It's been over 15 years since the Strokes released their debut album Is This It, helping usher in the rock revival both in America and abroad. But they weren't the only band making a name for themselves in Manhattan (and, later, Brooklyn) and shaping a new era of music, fashion and art over the first part of the century.
From 2001 to 2011, New York City and its boroughs became home to some of the best artists in the world, from production team DFA and (later) LCD Soundsystem to Interpol, TV on the Radio, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and beyond. Lizzy Goodman's latest book, Meet Me in the Bathroom, tells their stories and the lives of others over 600-plus pages of gripping, scandalous, cocaine-filled detail.
In her 2015 memoir Girl in a Band, Sonic Youth singer/bassist Kim Gordon described driving into Manhattan for the first time like she was "being shot from a pinball machine down a slope into some rough forest" filled with "all unknown and possibility." That's what the first few pages of Meet Me in the Bathroom feel like, as we're introduced to a cast of local characters in the wasteland that was the city's music scene in the mid-'90s.
Like all oral histories, it can be hard to keep the names straight (especially if you don't have an encyclopaedic memory of the members of Jonathan Fire*Eater or hangers-on like Har Mar Superstar). But as they slowly get drilled into your brain, the real stories are revealed, stripped away of any of the subjectivism or fawning found in music magazine articles or industry press releases at the time.
Even the most debaucherous stories are recounted by multiple witnesses here (meaning this future rock'n'roll bible won't face the same fate as the rumour-filled Hammer of the Gods), and Goodman does a great job hitting key points most readers probably perused in NME and Spin ten years ago but forgot.
More than just a bunch of band biographies, Goodman draws attention to a number of cultural shifts at the time whose effects are still being felt today: the emergence of music blogs, the gentrification of Brooklyn and the co-opting of indie rock by major label bands like Kings of Leon and the Killers, as well as the birth of a global style built around the looks of New York's most chic musicians.
But where Meet Me in the Bathroom really shines is in the stories you haven't heard before, whether it's Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner and Conor Oberst's multiple family Christmases together in Omaha, to that time someone from the National discovered a bunch of dildos and a dead chicken in a box outside their apartment building. All of it adds depth to this essential collection of first-hand accounts that somehow makes the city and its stars feel like accessible, relatable, flawed human beings. (Harper Collins)