In April of 2011, the Strokes headlined their first show at Madison Square Garden just one day before LCD Soundsystem’s “farewell” blowout at the same venue. To Lizzy Goodman – a New York music journalist who had been a part of the local scene ever since the Strokes were a bunch of unknowns playing a weekly gig downtown at the Mercury Lounge – it felt like a significant moment. “It broke my spell that these were my people,” she says. “I realized that these artists had become the new establishment. That was exciting, but I was also like, ‘Oh, so something is over.'”
She set out to write the definitive oral history of a rock scene that produced not just the Strokes and LCD Soundsystem, but also the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, TV on the Radio, Vampire Weekend and the Kings of Leon in addition to lesser-known groups like Jonathan Fire*Eater and the Mooney Suzuki. The result, Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001–2011 – out now – tells the whole story in astonishing detail across 621 pages. “This was an important and poignant period of time in the city,” she says. “And I wanted to document it.”
Many of the most fascinating moments from the book center around the Strokes, who had never previously talked in any length about how guitarist Albert Hammond Jr.’s severe heroin addiction almost destroyed the group just a couple of years after their start. The problems reached a crescendo when Ryan Adams – who shared a manager with the Strokes – buddied up to Albert. “Ryan would always come and wake me at two in the morning and have drugs, so I’d just do the drugs and kind of numb out,” Hammond said. “I knew I would shoot up drugs from a very young age. I’d been wanting to do heroin since I was 14 years old.”
The group ultimately confronted Adams at a bar. “I was asked to meet one single person in a bar and I got there and it was the whole band and [their manager] and I was more or less given a lecture, a hypocritical lecture, and then they told me that I was not going to be part of their scene anymore,” he said. “It was very weird. It was easy to brand me as the problem. I would suspect that they soon learned that I was not the problem.”
These are not the kind of stories artists are normally comfortable sharing, but Goodman was a part of their social circle going all the way back to the beginning and had earned their complete trust. She began by reaching out to Strokes manager Ryan Gentles, an old friend who started out as a booker at the Mercury Lounge. “I felt like I had to get him on board right away,” she says, “in order to begin to approach achieving what I was hoping to achieve.” Once he understood the scope of her ambition, he helped get the Strokes to sign on, and one by one nearly everyone else agreed to participate. She even got time with James Murphy, who has done virtually no press since LCD Soundsystem reformed last year.
Goodman can’t begin to count how many hours’ worth of interviews she racked up, but she estimates it’s somewhere around 2,000 with over 150 subjects, including former Rolling Stone staffers Austin Scaggs, Joe Levy and Jenny Eliscu. The only holdout from the entire era was Interpol bassist Carlos D, who left the group in 2010 and never looked back, beginning a new life completely outside of music. “Carlos is my white whale in the book,” says Goodman. “I tried so hard to get him. He was initially very gracious in his responses to me and remained very gracious, but increasingly he was like, ‘Please stop contacting me.’ He is one of the great characters of this era and he now haunts the book in a way that feels appropriate to me.”
Memories of the Strokes–Ryan Adams confrontation, and many other key moments, vary depending on who is talking. “That is why I wanted this to be an oral history,” says Goodman. “The nature of memory is imprecise even though we’re sure about all sorts of things. That goes 100 times for complex and emotional drug- and booze-soaked and years-ago memories. What’s rad about an oral history is that all those memories can coexist.” That said, she’s confident that Rolling Stone Contributing Editor Rob Sheffield’s memories are the most trustworthy. “He’s a living encyclopedia,” she says. “And he’s the only reason I remember anything from my past.”
The timeline of the book coincides with the collapse of the record industry thanks to file-sharing sites like Napster. “A working title of this book was The Last Real Rock Stars,” says Goodman. “Interpol is really emblematic of this reality. Their first album came out in the era of rock stardom that’s familiar to pop culture. It’s what you see in Almost Famous or Behind the Music. By the second record, which leaked, it’s like, ‘Oh, so we just started this career in this old paradigm and now we’re still in this thing, but we don’t even know what it is.’ These people are all relatively young, but they’re also relics of an era that’s gone.”