There’s a moment in the first half of meet me in the bathroom where a then-unknown Paul Banks of Interpol is seen roaming the streets of Lower Manhattan picking up papers in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. The air and ground around him are thick and gray with ash as he bends to kick the debris that has swallowed the streets. It’s a remarkable and harrowing recording, not only for the fame that would eventually come to Banks, but also for its startling specificity. This person, this time, this place: it could never be replicated again.
That’s the overwhelming feeling that stays with you after watching meet me in the bathroomthe intimate documentary about the birth and collapse of New York’s last great rock scene directed by Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace and based on journalist Lizzy Goodman’s 2017 book of the same name. From never-before-seen footage from the careers of The Comprised of Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Moldy Peaches and more, the film is more than an instructive overview of the era, it’s a living and breathing archive.
For Goodman, it was those very visual elements that filled the final dimension needed to tell the full story of the ’00s indie sleaze scene. “That’s the power of nostalgia,” says Goodman upon seeing the film for the first time. “I remembered my whole self at that age and what it was like to be with these guys, and that whole time of my life just really came back.” On a recent Zoom, she opened up about the emotional journey, what it was like to see her book come to life on screen, discussed the film’s most poignant visual moments and what elements had to be left out in the service of the larger story.
This interview has been edited and shortened for clarity.
You are considered an Executive Producer, but in what capacity were you able to contribute to the soundbites used and the footage selected?
The first thing to say is that this really is the Will and Dylan movie. When I wrote this book, the book is mine. That is my statement at this moment. It’s my framework for the story and the type of arcs are what I wanted them to be. I’m the one to blame. And for the film, that’s theirs. I’m going to kind of go back then to say that of course there’s a reason I chose Will and Dylan. There is a correspondence between their vision for this film as a filmmaker and documentary maker and my vision for the book and the things I was concerned about and had in mind for the adaptation.
We talked a lot about check-ins and stuff. I saw rough cuts and made notes on rough cuts. I introduced them to a lot, but I think what I see as my core role was simply to help when asked. Do a kind of gut test of whether the development of the story felt right for someone who wrote this book, but also as someone who lived through this time and who knows all the actors differently than the filmmakers.
And then I’ll say something else, which is that they had access on the technical side, they had access to my archive. They had access to all my audio files and stuff and they used some of it. I mean a lot of it, the recording quality was never meant to be heard by anyone else. So not really film quality. But in some cases I’ve done a few follow-up interviews just to fill in gaps and stuff with bands and stuff. But basically it’s her film and I felt like it was my job to help her make it.
When researching your book, had you ever seen material from the documentary?
Oh man, I didn’t have cameras around anyone. These are all massive props for the incredible, mind-blowing archival research team on the Pulse side, which I mean, quite frankly, is the most satisfying part of this for me. Because when you, just on a selfish level, write this book, interview all these people, it all feels very much like something that I’ve done, that I have a relationship with. I didn’t even have a photo researcher for what I never could meet me in the bathroom. I always felt that… the visual story for this wasn’t something I had the resources to, creatively or financially, to get someone to do all of that.
That’s a whole different level. These folks on this archive team have spent years tracking down footage never seen before. And a lot of the footage is from journalists and fans and people who found it on message boards and stuff that had whatever. It’s the beginning of people carrying cameras around. Much of the footage you see comes straight from the bands. And the footage of Paul on 9/11, his roommate filmed all of that, Sebastian. I mean all this stuff is just an amazing collection of personal archives from the bands which is so moving to see.
I also found the entire 9/11 moment in the film so compelling. Was there a particularly poignant or moving moment for you when you saw the film?
