Father of the Bride(groom): Winning and Losing with Vampire Weekend

This one was written by Ryan Stevenson-Cosgrove. The members of band Vampire Weekend have always […]

This one was written by Ryan Stevenson-Cosgrove.

The members of band Vampire Weekend have always been winners. Only on their latest album, “Father of the Bride,” they no longer sound like it. At least, not in the way we tend to think.

Vampire Weekend’s star began to rise at a time in the music industry when all it took for a band to garner internet hype was a quirky name and a solid sound. Both of which Vampire Weekend had, in spades.

Now, a decade since their formation Vampire Weekend have managed to do what few of those other bands would: survive. Though they didn’t just survive. They also racked up a host of accolades, including a Grammy for their album “Modern Vampires of the City.” All of which makes it a surprise that with their latest offering, they don’t sound like winners.

Before “Father of the Bride,” Vampire Weekend songs were full of coded literary and historical allusions. On this new album though, all that is gone. Instead of singing about big things in big ways, lead singer, Ezra Koenig, sings about things that are only big to little people: relationships, and what it’s like to be caught up in their centripetal force.

On the opening duet “Hold You Now,” Koenig sings candidly about these forces and our inability to control them. “I can’t carry you forever, but I can hold you now.” That gap between now and forever, and our inability to close it, is the force Koenig wrestles with throughout “Father of the Bride.”

Thankfully, Koenig is not singing some trite “I love you today, that’s enough” stuff. In fact, his songs aren’t about his love at all. They’re about the love he’s received, and his wide-eyed gratitude for it.

Take the charming second duet, “We Belong Together.” The narrator marshals example after example of pairs, as evidence that the couple belong together: “We go together like pots and pans / Surf and sand, bottles and cans / We go together like lions and lambs / Oh, we go together.”

These lines, however, are sung to a skeptical suitor, who thinks the narrator would be better served by dropping the act: “Baby, there’s no use / in being clever / (Baby mean what you say).”

This back and forth goes on until the end of the song, when the narrator finally gives up his attempts to win the suitor’s affections. “Hallelujah, you’re still mine / All I did was waste your time,” Koenig sings. The ending of the song is the grateful realization that pitching woo didn’t make one whit of difference because all along he had the affections he so wanted. Which is how relationships work. At their best anyway. They run, not by our charms, but generosity.

The jolt at the heart of “Father of the Bride” is the kind of surprise this sort of generosity tends to evoke. The shock of finding, hidden in a failed attempt to win affection, something better; simply receiving it. The best part of the best kind of relationships is how something as passive as the receiving affection is capable of more than all our best efforts to win them. Which is the victory that doesn’t sound like victory, which Vampire Weekend triumphantly flies throughout “Father of the Bride.” The kind you don’t win but receive.

Ezra Koenig/Getty Images

In “Father of the Bride” this kind of victory comes by way of relationships. As Vampire Weekend attests throughout the album, being caught up in such a relationship is a sweet thing. For folks who are so used to winning, though, a victory like this can create apprehension as easily as it can create bliss. You have no control over the affair.

Which brings us to you, dear reader. What you have in common with winners like Vampire Weekend is that, presumably, you, like them, have a series of wins and losses to your name. And if you’re anything like Koenig and crew, you prefer the former to the latter.

As it turns out, though, your losses are the better part of really winning. Which is where “Father of the Bride” finally ends up. It is also, though, what St. Paul was talking about when he said, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” In the end, the sweetest victories are not the ones we earn, but the ones we’re given.

Yes, sitting on the receiving end of this kind of relationship can produce bliss as easily as it can produce apprehension. But, this is where faith lives; in the tension between bliss and apprehension. Just as we must admit we cannot control the best kind of relationships, so must we admit we cannot control how we manage ourselves once we’re under their sway. As Martin Luther famously confessed, “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel…”

This can be a frightening realization. But only for a while. Because hidden in your inability to manage your fate is the promise that the Holy Spirit has been doing it all along. In ways you’d never expect, too!

Winners and losers alike, we are all promised that our lives have spun out of our control. And here’s the part that matters most: when that happened, you did not go spinning into the void of space. No, you and your fate went directly into the one who has promised not to lose a single one of us. Which is what makes the likes of us more than conquerors.

As this promise washes over you, may the power of the Gospel pull you into the gravity of another, Jesus. And I know, it doesn’t seem like victory. At least not the kind we’re used to, but when the holy city, the new Jerusalem, comes down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband, we will all find out why the best kind of victories are not the kind we won, but the kind we received. Received from the Father of the Bride(groom).

Then, the victory that has been hidden in Jesus’ death will be finally and fully revealed once and for all, as we will all learn to sing, “Hallelujah!”

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One response to “Father of the Bride(groom): Winning and Losing with Vampire Weekend”

  1. Ben Self says:

    This is a great rundown, Ryan! Really makes me want to take a listen. Thanks!

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