Ritual and Rigor, A Conversation with Lizzy Goodman
By Mary Dana Abbott
When I moved to this city eight days after the dawn of the new century, on David Bowie’s birthday, there was really no music scene here at all. The “scene,” if any existed, was dying a slow death in the grunge-soaked reins of the Pacific Northeast. Nonetheless, there was something starting to brew here, something big. In the first decade of the new millennium, there was a massive re-emergence of the music born and bred in NYC. The local scene, which arguably was part of a bigger Rock renaissance, produced some of the greatest bands of the era, including The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, and LCD Soundsystem.
This is the story of Lizzy Goodman’s Meet Me in The Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001–2011, an oral history told by those who were there. It’s the tale of our city at the dawn of 21st century that in many ways felt like the last hurrah of the 20th. These were the last days of the record, print, and communication industries as we knew them. A time when flip phones and actual lighters lit up concert venues, and before either became cool in the retro sense.
I recently had a chance to speak to Lizzy Goodman, whom I’ve know for a long time as a yoga practitioner and friend, about the book, the creative life, yoga, women in music and what’s next for Meet Me in the Bathroom.
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Mary Dana: I’m really in awe of your book. It captures the character of NYC at the turn of the century in such an authentic way. It also feels that the era you write about was both the beginning of something and the end of something.
Lizzy: Thank you. This was a really difficult project on a variety of levels because I knew so many of these people personally and it was my story to some extent. I participated in a lot of the events I was reporting on. That was weird because you're not usually reporting on things that you have that intimate of a connection with.
Mary Dana: What drew you to writing in the first place?
Lizzy: It was so evidently the way I was going to relate to the world that it wasn’t even an option — I don’t feel like I chose writing. I feel like words and language and sort of this instinct to put pen to paper in order to process my experience of being alive was pretty innate.
Mary Dana: What drew you to yoga?
Lizzy: I started practicing yoga about 10 years ago. It feels like longer, in a good way. I was a jock in high school and I took a couple of yoga classes in college where I would run from my apartment on campus to yoga and run back, and that was my "light day.”I thought I was too hard core for it.
And then a friend of mine was all about Bikram. She was like, "You should come with me, it's really hard." I think from being trained to be a female in America and also from sports, I was taught to kind of equate productivity, physically, with difficulty. And so that appealed to me. And while I don't practice Bikram anymore, I remain really grateful to it because I became completely hooked, and it was the gateway for everything else that came after that in terms of my yoga practice.
Mary Dana: What you say about equating productivity with difficulty is a thing that I think is so prevalent in our culture, especially the fitness culture. I’ve bought into it too. It’s a mentality that you just have to do more more and more. Recently I came to the realization that it's not that empowering to be exhausted.
Lizzy: Ha! Yes…I mean, it's true. Like many things in life, you're learning the same lessons over and over again. Some of that means you're not making progress and maybe you want to look at that, but some of that is just the nature of life. Yoga has given me sort of a mental pathway that is an alternative to the one that I dug into really hard in my earlier years. And it doesn't mean I always choose it. But it does mean that I can question it. In other words, it doesn’t mean that I don't still run to my yoga classes but it means that I notice that I'm doing it. Then you have a chance to be like well, "Why am I doing this? What is the intention behind it?” To be honest with yourself about why you're doing what you're doing.
The asking is the thing that puts the space between the action and the notion of the action and that is everything. Because it’s in that space where you can choose to do it or not do it in a conscious way in order to adjust things or grow.
Mary Dana: You started practicing yoga at a time where things were not going well for many people: the financial crash and shifting markets probably weren’t too friendly to writers. Were there any tools that your practice gave you to navigate this time personally, professionally, and/or creatively?
Lizzy: Personally, it felt like all I ever wanted to do was be a music journalist and I had gotten this job at Rolling Stone and then I got fired. Then I got a job at Blender, and it just didn't feel good. I just felt really detached from myself during that time, and kind of battered by being alive in a way that I had even less perspective on than I do now. I felt — at that point — like I didn't have what I have now which is a sense of my own creative identity that no one can take away from me. I had a lot of people telling me that I had nothing to say and no talent and no real ability and some people telling me opposite, but more the former, which is also standard. I felt really lost.
But the rigor of doing something where your mind and your body have to be united to do the thing well, and that there is even a thing to do well in a certain way was a source of confidence-building for me. I needed it, that was a way in for me, a way for me to return to my physical self at a time when I was just feeling really heartbroken and disillusioned about the career that I thought I wanted; and also questioning whether that was even the case anymore. And magazines were folding, it was the financial crisis, print was just dying.Having the rigor of a thing that I could put myself into at 5:45 every afternoon, it was the routine: the train I would take to get there, the outfit, the soap I would bring to the shower afterwards.
Mary Dana: There was both a ritual and a rigor of it.
Lizzy: And I think that it really did bring me back to myself, where I had just a little faith and space between whatever was happening in my life and my reaction to it. And that space is the space from which I had a couple of really big breaks, I had some people help me.
I've always been careful, when I talk about this moment in my career, to not say that no one had any faith in me, or I learned to trust myself and then it all worked out. That's not what happened. There were a lot of people that didn't treat me particularly well, and then there were a couple of people who really did, and those couple of people made all the difference.
