7:30 p.m. on a Tuesday night, I found myself sitting in a sea of tortoise shell glasses frames and beanies. I have the same conversations over and over with fellow moviegoers. “How do you order?” “I don’t know it’s my first time here” “Me too.” White millennials flocked to the closest “underground” theater they could find in Philadelphia, Studio Movie Grill. Without a doubt, I was the youngest person in the theater. I sat in a sticky seat as everyone else ordered drinks because they were old enough to. Together we watched the coveted documentary, which came out in NYC and LA on Nov. 4 and was released in a small batch throughout the country on Nov. 8.
“Meet Me in the Bathroom,” based on Lizzy Goodman’s book of the same name, follows several of the greatest bands, well, ever. The Strokes, LCD Soundsystem, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, TV On The Radio, and The Moldy Peaches find their footing in New York in the early 2000s, and are shaped by the environment around them while birthing an entirely new music scene in NYC.
“We’re making a documentary!” The camera quality is terrible, and Kimya Dawson’s voice is endearing. The Moldy Peaches record and practice in a tiny hotel room, the shaky footage chronicling their scrappy beginning. The film follows the various bands through their own home–movies, compiled into an almost two–hour documentary complete with voice over interviews and slideshow pictures.
The Moldy Peaches “came to NYC to play music,” but instead found a boujee club scene that they did not fit into. Kimya and Adam Green performed their anti–folk songs at Sidewalk Cafe, and were immediately embraced. A quiet girl, Karen, who lived near Sidewalk Cafe, soon found her crowd here as well. The Strokes and The Moldy Peaches meet for the first time in a bathroom and soon after tour together, exhibiting nothing short of the brilliance of the early 2000s music world in New York City. There is a palpable sense of what it meant to be in that scene—everyone was in it together.
The film progresses chronologically, starting in 1999, the year The Strokes performed their first concert. If anything is to be taken away from the film, it is that The Strokes are the blueprint for 2000s indie rock. From the title of the book and documentary to the rebirth of the NYC music scene, the journey starts with The Strokes. A cheeky young Julian Casablancas talks about the formation of the band, which band members all attribute to “more than luck.” It really does sound like everything worked out perfectly for them. Guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. and Julian bumped into each other on the street by chance, seven years after attending boarding school in Switzerland together, and The Strokes were fully formed.
A young Nardwuar interviews the even younger members of The Strokes in an awkward yet charming interview clip. The Strokes have come a long way, but they are just as bad at interviews as when they started. They never take themselves too seriously, even when winning a Grammy in 2021 for Best Rock Album with The New Abnormal, resulting in the most hilarious speech of all time. Here, they are as young boys, lying down on subways, airport floors, concert floors—all the floors, really—and smooching each other. The Strokes describe themselves as like brothers in real life, but one person on stage. They blow up, becoming sex gods and selling out concerts immediately.
Julian doesn’t beat the industry plant allegations with his not so humble origins as the wealthy son of John Casablancas, founder of Elite Model Management. A tiny blonde Julian in a suit, surrounded by models, is a stark contrast to the shaggy–haired rockstar we know today. His desire to be underground causes internal strife with his desire to write popular music. In a world–colliding scene, Courtney Love and Winona Ryder call for Julian to “come be famous with us,” but Julian says to Kimya that he wants to stay right next to her. His genuineness and care for music is surprising; he is seemingly deserving of his fast pass into the limelight.
The concert scenes in the film are the highlight of the viewing experience. There was nothing cooler than hearing the introduction to “Last Nite,” and seeing the concert's crowd unabashedly sing–screaming the lyrics and rolling on stage without a care in the world.
Though The Strokes take up the most screen time, the stories of the other bands pique the greatest interest. Karen O, with her side–swooped hair, soda tab necklace and wrists covered in jelly bracelets is different from the Karen O we know onstage. Karen describes herself as a “halfie,” meaning she doesn’t fit in with her Korean nor white side. But onstage is where she finds her true identity. She does whatever she wants, dancing in a nonconcordant manner and moaning on stage. But this is not an invitation for pervy tabloids trying to take crotch shots or for interviewers to only ask her about sex. Karen does it for herself, inventing what it means to be a rockstar as a woman.
And then there’s James Murphy, who was not in the Brooklyn scene. He was in Manhattan, forever a loner, on the outside. In one of the funniest and most bewildering scenes, James gets clearance from his therapist to try ecstasy as David Holmes DJs to enhance the trip. James finds that the experience was memorable not because of the drug, but because of the dancing. This was the start of LCD Soundsystem. He decides to make people who don’t dance dance by combining punk rock with electronic dance music.
The documentary balances the unadulterated, booze–filled fun the bands are having with the current events that permeated worldwide at the time. While the rock scene is booming, Y2K anxieties are overwhelming. A forlorn Murphy talks about the digitization of albums, leaving the audience to wonder how he feels about streaming. Then, 9/11 changed the scene forever, its impact present in all the bands’ works. The 9/11 footage in the documentary was jarring, to say the least. Paul Banks walked through the ashy streets in a surreal video that captured the aftermath of the attacks. He felt “how fragile life is,” catalyzing much of Interpol’s sound post–2001. Kimya sings “The air is filled with computers and carpets / Skin and bones and telephones and file cabinets.” NYC is said to have a “claustrophobic atmosphere,” as clips of Bush, Bin Laden, and the War in Afghanistan roll. Artists moved from Manhattan to freedom in Brooklyn. Abandoned buildings became practice spaces for so many people who, after 9/11, said “fuck it” and became musicians. A poignant scene was the one year anniversary of 9/11, in which bands came together to perform in Brooklyn.
As the film ends, I’m left to wonder why this pivotal moment in alternative music is muddled, like with the random beef of Albert being addicted to heroin at the hands of Ryan Adams, or how The Moldy Peaches virtually disappear from the film towards the end. The effort to end a film of bands that are still significant today made it seem incomplete. These artists are still alive and well, at least through the way I listen to them.
Despite these weak points, the film encapsulates Walt Whitman's poem "Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun," which played at the beginning of the movie. “Give me such shows! Give me the streets of Manhattan!” “Meet Me in the Bathroom” made me nostalgic for a time that predated me. I felt a twinge of jealousy that everyone in the audience lived through it, but I feel lucky that I can listen to these albums through my headphones, a relic of the greatness that was the ‘00s NYC rock scene.