Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Vampire Weekend

a New York State of Mind

New York City has one of the nation’s richest musical histories. From Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue to Sinatra’s ode to the city that never sleeps and all the way up to Brill Building Pop and The Velvet Underground. Only maybe Nashville and New Orleans have a stronger case for America’s musical capitol. However in the canon of contemporary (read as Post Beatlemania) music produced in and around New York and with New York as an over arching theme Vampire Weekend has a particular original place. From the Velvets to the Dolls to the Ramones and even Springsteen (if the outer boroughs count, why not Jersey?) and the Strokes, music of a New York sensibility has always either been the product of working class kids of a bridge and tunnel persuasion or in the case of the Strokes rich kids aping a working class aesthetic. Vampire Weekend is especially unique in this manner. Unlike all the aforementioned bands Vampire Weekend are both neither working class nor particularly embarrassed by their prep school pedigree. They are unabashedly posh and in a city with a notoriously complex relationship to class this ambivalence is often perceived as arrogance. Vampire Weekend exist in a particularly contemporary spot that is in a broad sense a bi-product of their generation. A generation born under Reagan and Bush and who came of age during the greatest economic boom in a generation; however in a macro sense Vampire Weekend are not just products of Reagan Bush Clinton Bush but also Giuliani. Vampire Weekend grew up in the most sanitized and privileged New York ever. They are too young to remember the AIDS crisis or the Washington Square Riots. They grew up in a city where even the rats had an Amex and a chauffer. The New York of drag queens and junkies that inspired Sweet Lou is as ancient history to them as the gas crisis or legionnaires disease. Never mind the class resentment that fueled bands like the Ramones to make music informed by the fact that being from the outer boroughs might well as made you the redheaded stepchild. Their New York was not only one of sanitized streets but also sanitized memories. Not only was the New York of pimps and peep shows dead and gone, but New York was all the better for it. Much as someone born with no olfactory glands can never understand the subtle differences between a Cadbury and a Hershey Bar their ignorance of a New York before Rudy allows them to be posh without shame. How can they realize a faux pas when they are a product of a city that has come to see it’s seedy past as vice and not a virtue. In short they play a sincere game of idiots delight. And make no mistake, their aim is both true and sincere. There is no nodding gesture or knowing tongue in cheek. Much like the city that made them they are totally comfortable in their sincere ambivalence, ne total ignorance of the class struggles that have since Dickens defined a city that is lit by the torch of lady liberty who proclaims give me your poor your tired your hungry but whose median real estate prices those very immigrants will never be able to afford. New York has always fed on the dreams of those who have little more than dreams but the New York that reared the lads of Vampire Weekend is a city without shame. It is this callous and gentrified New York that informs Vampire Weekend’s work and it is this very indulgence that may well be their crutch. They have done what neither the Strokes nor the Dolls were capable of, make two records that are both distinctly New York and distinctly great, one better than the last. They have also done what the Velvets and Ramones were unable to do; sell records, lots of records actually. Now the question is, if they are the band that Rudy birthed than how will they grow and adapt to a New York that itself is changing. The rich are still getting richer but there quite simply aren’t as many of them. Furthermore, as a result of the shrinking of the globe brought about by the internet paired with rents that are still out of the reach of most Americans let alone most human beings in general New York will never again hold the cache that it once held. With Youtube and Myspace will the next Bruce even feel a need to cross the river to find their voice. Vampire Weekend may end up being the penultimate New York band and if that is the case then isn’t it interesting that they would deliver on the promise of every great New York band before them by sounding and looking so little like them while still being so New York.

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