Nostalgia is a helluva drug.
It's even more potent when cut with cocaine, judging by Lizzy Goodman's Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001–2011, a massive oral history of the debauched rock resurrection of the early '00s in New York (and beyond). Wildly entertaining and exhaustive (even somewhat exhausting -- I worked through it in chunks), Meet Me in the Bathroom dredges up all sorts of memories. Remember when Ryan Adams was trying to find his place as a solo artist in New York? Or when the Strokes championed Regina Spektor? And it excavates mind-bogging factoids. For example, the DFA apparently has a Britney Spears collaboration languishing in the archives.
On the plus side, Meet Me in the Bathroom isn't afraid to portray its subjects as spoiled, screwed up, drugged out, or unsavory. Those imperfections make for great anecdotes (as well as a good case for separating the art from the artist) and some readers may hate LCD Soundsystem, the Rapture, and/or the Strokes after reading. Yet such honesty also demolishes the caricature-like veneers of many artists, in particular Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Karen O, who spoke eloquently about being a woman in the male-dominated scene.
"I felt like my brain literally worked differently than everyone around me, which was all men," she says. "I mean, I felt super, super isolated and super lonely because I could never really fully relate to my male bandmates and peers. I could relate to them only to a certain degree. And they're the bomb! They're so progressive, wise, intuitive, really wonderful fucking rocking human beings. But they're dudes. In the end, they're not fellow ladies."
At heart, the book romanticizes the possibilities promised by the Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, the Hives and others -- especially as these bands emerged as taut, put-together counterpoints to nu-metal's gloomy, disheveled stars. That's not necessarily a bad thing: Meet Me in the Bathroom roots for the acts to succeed, and that gives the narrative an endearingly positive edge that keeps the pace brisk. It's easy to see why these bands connected with so many people.
Nevertheless, Franz Nicolay's insightful close reading for Slate eviscerates many of the book's assumptions—"Like hipster, gentrifier always means someone else," he punctuates one paragraph—and points out how author biases and the era's misty-eyed mythologizing do the tome no favors. In general, enjoying the book is predicated on how invested you were in the scene back then, how much affection you retain for its denizens and/or how much you're willing to suspend belief while reading. Which version of New York City do you relate to—or want to relate to—most?
To find out how this music stands up today, check out 12 'Rock is Back' albums of the early '00s, ranked.