprising thing about this oral history is that it made me really like the Strokes. Not musically, necessarily, but as people. I'll caveat that statement by saying that I enjoy the Strokes musically just fine. Besides the fact that they remind me of every (drunken) college boyfriend and most of their albums aren't works of genius, they're a perfectly ok band that I listen to when feeling nostalgic for my bygone undergraduate years. As it turns out, they are really great people, though, so now I like them more. Here's how nice they were to Regina Spektor, for instance:
"Regina Spektor: The Strokes themselves basically funded me on that tour. I would go and eat my meals with them and they would always pick up the check...They fed me. I would go to my dressing room and it would have, like, chips and salsa, and I would go to their dressing room and it would have, like, cold cuts, and they would say, 'Go ahead, eat, drink.' They shared everything and it got me through. I remember, on the flight back home, when the tour ended, they upgraded me and I flew fancy...I became a cousin. Kings of Leon were a family and the Strokes were a family and I got to be a cousin."
Raw and devilishly enticing, Meet Me in the Bathroom is worth a read, especially if you have a seaside mansion and a case of champagne at your disposal. If not, any crash pad will do. Bonus points for eating only pasta and canned beans while reading.
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