Columbia is built on mythology. From the Ancient Greeks to the spectre of Alexander Hamilton to the lore of Allen Ginsberg, the University is an ever-evolving shrine to the Greats, who in turn have begun to splash Columbia’s name across the pages of history. Jack Kerouac mentions a campus snackeria in On The Road, and, more recently, the school has become something of a recurring motif in the lyrics of the preppy afro-pop bards of our time. I refer, of course, to Vampire Weekend.
The members of Vampire Weekend (a band whose music, for the record, I like very much) met as Columbia undergrads and performed their first show at the student center. (This is something people on campus really liked to talk about, at least during the two years I was a student there, circa Contra.) And even ten years after graduating, the band is still in a collegiate mindset. One of their new singles is “Harmony Hall,” which is also the name of a dorm on 110th street.
The chorus goes, “And the stone walls of Harmony Hall bear witness / Anybody with a holy mind can never forgive the sight / Of wicked snakes inside a place you thought was dignified,” a pretty accurate summary of Columbia, in my humble opinion. And yes, OK, Ezra Koenig said on Twitter that he wasn’t aware of the campus connection, but then how do you explain the pre-chorus? “Anger wants a voice / Voices wanna sing” sounds a lot like the famous opening lines of The Iliad, required reading for all Columbia first-years.
Maybe not all of these references are direct or intended, but forcing a text to support your thesis is a time-honored college tradition. So, here’s every Vampire Weekend lyric that could possibly be about Columbia. Study up; it’ll be on the midterm.
Song: “Mansard Roof”
Lyric: “I see a mansard roof through the trees”
Columbia Connection: Look out of literally any window on campus and you will see at least one mansard roof in the vicinity of a tree.
Song: “Oxford Comma”
Lyric: “Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?”
Columbia Connection: Koenig told Vulture, “I’d seen there was this Facebook group at Columbia called Students for the Preservation of the Oxford Comma, and that was the first time I’d heard of an Oxford comma. And that appealed to me in a lot of ways, because it has Oxford in it, and I like anything Oxford: Oxford button-downs, Oxford University, all that stuff.” Wearing an Oxford button-down and arguing about the particulars of grammar is pretty much the quintessential Ivy League experience, up there with snorting crushed Adderall off an antique mirror and learning about a historical figure in a seminar with that person’s actual descendant.
The song’s Columbia connection was solidified when How I Met Your Mother used the hook in the opening montage of season five, along with stock footage of the campus, to establish protagonist Ted’s new career as an architecture professor at Columbia.
Lyric: “Then I see you / You’re walking cross the campus / Cruel professor / Studying romances…In the afternoon you’re out on the stone and grass / And I’m sleeping on the balcony after class”
Columbia Connection: This would be the aforementioned stone and grass. The rest is self-explanatory, no?
Song: “One (Blake’s Got A New Face)”
Lyric: “Oh your collegiate grief has left you dowdy in sweatshirts”
Columbia Connection: There are definitely multiple Blakes studying at Columbia at any given time, and my years there did trigger a period of depression. Wait, am I Blake?
Song: “Ladies of Cambridge”
Lyric: “I’ve had dreams of Boston all of my life”
Columbia Connection: Nothing screams Columbia like wishing you’d gotten into Harvard! Koenig now has a baby with Rashida Jones, Harvard grad, so at least one Columbian got his Lady of Cambridge.
See also: The Cover Art — This chandelier hangs in a building near campus occupied by members of St. Anthony Hall, a semi-secret society that I may or may not have tried to scam my way into.
Song: “Hannah Hunt”
Lyric: “Hannah tore the New York Times up into pieces”
Columbia Connection: Per Twitter, which has never lied to me, Hannah Hunt was a student at Columbia at the same time as the VW guys. (Fun fact: another hit song inspired by a Columbia lady is “Hey There Delilah.”)
Song: “Finger Back”
Lyric: “Sing ‘Next year in Jerusalem’ / You know, the one at 103rd and Broadway?”
Columbia Connection: Jerusalem, a falafel place at the intersection of 103rd and Broadway, isn’t affiliated with Columbia, but it’s darn close to campus. After the song came out, the intrepid citizen journalists of Columbia student news outlet Bwog actually interviewed the Jerusalem proprietors about it. TL;DR: they don’t like it.
Lyric: “Hudson died in Hudson Bay…Now river’s rise told Riverside to change their names again…Said all apartments are pre-war…The legendary wooden gate / The first established real estate / Is lost in time like all the crimes / that won this pleasant land”
Columbia Connection: Honestly, you might want to head over to Genius for this one. These lyrics got layers. But here’s the gist: Hudson and Riverside place us squarely in Morningside Heights, shopping for a pre-war apartment, thinking about genocide that we learned about from Rousseau, which we read as part of the Core Curriculum.
Song: “Young Lion”
Lyric: “You take your time, young lion”
Columbia Connection: The lion is the mascot.
Keep an eye out for upcoming singles like “Roar Lion Roar (Remix),” “Owl in Alma,” and “Millie The Dancing Bear Broke My Heart Over Baklava At The Hungarian Pastry Shop.”