Near the end of 2020, I discovered Lizzy Goodman’s Meet Me in the Bathroom, an expansive oral history detailing the cultural context and changes within New York City’s rock and roll scene between 9/11 and the early 2010s. The book features interviews from bands and artists such as The Strokes, MGMT, Sonic Youth, and Vampire Weekend. As a LCD Soundsystem lover, history nerd, and aspiring journalist, Meet Me in the Bathroom was pretty much everything I’d loved reading about wrapped into one book.
I spoke with Goodman for Lithium and was taken aback by how warm and open she was. To be clear, she’s nothing short of prolific: she’s an author and music journalist who has written for The New York Times, Rolling Stone, and ELLE; she’s covered everyone from King Princess to Lorde. On our call, we discussed how she sees New York City nightlife evolving in a post-COVID world, the new Fran Lebowitz documentary, and how nerdy, passionate girls belong in rock and roll.
Lithium Magazine: A lot of people believe New York’s nightlife will drastically change after COVID-19, and sadly, a lot of small venues and businesses have already closed. What are some ways you think people’s spirits can bounce back?
Lizzy Goodman: Positive thing first—New York is a mindset as much as it’s a place. That’s something I really learned from writing Meet Me in the Bathroom, from having lived in this world and being in a position journalistically where it was my job to capture it on the page and figure out how to communicate what the place really felt like to an audience.
Look at live shows. People wanna be in this space with other people, sharing these visceral experiences. That’s something we’re really missing right now. There’s the lofty question of how music will change, and I think the answer is pretty positive. We know what we’re missing now. I think knowing what we’re missing and the joy that’ll come out when we get to see rock shows again is huge. I do trust in the New York creative spirit. If the places we’ve trusted don’t exist in the wake of all this, they’ll get rebuilt, but that’ll take time. The innate nature of New York City is this sense of adaptability and resilience.
Lithium: Do you think Zoom or digital music events will be a bigger thing once the pandemic ends?
Lizzy: With the [venues] I’m keeping tabs on, they’re trying to be creative. I don’t know enough about online concerts, but the positive thing is I think we’re all gonna have a new relationship with what going out means. So kind of in the way working from home is more normal, maybe we’re gonna see venues do a combination of live shows or digital ones.
Lithium: Your book touches on how the digital revolution changed rock and roll in the 2000s—before smartphones and social media. How do you think the overall digital revolution has impacted nightlife for artists today?
Lizzy: The smoothness of social media culture wasn’t there [in the ‘90s and 2000s]. You didn’t want to look slick; you were supposed to look like you were sweating and partying. You could go to all the clubs on the Lower East Side and be a maniac and know that no one was going to take your photo.
Lithium Magazine: Meet Me in the Bathroom is such a personal account of how artists from different backgrounds essentially built their careers from the ground up. It just feels incredibly transparent that many bands like The Strokes and Vampire Weekend were also just artists in their 20s, doing what they loved.
Lizzy: There’s this idea of joyful mischief that characterizes the years of creative magic—that’s what pulled me and you to the city, and will pull kids even younger than you to the city. It’s the magic that pulled Patti Smith to the city. When I think of New York, I think of this well-intended mischief-making. It’s yours to do what you will with. One of the things I really wanted people to understand from reading Meet Me in the Bathroom is that we are you.
Lithium Magazine: I spent high school obsessed with LCD Soundsystem’s Sound of Silver album and Karen O’s Crush Songs—it made me feel like there was this huge world out there where I could pursue my dreams.
Lizzy: That experience you’re describing for yourself is exactly how Interpol was formed, and it’s exactly how Yeah Yeah Yeahs wrote their songs. That instinct is so precious to follow, to be tapped into. There’s a way we think of rock stars and artists as far away in an identity sense from us, like they’re different. Like, no, we were all just a bunch of lost kids who were weird and came to New York. Everyone in a band has been told they had no future. So, here we are.
Lithium: What’s your approach to storytelling, writing, and music journalism?
Lizzy: I first approach everything I write from an emotional place. Like, what is the emotional story here? That stuff is really important. When we wanted to talk about a particular song, I’d always make the artist tell me like, [for The Strokes,] “‘What was it like writing ‘The Modern Age’? What did your studio look like at the time? Who had the best style? Tell me about mornings—what time did you show up?” These visceral memories and how we make the things we make are the means to the end of the emotional resonance of a story.
Lithium: Did you feel nostalgic when you finished Meet Me in the Bathroom?
Lizzy: Music is inherently ephemeral. [Being around so much music] has taught me to not be really interested in the idea of whether things should be the way they were before. All this planning we do, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. One of the things being around so much music has taught me is to surrender to that reality. I was just proud we were a part of a larger story about New York—both the city itself, and a larger idea of what New York means to people. It made me excited to see what the next generation would do with that myth. The myth is our collective legacy. If you love New York and the stories and music made there, you’re a part of that ongoing and never-ending narrative about the city’s identity. It was what it was, and now it’s someone else’s turn.
Lithium: Do you have any advice for aspiring journalists and writers?
Lizzy: Yeah, I think what you guys are doing is so cool. I finally got a chance to look into what you guys have right now and it’s very impressive. Lithium is an example of what I was saying before, where you’ve taken the spirit of something that’s familiar to past generations of DIY creatives and zine culture and you’ve made it real in the language that it’s in now. The notion of zine culture is so key and to be able to see it alive in the way you’re doing it. You have to walk through the doors that are open to you when you’re a creative person. You can’t just repeat someone else’s path.
Lithium: Yeah, there’s often really no clear-cut path.
Lizzy: Exactly. I feel like even in the best education institutions, there’s always an A plus B equals C mentality. You study for a test, here’s what’s gonna be on it, you get graded on it. Creative life isn’t like that. In some ways the basic principles are true—like, you should work hard and have a good work ethic—but when I say “walk through the doors that are open to you,” what I mean is that everyone I know that’s been successful at making art has done it having that feeling that you mentioned—you close your eyes and you move in the direction [your passion] is taking you in. It sounds like I’m describing a paranormal experience. (Laughs.) But you have to learn to hear your instinct. You have to be [listen to your inner creative voice], which is often harder to hear than your linearly motivated self.
By Irine Le