Credit where it’s due: The scope of Meet Me in the Bathroom is truly impressive. Journalist Lizzy Goodman’s 600-page oral history tackles the rock music that came out of New York during the first decade of the 2000s—specifically the scene that revolved around bands like the Strokes, Interpol, LCD Soundsystem, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. But the book touches on a lot more, like New York City’s post-9/11 transformation, as its cultural center moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn and rents skyrocketed. There are also the simultaneous threads of the music business’ upending by the internet and of the (perhaps related) demise of male-oriented guitar rock, which emits its death rattle over the course of Meet Me in the Bathroom.
There’s much to discuss. But Goodman’s affectionate, insider-y book, which starts off gossipy and fun, calcifies into something frustrating because it doesn’t engage with these ideas or even analyze them on a cursory level. All the problems inherent with the oral history format are here in spades: The text is entirely interview quotes, with no connective passages to tie things together; even with the aid of an introductory dramatis personae, it’s difficult to keep all the scenesters and hangers-on straight. And large chunks of the bands’ histories are assumed knowledge—you’ll need to have been present when all the shit went down or have read about it daily on Ultragrrrl, Stereogum, and Fluxblog.
And there are the basic problems of all firsthand accounts: Some people are vague, or exaggerating (if not outright lying), and the format doesn’t permit any interrogation unless someone directly contradicts them in the next quote. But worst of all, an oral history, due to its very nature, is dominated by its most loquacious participants, rather than the most important characters. For example, Strokes singer Julian Casablancas doesn’t say anything interesting, while Har Mar Superstar walks away with more lines than Iago.
There are other issues—with the topic and the presentation. Apart from two token women (Karen O and Regina Spektor) and a few people of color (TV on the Radio), the book seems content to revel in the desiccated white-rock-dude milieu without being aware of how its own narrative charts that trope’s demise. The book does seem like a necessary first stab at documenting an era, and Goodman has obviously assembled a lot of goodwill during her career, evidenced by the sheer number of people willing to sit down with her. But without processing these stories into anything beyond a series of anecdotes, Meet Me in the Bathroom reads like eavesdropping on the next table at brunch, listening to strangers who won’t shut up about the amazing party you missed last night.
Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2011
by Lizzy Goodman