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Rediscovered: Ezra Koenig's Great Short Story About Collegiate Spirituality

Andre Gray |
September 29, 2014 | 12:44 a.m. PDT

Web Producer

Erudite and effervescent, Koenig charms adoring men and ladies alike (Chris Zakorchemny/Flickr)
Erudite and effervescent, Koenig charms adoring men and ladies alike (Chris Zakorchemny/Flickr)
Indie music site, Pitchfork, recently dug up a short story that Ezra Koenig wrote in his senior year at Colombia University. The Vampire Weekend star’s story, "Off the Grid," was published in 2006 by Quarto, one of the university’s literary magazines, which Koenig contributed to as a young, brave English major.  

The five paragraphs follow the fleeting spiritual experiences of the narrator’s parents. As a brawling kid, the father suddenly finds himself floating 10-feet above ground, extracorporeal and confused, watching his body wrestle with three other boys. The mother sees a finger-like branch, and is, for a moment, transported into a staggering cosmic vision. 

As a standalone story, it’s great. There’s a theme of limbs, and it somehow manages to appropriately combine prep-school homoeroticism, disappointing middle-class spiritual experience and, as Koenig himself phrases it, “post-hippie domesticity.” 

Put in the context of Vampire Weekend’s music, the story is an interesting postcard of where the band was when they were still a bunch of guys straight out of college, roaming around New York with their liberal arts educations.

It resembles their earliest album, which also mocks collegiate, self-important prep in songs like, “Oxford Comma,” and “One (Blake’s Got A New Face)”. Parallels can also be drawn between the sexual, subversive image of the wrestling boys and their song about a gay politician’s son, “Diplomat’s Son”, off of their 2010 album Contra

READ MORE: Vampire Weekend at USC: Grammy! At The Schools Live

Although the band has since adopted a more “grown-up” feel with their newest album Modern Vampires of the City, they’ve maintained the cryptic complexity of their lyrics, and kept up their search for authentic spirituality.

The same girl who finds her moment of cosmic consciousness, “a nuisance,” and spends all her time fretting over her major choice in Koenig’s short story can still be seen in the Buddhist runaways of "Hannah Hunt". “Though we live on the US dollar /You and me, we got our own sense of time,” sings Koenig. The questions the band asks have shifted; their characters and stories have moved away from investigating the colonialist sentiments of middle and upper class American culture, and toward a more reflective pursuit of genuine religious and emotional experience, despite the dauntingly commercial landscape. 

Of course, that’s all very serious, and any true fan will tell you that Vampire Weekend is anything, but “very serious.” In this story, as with the many of the band's songs, intellectualism is sweetened with a fantastically, weird sense of humor. The narrator’s recently enlightened mother struggles over picking an entrée.

A short look at Koenig’s twitter page shows that this is truly how his mind works.


With lyrics like “You found a sweater on the ocean floor/ They’re gonna find it if you didn’t close the door," Koenig clearly knows how to both befuddle and amuse. This is, afterall, the same man who wrote a rap about a pizza party with several stanzas in French and German. 

Vampire Weekend's trademark intellectualism shines through in Koenig's creative writing as well (queenkoenig/Tumblr)
Vampire Weekend's trademark intellectualism shines through in Koenig's creative writing as well (queenkoenig/Tumblr)

READ MORE: Miley Cyrus Faces Existential Crisis, Turns to Art Making

There’s no shortage of musicians who have tried their hand at other modes of artistic expression, whether it’s Leonard Cohen’s prose, Childish Gambino’s twitter poetry, or even (gulp) Miley Cyrus’s toy sculptures. Good or bad, it always offers a refreshing and informative slant on an artist’s range and personality.

In Koenig’s case, we already knew he was great at writing; the creator of lines like “wisdom’s a gift but you’d trade it for youth." What this story gives us is a clue into the origins of the band’s identity, defined by a tension between Ivy League intellectualism, self-mocking subversion and soulful wandering. 

Contact Web Producer Andre Gray here



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