SHARE
LCD Soundsystem was one of the bands that shaped the New York rock scene in the decade following 9/11. | Wikimedia Commons

This past Fourth of July, I was driving with my brother through Oxon Hill in Prince George’s County, one of the last vestiges of Washington, D.C.’s old go-go culture, now dislocated by gentrification to southern Maryland. My brother kept commenting on the dinkiness of it all: the carryout soul-food restaurants, the clothes lines outside the concrete subsidized housing.

“This is the last mystical place in D.C.,” he said.

He was probably right. On the fringes of a city mostly marked by neoclassical rigor, the smell of mumbo sauce — a local blend of Chinese plum and Carolina barbecue sauce — was masking the swamp with a mystic melancholy.

What’s more, my brother was tailoring a playlist that really fit the moment. A Lauryn Hill cover of Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly” that segued into America’s “A Horse With No Name” — his taste is perfect. Song after song, he got it right, capturing the feeling two brothers should have when driving through a bummed-down community suffused with the loss that accompanies the memory of a better past.

Lizzy Goodman conjures a similar feeling in Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2011, her chronicle of the bands that shaped the New York rock scene in the decade following 9/11. Band after band, she provides a collection of memories of the people who lived through the highs and hangovers, re-envisioning the filthy as dreamlike, verging on the mystical. These are the stories these bands tell themselves to stay alive.

Although she focuses primarily on the Strokes (she was a friend of lead guitarist Nick Valensi back when), Goodman gives significant voice to other early New York staples such as Yeah Yeah Yeahs and LCD Soundsystem. Bands like The National, Kings of Leon, and The Killers (who built their success on the Strokes’ popularity) also add color to the scene with their own stories of making New York in their image. There’s nothing wholesome about the whole affair—gross-out moments like Yeah Yeah Yeahs lead singer Karen O thrashing out “Maps” on the stage at The Mercury Club and pouring beer all over herself—but everyone who was there remembers it like it was the garden of Eden.

Goodman achieves this effect by presenting her work as a “folk history,” which means outside her introduction, she acts only as an editor, clipping and trimming hundreds of hours of interviews with almost 200 producers, musicians, and writers to form a nearly 700-page narrative about how New York became the locus for every musical trend in the post-9/11 age.

While that style is enjoyable, the book is read probably best in gobbits. Perhaps it’s just because all successful rock bands have essentially the same story.

For example, the Strokes’ rise and fall plays out like a skin-tight jeans version of Stillwater in “Almost Famous.” A few guys come together, do a lot of drugs, and one of them has a journalist friend who is now immortalizing them—stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before.

What really makes the book interesting are the quirky anecdotes for the fans, like the time the Strokes disowned singer-songwriter Ryan Adams, whom they suspected of feeding guitarist Albert Hammond Jr.’s heroin addiction. Adams describes how the band met him in a bar and berated him for his waywardness (rather hypocritically, in his opinion). When he returned from a bathroom trip after buying everyone a round of beers, the Strokes had deserted him forever.

“For the record, I finished my and Julian’s round,” Adams told Goodman.

The Regina Spektor section is cute — who would have thought that the Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas listening to her demo tape of “Poor Little Rich Boy” while he was touring would have launched Spektor into a deal to make “Soviet Kitsch”?

And then there’s the obsessive mess of James Murphy, who, in addition to fronting the dance band LCD Soundsystem, controlled the influential DFA Records (originally called Death From Above but changed to DFA after 9/11). Murphy’s personality shines through most in his opus “Someone Great,” a song that sounds like a lament for the end of an affair…but it’s actually an eulogy for his longtime therapist George Kamen.

The book finishes with a profile of Vampire Weekend, which Goodman presents as the first “post-genre” band. Interviews with lead singer Ezra Koenig and former guitarist Rostam Batmanglij reveal a love for a wide array of art and music ranging from Basquiat to Destiny’s Child to Richard Serra. Koenig jokingly refers to these influences as the vehicles that allowed Vampire Weekend to make music that sounds “preppy,” even though preppiness is just a feeling, not a definite style or genre.

Goodman does well to give Vampire Weekend significant space because they were the first major band to become popular almost entirely through the internet alone — a milestone in a record industry that was still clinging to the hope that CDs would last forever.

The buzz surrounding their first songs, including “Oxford Comma” and “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” didn’t come from magazines or an EP; it came from self-promotion on college internet message boards. When the band eventually scored a record deal, it was because Vampire Weekend had created a major following by sharing their music online for free. For curious fans, Koenig’s early promotional efforts — his 2006 blog Internet Vibes and the MySpace page for his regrettable college rap group, L’Homme Run — are still available online.

Meet Me in the Bathroom succeeds in constructing a coherent narrative of a music scene, but Goodman falls short in her conclusion. Since the story is primarily about the Strokes and their influence, it ends with the band rocking out at Madison Square Garden. As a friend of the Strokes and a remnant of that scene herself, it’s understandable why Goodman chose that concert as her send off.

But the true conclusion of the New York scene was the LCD Soundsystem farewell show at MSG in 2011. It was here that Murphy sobered up and called for an end to New York’s 10-year collective dream in his last performance of  “All My Friends”:

When you’re drunk and the kids look impossibly tanned
You think over and over, “Hey, I’m finally dead”
Oh, if the trip and the plan come apart in your hand
You can turn it on yourself, you ridiculous clown
You forgot what you meant when you read what you said
And you always knew you were tired, but then where are your friends tonight?

Where are your friends tonight?
Where are your friends tonight?

If I could see all my friends tonight
If I could see all my friends tonight
If I could see all my friends tonight
If I could see all my friends tonight

Meet Me in the Bathroom is an invitation to an indulgent trip. If you accept, when you wake, you’ll cry to dream again.