Lizzy Goodman On The Powerful Nostalgia Of 'Meet Me In The Bathroom'

The journalist and author discusses adapting the documentary, its most poignant scenes, and more.

There is 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 down to kick at the debris that’s swallowed the streets. It is a remarkable and harrowing shot, not only because of the fame that would eventually come for Banks, but because of its mind-boggling specificity. That person, that time, that place: it could never be replicated again.

That’s the overwhelming feeling one’s left with after watching Meet Me In The Bathroom, the intimate documentary recounting the birth and collapse of New York City’s last great rock scene, directed by Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace, and based off of journalist Lizzy Goodman’s 2017 book of the same name. Collaged together using never-before-seen footage from the careers of The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Moldy Peaches, and more, the film is more than an educational overview of that era, it’s a living and breathing archive.

For Goodman, it was exactly these visual elements that filled in the last dimension needed to tell the complete story of the ‘00s indie sleaze scene. “This is the power of nostalgia,” says Goodman of watching the film for the first time. “I remembered my full self at that age and what it was like to be around those guys, and that whole period of my life just really came back in a big way.” Over a recent Zoom, she recounted the emotional journey of what it was like seeing her book come to life on screen, discussing the film’s most poignant visual moments, and what elements had to be left out in service of the larger story.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

You're credited as the executive producer, but in what capacity were you able to contribute to the sound bites being used and the footage that was selected?

The first thing to say is that this is really Will and Dylan's film. When I wrote this book, the book is mine. That is my statement on this moment. It is my frame for the story and the kind of narrative arcs are how I wanted them to be. I'm the one to blame. And then for the film, this is theirs. I will then sort of backtrack from that to say that, of course, there's a reason I chose Will and Dylan. There's an alignment between what their vision was for this film as filmmakers and documentarians and what my vision for the book was, and the things I was concerned about and had an eye on for adaptation.

We talked a lot in terms of check-ins and stuff. I saw rough cuts, and gave notes on rough cuts. I made a lot of introductions for them, but really I think what I see as my core role was just sort of helping when asked. Do a kind of gut check on whether the way the story was unfolding felt right as someone who wrote this book, but also as someone who lived through this time and who knows all the players in a different way than the filmmakers could.

And then I'll say one more thing about that, which is that they had access on a technical side, they had access to my archive. They had access to all of my audio 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 it's not really film quality. But in some cases, I did some follow up interviews just to fill in gaps and stuff with bands and so on. But basically it's their movie and I felt like my job was to support them in the making of it.

Had you seen any of the footage featured in the documentary before when you were originally researching for your book?

Oh, man, I didn't have any cameras anywhere near anybody. That is all massive props to the incredible mind blowing archive research team on Pulse's side who, I mean, honestly that is the most gratifying part of this for me. Because when you, just on a selfish level, write this book, you interview all these people, all of that feels very much like something that I did, that I have a relationship with. What I couldn't ever do, I didn't even have a photo researcher for Meet Me In The Bathroom. I always felt a bit like... The visual story for this was not something I had the resources to tell, both creatively or even just financially to get somebody to do all that.

This is a whole other level. These people on this archive team spent years tracking down never-before-seen footage. And a lot of the footage is from journalists and fans and people that they found on message boards and stuff who had whatever. It's the beginning of people carrying cameras around. A lot of the footage you see is from the bands directly. And the footage of Paul on 9/11, his roommate shot all of that, Sebastian. I mean, all that stuff is just an amazing assemblage of personal archives from the bands, which is so moving to see.

I also found the entire 9/11 moment in the film to be so impactful. Was there a particularly poignant or moving moment for you when you watched the film?

Yeah, there’s three things that come to mind. First of all, because of my own personal history with this world, which my entry point was The Strokes, that was the first band I met. I had known Nick from working restaurants in New York in the late '90s. We met in the summer of 1999 and we were both working 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 from Jim Merlis, their former publicist and a dear friend of theirs and of mine, where he says that when he first met them, it was like hanging out with a bunch of Holden Caulfields, which is so funny. They were like that. There was this mischievous innocence. So for me, seeing that early Strokes footage come back like that — 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 saw and we dredged up” — I cried.

It was just sort of like, oh my God, this is what it was like. Not just that it's partially about them, but it's also the nostalgia element. This is the power of nostalgia. I remembered my full self at that age and what it was like to be around those guys, and that whole period of my life just really came back in a big way. And then I would also say in a shorter way, I won't go on so long, but is for sure that 9/11 footage that Paul [shot]. I had heard that story from Paul before about what his 9/11 experience was like, and going down to the towers and trying to give blood and just what he saw down there. But to see it, there’s Baby Paul in his teens and he's just normal, kind of, it was wild. Of course I remember that time very personally, too, so that was really intense and moving.

The third thing is really just the Karen stuff. Writing this book and doing the work of thinking about it in this way since it's come out — and also I'm working on a memoir now and we're working on a scripted 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 at the time about 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 office on the editorial side, and I was the lowest person on the totem pole. I think seeing Karen in real time in this footage grappling with that really got to me, I'm getting chills talking about it right now. You're just in it and you're like, why do I feel weird? Why do I feel teary? Why do I feel alone? This is so exciting. But also, there's all this anxiety and agitation and where is it coming from? It really takes time and distance to understand it, and we have that now.

I think the moment after Karen falls off the stage and there's this sound bite of an interviewer saying, "Is it because you are naïve?” Even then, I was like, oh my God, imagine asking a woman musician that today. Is there anything that you wish that the film was able to include or expand a bit more on? I felt like maybe the topic of the internet wasn't as discussed as much.

I think yes, for sure, and I will answer that. I will say that first though, that there isn't anything that I'm like, wow, you guys really could have gotten this in there. I wrote a 600 and whatever page book. Of course there's stuff that's not in the film. That was sort of part of the premise even before I gave them the rights to make it. It's like, we have to think about how to condense the story. It's really not about condensing, it's about zeroing in, right? So what I'm about to say goes in the context of that.

The dream when I wrote this was that… There's this idea that music stories are very sexy and fun and people want to be rock journalists, but it's also a bit of a, what's the word? It's not serious journalism, it's just music coverage. And I always resented that. And I think the dream comment about this book was that when it came out, I would sometimes see it not only in the music section, but people were reading it alongside whatever novel was coming out at that time or whatever other work of nonfiction. I think for me, the goal was always, even if you hate these bands, if you like this book, I've done my job because it's really cultural history. It's using the stories of these artists and these humans to tell you a larger story about generational identity, about the sort of changing nature of American identity, about what we've lived through as the internet has risen and taken 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 and roll. And in the writing, that became on a granular level really important. I very deliberately didn't put what I call rock boy stuff, which is [like] 10 stories about how they got that sound. Like who cares? What was Albert wearing on the first day of rehearsal? Nick talking about how when Albert showed up wearing suits, it kind of made them get their act together: That's a human, personal story that you love [if] you love The Strokes. And of course that's not a story about generational identity, but it's a story that you don't need to like these bands in order to relate to. And so, I think that element of thinking about the kind of larger heft of the story in a broader context on a number of levels, it's 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 mini series or something.

They can just read your book afterwards and get the full thing.

Exactly. For those seeking more on these matters, feel free to pick up a copy of Meet Me in the Bathroom.

Meet Me In The Bathroom opens in theaters in New York and Los Angeles on Nov. 4, and in select theaters nationwide for one night on Nov. 8. It begins streaming on Showtime on Nov. 25.