As a young adult born and raised in the Columbia/Upper West Side world of New York City who vacationed in Cape Cod growing up, I have a lot of experience with self-hating my Columbia/Upper West Side/Cape Cod roots in the context of indie rock. This led me to declare last year, however spuriously, that Vampire Weekend was the most punk band of 2008.
If you need a publication with more clout (and a more pretentious reputation) from the high art world, look no further than Lizzie Widdicombe’s outstanding profile of Vampire Weekend in this week’s New Yorker. The profile tackles a lot of contradictions, peculiarities, and unintentional ironies of the band’s rise to fame, including the classes they took at Columbia, the diligent research they put into California while preparing for their sophomore album Contra and a particularly bizarre exchange at the house of Blink 182/Angels and Airwaves frontman’s Tom DeLonge’s mansion in California.
On the one hand, you get passages like this:
In the van, [Chris] Thomson played sudoku, [Chris] Baio read “Snow,” by Orhan Pamuk. Thomson asked the driver, “Can we stop at Whole Foods?” He and Baio got out to buy pizza and almonds.
On the other hand, you get passages like this:
The band members say they are surprised to be accused of being so calculating. [Rostam] Batmanglij, the band’s keyboardist and producer, justified their lyrics with the write-what-you-know defense. “I remember when Ezra [Koenig] first played me the song with the lyrics ‘Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?,'” he said. He had just discovered this Facebook group called Society for the Preservation of the Oxford Comma.”
[As a side note, this group exists on several university networks. And Vampire Weekend is not the only Columbia authority that denies the Oxford Comma’s importance].
So on the one hand, we get wholly non-punk qualities of fully surrounding yourself with the Establishment that previous generations of young people used to riot against. On the other hand, you have the completely punk notion of not faking anything, and being true to yourself. You also have a wake-up call for a generation of indie rock kids, a movement descended from the punks, being primarily upper-middle class (like Vampire Weekend.)
In other words, it’s a perfect summary of how such a seemingly inoffensive brand of pop music could prove so controversial for issues that have to do with a lot more than pop music.