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.