Just having this place to go, amidst all the chaos where before everything gets better, you can find yourself. So that you can take advantage when someone sends you an email and says, "Hey so and so is looking for music writer. Do want to send him a pitch? “ I had someone to call on when I got that e-mail in part because of the practice that I started participating in.
Mary Dana: So maybe you’re saying that your practice put you in a position to see things for what they are and know who to ask when you need something. These opportunities don't just fall from the sky like they tell you. Like those who say you'll practice yoga and then everything will just fall into place. It’s not that at all. It's that you become more empowered because you have you have more agency with who you are and tools to work with ask the right questions, and in some cases, ask the right people.
Lizzy: Exactly what you just said is what I'm talking about. I felt equipped to tell a slightly different story than the one I was being told. And yeah, it's almost like you're elbowing life out of the way for a bit, and in that 90 minutes it's like, “You know what, I'll deal with you in a minute. I'll get right back to you.”
Part of what I have learned from a yoga practice, was something I kind of already knew, which is discipline, rigor, a container for a thing that I do every day, or every other day. What you put in there isn't the most important part. The most important part is that you build that container. So the way this manifests for writing and creativity is that, that is the only way anything gets done.
I have interviewed so many incredible artists, I mean people that I just can't believe I have gotten to interview, and I feel extremely lucky. I also find it hysterical, because most of the time when you talk to them about their creative process itself, they all say the same thing: "Oh I hate myself… I can't make anything good…I’ve lost it. The last thing I made that everyone loved, I'll never able to do it again…” And it’s like, “So then what happens?”’ The answer is always something like, "Well I just showed up at the office the next day.”
It's like I still feel like shit a lot of the time. I still feel, I mean really, I feel like I don't have anything left to say, or usually, that I have too many things to say, and I'm just a big old mess, and I can't land any of this, it’s not as good as so-and-so's stuff…But what I know now is that that's okay. And that's normal and that's part of my process. And I have a little faith.
I mean I think the point I'm trying to make with all this, is that it turns out my heroes learned to love that space.
Mary Dana: And with the writing of the book?
Lizzy: This was the biggest test. This was a much bigger lesson, a version of the same lesson, which is there is only one way to get there and it's not sexy, and it’s not fun writer girl, and you're not like in cute outfits the whole time. ou're in your apartment by yourself, in dirty yoga clothes and that's your life for a long time. Then later you get to have a big party…but that's lots later. Like a lot later.
And all these people that I've talked to who are geniuses, in some cases literally, feel this way. You kind of just just show up for work the next day. And I think that with yoga, there's a reason that you see a lot of creative people who are runners or who have a serious yoga practice or who have these kind of ritualistic, super-structure built into their lives. It's all part of the same relationship with existence.
Mary Dana: What’s next for the book? I know you’ve been out in LA a lot.
Lizzy: There are two adaptations in the works. One is a 4 part documentary series adaptation and the other is a fictional adaptation about young women in NYC in the early 2000s going to see the shows and interacting with the bands that make the book happen. It’s fiction, but definitely set in the world of the book. I am really interested in telling a classic story of coming of age in NY in the rock world, but from the perspective of young women. Women make the business of music happen, not exclusively but there is a disproportionate amount of participation in the commerce and fandom of music in women's favor. But our stories are never told. There's this sort of idea of the rock boy as the fan, and the rock girl as the groupie, and that’s what we are trying to combat. Because it’s just not accurate. Not only is it completely sexist it’s completely inaccurate.
Mary Dana: So cool. Speaking of the role of women in the music industry and during the time of the book, you choose Karen O for the cover. What was the reason behind that choice?
Lizzy: In this moment in culture we are all feeling attentive to the idea of telling stories that haven’t been told before. Creatively, it’s exciting to be in a moment where people care about that. You can walk into an agency, as I did, and have people be interested in your story because you’re a woman as opposed to in spite of being a woman, which is how it’s mostly been. But it’s also important not to, in an effort to tell untold stories, falsify the scene. For better or worse, well for worse, there were not a lot of women in the scene I was covering. There just weren’t. There were a lot of female participants in the world of music. But in terms of being on stage in that position, there were a couple, but mostly it was dudes.
The reason Karen is on the cover is not because I wanted a woman on the cover, but because she was the most significant rock star of the era of the book. It was also really important for me, in the book, to lend voice to the women that were there, of all kinds.
Mary Dana: Has there been a shift in the way women are perceived in the music business?
Lizzy: I have not seena huge shift in the way women are perceived in the music industry in my life time. Really it’s still a super male dominated pretty white world. What you seeing now is an attention on that in a way that didn’t used to exist. The interest in changing that has shifted. There is more of an effort being made to pay attention to the way the industry is discriminatory, in all kinds of ways not just gender. SO that’s good. That has definitely changed.
Mary Dana: Ok, Top 5 albums from the era:
Fever to Tell - Yeah Yeah Yeah’s
The Modern Age EP - The Strokes
Sound Of Silver - LCD Soundsystem
Return from Cookie Mountain - TV on the Radio
Up the Bracket - Libertines…
Those are my favorites for today
Mary Dana: I think for most people these lists are not fixed, but rather breathing, living things.
Lizzy: Yes, because you need different things in different moments. Kind of similar to a yoga practice, because we need different tools to call on at different moments in our lives