Yes, three things come to mind. First of all, because of my own personal history with this world, where my entry point was The Strokes, that was the first band I met. I knew Nick from working in restaurants in New York in the late 90’s. We met in the summer of 1999 and we both worked at the same restaurant and he was just this New York boy in a band and the band was called The Strokes. And there’s a great line in the book by Jim Merlis, your former publicist and a dear friend of yours and mine, where he says when he first met her it was like hanging out with a bunch of Holden Caulfields, what so funny. They were like that. There was this mischievous innocence. So for me, to see early Strokes material coming back like this – and of course I didn’t see it cut into the film initially. When [Will and Dylan] would get something really good, they would send it to me and be like, “Dude, Lizzy, look what we’ve seen and dredged up” – I cried.
It was just oh my god, that’s how it was. Not only is it partly about them, but also the nostalgic element. That is the power of nostalgia. I remembered my whole self at that age and what it was like to be around these guys and that whole time of my life just really came back. And then I’d also say shorter, I won’t go on for that long, but the 9/11 material sure is that Paul [shot]. I had heard this story from Paul before about his experience of 9/11 and how he went down to the towers and tried to donate blood and what he saw down there. But to look at it, there’s baby Paul in his teenage years and he’s just normal, kinda, it was wild. Of course, I also remember this time very personally, so it was very intense and moving.
The third thing is really just the Karen stuff. Writing this book and doing the work, thinking about it this way since it came out – and also I’m working on a paper now and we’re working on a screenplay adaptation of meet me in the bathroom, a series that would invent versions of characters based on me and my friends that exist in this world – you don’t think back then how lonely it is as a young woman, but it really was. My first job was at Rolling Stone and I was the only woman in the editorial office, and I was the lowest person on the totem pole. I think seeing Karen grapple with this in real time in this footage really touched me, I get goosebumps talking about it right now. You’re just in there and you’re wondering why do I feel weird? why do i feel tears why do i feel alone That is so exciting. But also all this fear and excitement, and where is that coming from? It really takes time and distance to understand and we have that now.
I think that moment after Karen falls off the stage and there’s this tone of an interviewer saying, “Is it because you’re naive?” Even then I was like, oh my god, imagine, You’re asking a musician today. Is there anything you wish the film could include or expand on a little bit more? I felt that the subject of the internet might not be discussed as much.
I think so, definitely, and I will answer that. But first I’ll say that there’s nothing I am wow, you could have really put that in there. I wrote a book with 600 and whatever. Of course there are things that don’t appear in the film. That was kind of part of the premise even before I gave them the rights to do it. It’s like we have to think about how to condense the story. It’s really not about condensing, it’s about circling, right? So what I’m about to say is in that context.
The dream when I was writing that was that… There’s this idea that music stories are very sexy and funny and people want to be rock journalists, but it’s also a bit like a what’s the word? It’s not serious journalism, it’s just music reporting. And I’ve always hated that. And I think the dream comment on this book was that sometimes I wouldn’t just see it in the music department when it came out, but people would read it alongside whatever novel was coming out at the time or other non-fiction books. I think for me the goal was always, even if you hate these bands, if you like this book, I did my job because it’s really cultural history. It uses the stories of these artists and these people to tell you a broader story about identity across generations, about the changing nature of American identity, about what we went through as the internet came and took over our lives. It’s a political story, it’s a story about globalization, it’s a story about gentrification, but it’s all told in the realm of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. And in writing, that became really important on a granular level. I deliberately didn’t include what I call rock boy stuff [like] 10 Stories About How They Got That Sound. Like who cares? What did Albert wear on the first day of rehearsals? Nick spoke about how when Albert showed up in suits he got her to pull herself together: This is a human, personal story you love [if] You love The Strokes. And of course this isn’t a story about generational identity, but it’s a story that you don’t have to like to relate to these bands. And so I think that element of thinking about the greater weight of the story in a broader context on multiple levels is just not possible to get into a film of this length. You really need…I don’t know what you would need, like a Ken Burns miniseries or something.
You can just read your book afterwards and get the full thing.
Exactly. For those looking for more on these subjects, feel free to grab a copy of meet me in the bathroom.
Meet Me In The Bathroom opens in theaters in New York and Los Angeles on November 4th and for one night in select theaters across the country on November 8th. It begins streaming on Showtime on November 25th.