Give Me the Streets of Manhattan: Meet Me in the Bathroom
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Years have gone by since the early days of artists like The Velvet Underground, The New York Dolls, and The Ramones. The New York music scene—the raw, gritty one, that is—seems to have drained away. Then, at the turn of the century, an explosion of bands and vivacity came out of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Meet Me in the Bathroom, a tribute to a song by The Strokes, attempts to capture that brief but incredible burst of energy in the music scene.
Directed by Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern, Meet Me in the Bathroom is an exciting yet sympathetic insight into the uniquely New York music scene and the ups and downs that come with being a rockstar. With home video-esque footage of bands like The Strokes, Interpol, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the documentary is able to truly delve into what it means to be in the right place at the right time, and is just as much an homage to the era as it is to the city that fostered it.
The film opens with footage of the drive into New York City, evoking the idea of the city as a magnet for artists. The focus then shifts to a reading of Walt Whitman’s “Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun”; most memorable is the lines “Manhattan crowds, with their turbulent musical chorus; Manhattan faces and eyes forever for me” laid over footage of musicians like Debbie Harry and Lou Reed. The opening begs the question of what happened to those lively Manhattan crowds, leading perfectly into a view of how they were brought back.
While the main focus of the documentary is the music scene, it provides a context for the time with an appropriately emotional segment about the impact of 9/11 on New York City, with a focus on the entertainment industry. At first glance, the dichotomy of a grieving city and the vivacity of the music in it might seem insensitive, but the film shows how New Yorkers used their grief and fear to create a sense of unity, bolstering crowds searching for a moment of joy in live music. Gathering hungry crowds of New Yorkers at venues like the Mercury Lounge, musicians found a place of their own, a place where they truly belonged: in the city. Through the documentary’s portrayal of the vibrant stage presence of Yeah Yeah Yeahs’s lead vocalist Karen O’s, the youthful exuberance of the movement is especially clear. Clips highlighting her colorful, eclectic attire and messy hair paired with her flailing but stylish dance moves are scattered throughout the film, perfectly adding to the experience.
Combined with the more extravagant Karen O, the effortless coolness that The Strokes exude and the moodiness of Interpol balance the diversity of this movement well, and the film fairly divides its time between plenty of bands that were part of it. Lesser-known bands like The Moldy Peaches, TV on the Radio, The Rapture, and even James Murphy before LCD Soundsystem get equal screen time to the more widespread and notorious bands, a much-appreciated tribute to the inclusivity of the movement. In these bars and small venues, anyone could find acceptance as long as they appreciated the artistry coming out of them. James Murphy’s story especially exemplifies this notion, as his adolescence spent feeling like an outcast was rectified by his ability to come into his own as a part of the indie scene.
Nothing lasts forever, though, and the underground scene of early-2000s New York is no different. For this clan of bands and musicians, the beginning of the end came when the underground began to travel above ground. What was a contained, isolated scene began to spread, and the documentary tends to depict a band’s first UK tour as a sign of this. The Strokes, especially, became a sensation, but were largely uncomfortable with fame. Julian Casablancas, their front man, was more attracted to the indie rockstar lifestyle, and the documentary even includes a poignant moment between him and The Moldy Peaches’s Kimya Dawson, when he stayed with Dawson despite two celebrities’ pleas for Casablancas to “come be famous with us.”
Moments like that throughout the middle of the documentary bring in a discussion of what it means for something to be real and special—does worldwide fame mean something is unique to its home town anymore?—and the discussion of the realities of fame effectively shows the ways in which members of the scene pushed back. Especially timely and important, the film also creates a discussion of the possibility of fame being predatory, both with its depiction of the high demands of the lifestyle and of MTV, as well as of the treatment of women in the world of fame. Although there is a strong duality between the first and second halves of the documentary, with the first joyful and exciting and the second more emotional and even dreadful, it does well at seamlessly transitioning between each half. This is thanks to the speed with which it moves through the firsthand footage and TV interviews and performances.
To top everything off perfectly, the documentary closes by “Give Me the Splendid, Silent Sun” being read, once again, over clips of those illustrious Manhattan crowds. This time, though, the crowds listen to the music of The Moldy Peaches, TV on the Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Strokes, LCD Soundsystem, Interpol, The Rapture, and all the other bands that made this scene what it was. Meet Me in the Bathroom is a nostalgic, exciting, emotional, and aspirational love letter to a brief but impactful moment in time. All that’s left to do is wait for New York City to work its magic once again.