How Vampire Weekend guided me into fatherhood – The Guardian

Vampire Weekend has always been there for me. The evolution, on their first three albums, from the youthful naivety of campus life to late-20s world-weariness and existential angst, was in step with my own rhythms. Dissecting Ezra Koenigs layered lyrics, I was always able to learn something about who I was at the time. But it wasnt until their 2019 album Father of the Bride that their music shaped who I became.

Shortly after its release, the news that I was to become a father undid my relatively carefree existence. My partner and I, two hopeless romantics living in different cities, would need to turn our idealised relationship into a more grounded plan. Life had taught her to adapt to change with determination and almost undiscerning optimism; my approach was one of avoidance and dread. I was gripped by fears of losing myself, my freedom and precious image and turning into a dad. When the FOTB tour came to London that November, I clung desperately to the albums sunny sounds. As in the music, there were stormy feelings lurking just beneath the surface.

FOTB is an unlikely candidate to transform a life. It sounds upbeat and breezy. An 18-track double album, it may seem more scrapbook than statement. It required patience and repeated listens: as my own journey unfolded, I found a story and completeness. It isnt specifically about fatherhood (Koenig has said much of the music was written before his partner Rashida Jones became pregnant) the lyrics allude to everything from the climate crisis to world politics. But it wrestles with issues that become knottier and more acute as you settle into your 30s: love, pain, uncertainty.

Like many men, I hadnt cultivated the language to express uncomfortable and confusing emotions. Music provided an expressive outlet. On a hobby radio show I host with two friends (partly inspired by Koenigs own Time Crisis), we often use songs as a way of talking about difficult things loss, depression, dreams without feeling too exposed. The more I listened to FOTB, the more I could hear the underlying melancholy in the deceptively upbeat tracks. It gave me a way into discussing my own fears. I began listening to it obsessively.

In the country-tinged duets with Danielle Haim, like Married in a Gold Rush, I recognised the ambiguity, rifts and strains that inevitably form in long-term partnerships, once youthful illusions begin to slip away, as well as the work required to put things back together. It taught me to re-examine my own ideas of love, and embrace a more adult view of partnership. We Belong Together (surely a nod to We Go Together by George Jones and Tammy Wynette) sees an anxious couple try to find a logic to their love, before they tire themselves out and give in to the chaos that guides any real romance. Theres no use in being clever, they sing, a line that planted itself in my head, grew roots and blossomed into a philosophy of parenting: relinquish the worries and open myself to the uncertainty.

If there was a moment where this all came together, it was somewhere in the third trimester, in the moment where We Belong Together fades into Stranger. An ode to domestic bliss, Stranger captures the turn in the story where the protagonist begins to understand the beauty and belonging of family life. In the warm embrace of Strangers chorus (I remember life as a stranger / I-I-III, but things change) I could see that with a little luck and a lot of work, fatherhood might bring a sense of perspective and contentment; that, if I let it, it would allow me to be vulnerable and have intense conversations about personal failings, relationships and love.

The album began to occupy a symbolic, almost spiritual place in my journey. I had a Father of the Child-themed Zoom party in the first lockdown, with friends taking on the albums jam-band philosophy to create bootleg FOTC T-shirts. I insisted on Stranger as the babys daily womb song, so she might recognise it once she entered the world. (Im convinced I see a subtle, knowing smile when we play it for her now.)

If anything teaches you to embrace change, its having a child. Navigating new parenthood is playing a constant game of catch up. Just when you catch your breath after overcoming a sleep regression, she catches a string of colds at nursery. Hard-earned solutions give way to new challenges to quote Harmony Hall, But every time a problem ends / Another one begins. Covid lockdowns only exacerbated this unpredictability and the sense of a shrinking world. While FOTB guided me through my feelings during my transition to fatherhood, my daughter is teaching me that happiness is not a final state. My partner and I are learning to flow instead of resisting change. Things are gonna stay strange.

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How Vampire Weekend guided me into fatherhood - The Guardian

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Reviewed and Recommended by Erik Baquero
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