I’m way behind on my reading, these days. While I’m currently paging throgh Eddie Izzard’s autobiography, “Believe Me,” I still have to finish Tim Lawrence’s “Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor, 1980 – 1983” and give my full attention to Richard Boch’s authoritative look back at “The Mudd Club.” I also want to dive into Mike Ruffino’s “Adios, Motherfucker,” which is the follow-up to his hilarious memoir about the Unband, “Gentlemanly Repose.” Beyond those, I was also gifted Bruce Dickinson’s new autobiography and the new book about Jann Wenner for Christmas. Suffice to say, my side-table looks like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
There is one book, however, that’s been making the rounds this year and that many people had been throwing my way, but I’ve thus far been quite able to resist. Lizzie Goodman’s “Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2011” hit shelves this past May, although I’d already been hearing reverent mumblings about it in the cirlces of the similarly inclined, pedantic rock-journo types I am known to mix and mingle within. When I finally spied a tactile copy of it, I was somewhat amazed by its girth. Obviously taking its cue from Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain’s seismic oral history of 70’s Punk, “Please Kill Me,” Goodman’s sprawling tome seeks to give some equal time to the very period cited in the title, a decade which saw the fleeting rise of a generation of bands like The Strokes, Interpol, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, LCD Soundsystem et al.
Initially, I exhaled loudly and arched my eyebrow. With all due respect to Goodman’s weighty endeavor, having also lived through and experienced that same period and seen many of the bands involved first hand -– albeit through the cynical eyes, jaded ears and strenuously opinionated sensibility of someone about fifteen years older -– I was skeptical. I picked up the book and rifled straight to the index. Finding no citations of a wide host of my favorite bands – from Cop Shoot Cop, Missing Foundation, Barkmarket and the Cro-Mags through Pussy Galore, Firewater, Skeleton Key and SWANS – I closed the book with a thud.
Now, obviously, given the crux of the project -– let alone the specifics of the title -- it would have been exceptionally naïve of me to expect Goodman to devote any meaningful amount of pages to the bands I cited above (although, to be fair, Firewater was entirely active during that book’s era, and even shared bills with some of the bands she concentrates on). My objection, however, was that I priggishly projected that she was perceiving her period as some sort of unique bubble of groudbreaking activity and not, conversely, part of New York City’s larger continuum of music. I admired and interpretted bands from my era like, say, Kraut, Cop Shoot Cop, Prong and Skeleton Key -– to laboriously invoke that obvious handful -– as all indebted to forebears like the Velvet Underground, the Modern Lovers, the Fugs, the New York Dolls, Television, the Ramones, the Dead Boys, the Dictators, the Tuff Darts, The Jim Carroll Band, The Contortions, Teenage Jesus, DNA, etc. I’m not equating, say, Prong with the Velvet Underground (although Prong were/are fucking great), but rather that Prong didn’t just sprout out of nowhere. Prong wouldn’t have existed without Tommy Victor’s experience doing sound for the hardcore matinees at CBGB. CBGB wouldn’t have been hosting those matinees had it not been for the impact of the generation of bands that first played there. Those first few CBGB bands wouldn’t have become what they became had it not been for the crucial influence of artists before them like the Velvets and the Dolls, etc. It’s all part of a larger cycle, to my mind.
It was for that very rationale, I believe, that “Please Kill Me” doesn't start with Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell walking up to Hilly Crystal on the Bowery, but rather with the St. Mark's Church poetry scene and the formation of the Velvet Underground. There has to be some historical context.
More to the point, however, as great as the Strokes, Interpol, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, LCD, the Rapture and some of the non-NYC bands like the White Stripes, Hives, the Hot Hot Heat might have been (my personal favorite of the era being the Futureheads), it’s not like they were especially original. Some were more guilty than others, of course, but one wouldn’t be totally off base to lambast bands like The Strokes and Interpol as being rather pointedly derivative of more celebrated acts. To my ears, there was an inarguable element of what James Murphy cannily described as “borrowed nostalgia” to the whole 2001-2011 scene.
But, again, as I expounded on back on this post, that’s the patronizing old man talking. And it’s the old man that made those assumptions, thus talking himself out of actually further investing in the idea of reading Goodman’s book. For me to write off, say, Interpol as being derivative doesn’t matter. As much as I might have enjoyed their early material –- when I could forgive the crap lyrics, at least -– Interpol’s music wasn’t for me, or at least not in the manner music from a decade earlier might have been.
So, long story short, I didn’t read it, and didn’t really harbor any further interest in reading it until Marc Maron -– a guy who I genuinely admire -– hosted Goodman on his podcast, WTF, to discuss it. Somewhat ironically, one of the only times I’ve mentioned Marc Maron here on Flaming Pablum was because of his stint living on the Lower East Side and him trying to remmeber the name of Missing Foundation. As it happens, Marc is one of the lone “older” voices Goodman sought out for the book.
If you listen to the podcast -– which also includes the entirely hilarious and slavishly underrated Dana Gould -– Marc and Goodman extrapolate on some of the very grievances I’d been harboring about the book, and of course Goodman concedes that there were whole swathes of crucial bands and scenes that prefigured and informed the era she’d concentrated on. That said, she also takes pains to point out that the book isn’t so much specifically about the bands as it is about the whole experience of those ten years -– and that experience doesn’t have to be this all-encompassing, historically pedantic timeline that touches on every possible little detail. It’s actually a great, thoughtful chat, and it totally made me change my tune about the book.
That all said, she’s entirely too impressed that Marc owned the Jonathan Fire*Eater album. Regardless of age, era or sensibility, they were never all that.
POST SCRIPT: In the wake of posting this entry on a thread on Facebook, it occurred to me that my slavishly overwritten and hastily composed words might be misconstrued.
As such, here's what I'd consider the takeaway: I WAS WRONG, MYOPIC, PRECIOUS AND PRESUMPTUOUS TO PRE-JUDGE LIZZIE GOODMAN'S BOOK. That it took Marc Maron's show to convince me otherwise is incidental, as it was Goodman's own words and accounts that showed me the error of my ways.
if I'm guilty of anything here -- and I invariably am -- I'd like to believe it's agism and not misogyny. I don't think Lizzie Goodman's gender has anything to do with the veracity of her writing or insights.