Vampire Weekend is a polarizing band. Some people find their orchestration and energy to a refreshing change of scenery from the sheer gray monolith of top 40 pop; others seem to find pretentious both their wordplay and occasional outbursts in French. For what it’s worth, I remember how I excited I felt when I first stumbled onto them. There’s no doubt they have the sound and feel of a summer’s day, or at least to my ears they sound better with the aroma of fresh-cut grass wafting into my nose the same way that shrimp and oysters taste better when you can hear lapping waves and seagulls. It’s appropriate, then, that I first heard them on a July morning, jogging back from the Dairy Queen across from Lake Josephine to the Northwestern dorm building we called Arden Hall, a gutted out Holiday Inn with a creaky elevator and a mold problem. The song, “M79“, was exciting and frenetic (and other adjectives as well) and renewed my energy to glide across the tarry shoulder of Lexington Ave.
Around this time, I’d set up a Gmail account with a friend for the sole purpose of sharing music with each other. When we found some hidden gem we wanted the other to see sparkle, we’d email the MP3 to that account. We exchanged more than five hundred songs in this fashion: windows into our childhood, like “Take On Me” by A-Ha (her) or “All My Life” by K-Ci and JoJo (me); boosts to our indie cred, like the rough demos from Mumford & Sons; even Hannah Montana tracks to devour “ironically,” I guess. There’s something uniquely intimate about getting to know someone through their musical autobiography, to try to understand why certain melodies pluck their heartstrings. Vampire Weekend was one of the earliest chapters in that book.
That project died a slow death. It’s been three years since she shared anything with me, and maybe two since she even checked the account (the Citizens arrangement of “Amazing Grace” she requested of me has been unopened since I sent it in 2013). And it’s been about a year since our friendship ended. But here’s a secret: I still send her songs. Every once in a while, when a new tune quickens my pulse or brings tears to my eyes, I sign into that old Gmail account and I share it. I don’t know why I do that.
To be sure, I know what some of my friends would say. There are those that would think I haven’t let go, that I keep watering soil in the hopes that some long-dead seeds will miraculously sprout. Some might suggest it’s a continuation of that aching need to be known, to write the next chapter of that autobiography, even if it will never be read. That it’s an answer to the question Sufjan Stevens asked rhetorically, “What’s the point of singing songs if they’ll never even hear you?” My more cynical confidants might say that it’s an extremely passive aggressive attempt to demonstrate my moral superiority (“See? I’ve been giving this whole time.”) But to the extent that I’m allowed to choose my own interpretation for my behavior, I’m deciding to see it as a lament to a lost friendship, laying flowers on its grave. It’s a shoebox to hide away the lingering fragments of that nostalgia, a place to put them so nobody else has to see.