A crucial moment in my musical education came at the age of fifteen, as I was flipping through TV channels and landed on one of those digital music networks. You know, the ones that everyone has, but no one ever watches,except me, because, I was not woke. I read the screen and saw the name Vampire Weekend, a band that I’d never heard of, playing “A-Punk,” a song I’d never heard before. Young and dismissive, my unprepared and untrained ears weren’t ready for the rhythms that Rostam Batmanglij so often brought to Vampire Weekend’s signature sound. Listening for the first time, my inexperienced ears quickly got in touch with my brain: “What the hell is this? I don’t get this. Fuck this,” before turning the TV off.
It’s worth noting, meanwhile, that I was into a real hodgepodge of music at the time: pop-punk, emo-ish music that I trained myself to like in order to attend the local Bamboozle festival, along with straight-up arena rock like Foo Fighters and Red Hot Chili Peppers, and–outside of my lifelong Kanye obsession–not really any hip-hop. Since, I’ve come a long way. Today, Vampire Weekend may even be my favorite band. The first step in my VW rehabilitation came, again, through music television, when I tuned into FNMTV, the briefly-aired, quickly-forgotten block on MTV run by Pete Wentz, that–among other things–premiered music videos. It was here that I was introduced to Ezra Koenig, and first heard “Oxford Comma.”
While my musical taste at age 15 was mostly…not great, one thing that that I was always relatively on-board with was with my selection in film–liking a certain Michael Bay fighting robot movie notwithstanding. One of the directors who particularly piqued my interest was the quirky mastermind himself, Wes Anderson. I had just seen The Darjeeling Limited, and while that’s typically regarded as one of the director’s weakest, being his first I was exposed to, the trademark style nonetheless made its impression.
The video for “Oxford Comma” clearly invoked much of Anderson’s energy, visual cues, and aura, from the overall look to use of his signature “Futura” font. By combining this oddly enticing, eccentric video with a song that was just as catchy as it was innovative–mid-2000s indie rock vocals meeting an african-pop beat–Vampire Weekend had begun setting itself apart, making me really examine why I was enjoying the music so much for one of the first times in my life. The band’s play to win me over was fast in motion.
It wasn’t long until “Oxford Comma”–and “A-Punk,” too, for that matter–were among 16-year-old me’s favorite songs. By the time I was in my sophomore year of college, only a few years and another fantastic album later, I was a die-hard. Ezra’s tweets were among my raisons d’etre, and I was dying to see the band live. In 2014, a year after the release of their biggest critical success, Modern Vampires of the City, I finally had my wish, scoring tickets to see the NYC-based then-quartet–ugh, I miss Rostam–at Governor’s Ball.
Now, the fan that I had become was not one who just sits back and waits for a show. I had to do my research. I had to know every song. I had to be prepared. That led to a realization: Ezra and the band always bid their crowd adieu in the same way: “Walcott,” the 10th track from their self-titled debut album.
“Don’t you want to get out of Cape Cod, out of Cape Cod tonight?” Ezra would joyfully croon each night. For me, this represented a long turnaround. The only context in which I’d ever heard of Cape Cod was as a quaint vacation spot. We’re going to The Cape, I’d hear people say from time to time. Yet here was one of my favorite bands singing about leaving? It makes me think Cape Cod is probably a lot like where I grew up–beautiful, wonderful, fantastic by any stretch of the imagination–but sometimes, just not complete.
I grew up in a small New Jersey town called Upper Saddle River, best known for neighboring Saddle River, home of MTV’s Run’s House and the setting for Richard Nixon’s final days. While I cherish my upbringing in the suburbs, there was always a sense of needing something more–there wasn’t so much as a Starbucks for us kids to loiter outside of. So, Cape Cod, within the song’s context, came to represent much of the same. I’ve only been in Massachusetts a handful of times. Cape Cod was a place that I’ve never been, that I know very little about. But wanting to get out? I could relate with that.
There are many artists who evoke specific places. Bruce Springsteen brings thoughts of New Jersey. Outkast conjures up images of the ATL. When I think of Vampire Weekend, a lot of thoughts, emotions, and memories come to mind, but only one specific place: Cape Cod. So when that Governor’s Ball night finally came, I was ready. I posted up for hours, making sure to secure my spot–within a football’s toss away from Ezra, Rostam, and the gang–for the band that, in essence, brought me into adulthood. The band that taught me about musical infusion; that not every rock song had to be guitar shredding; that not everything had to be exactly the same.
Surely 21-year-old me was still ignorant and idiotic in a multitude of varying ways, but this band had made me more open to the outside world; what was out there in New York City, where I would move, what was out there in New Jersey, where I grew up. What was out there in Pennsylvania, where I went to college. And what was out there in Cape Cod, where I’ve never even been. But hey, at least now I have an idea of what to expect.
It’s funny–in “Walcott,” there’s only one other place that Koenig mentions aside from the pivotal Massachusetts Cape. Where’s that? Oh, just my home state:
“Walcott, all the way to New Jersey
All the way to the Garden State, out of Cape Cod tonight”
It’s a loop–you’ve got to get out of one place to get to somewhere else, and then you’ll be happy. But that’s only until it’s time to get out again.
This is one of more than 50 posts that make up our musical map of the United States, published by region—the West, Midwest, South, and Northeast—by writers who have strongly associated a song with a state.