Spectator Music presents: the album that changed my life — 'Contra'

Categories:  The Arts    Music
Wednesday, February 21st, 2018 at 7:16 PM
Spectator Music presents: the album that changed my life — 'Contra' by Rick Chernicky

Up until my sophomore year of high school, my life was dominated by sports. I can remember feeling overly aggressive and more macho than I actually was. And as a 5-foot-10-inch, 140-pound 16-year-old, I rolled into my second semester feeling refreshed. 

I was beginning to lose interest in pop culture and started thinking for myself. It was “Contra” by Vampire Weekend that helped me understand the meaning of individuality.

Looking back on the transformation, I didn’t even realize how symbolic the album title was at the time. Contra, which means “against; in opposition or contrast to,” mimicked my growth, where I was first involved in mainstream team athletics like wrestling, football and basketball. I constantly felt like I had to impress my superiors to fit in, therefore I was sacrificing a major part of my personality for the comfort of conformity.

When I discovered “Contra,” I was immediately humbled and obsessed with the idea of conquering my independence. Listening to the song “Run” ruptured my one-way thinking and stirred a desire to create.

Suddenly, I became involved in theatre, Model UN, woodworking, writing, photography and lifting weights. My life didn’t change overnight, but everything seemed to be mutating seamlessly.

My peers were slowly taking notice. I had gone from the captain of my junior varsity football team to an art freak. There was even an instance where my friend Mikey, who I used to play football with, asked if I “found Jesus.” I never found solace in religion, but I took his reaction as a compliment. 

The soft rhythms that Vampire Weekend provided were peaceful and genuine. Discovering “Contra” was almost an identity crisis. It was like stepping outside of my body and assessing a life that didn’t seem too clear.

Every personal move from that point on was thoroughly evaluated like a game of chess. It wasn’t long before I actually began playing chess, which rekindled old friendships with people I used to sneer at. As Ezra Koenig sang in “Taxi Cab,” “I was questioning and looking back.” 

My weekends were eventually spent in the basement of my friend Cole’s house, where we held chess tournaments and played pool. Our source of media was 91.3 WQLN radio, which mostly played programs from NPR in the background of our games. Subliminal messages of liberal ideologies were slowly planting themselves. I made sure to play “Contra” from my phone during commercial breaks; it meshed well with NPR.

As the years passed, friends parted ways for college and I was tasked with choosing a path of my own. Journalism and public relations felt natural because ever since my sophomore year of high school, I was questioning everything. 

“Contra” led me to explore myself and experiment with diversity. The unique mix of indie-funk, rock, jazz, soul and cryptic lyrics spiraled into more than just an album. “Contra” became a syllabus during the years I needed the most guidance. Whenever I felt alone, I always knew I could submerge myself into a world of amity. If it wasn’t for Vampire Weekend, I believe I might be a different person.

Rick Chernicky can be reached at musics.spectator@gmail.com.

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