In The Beginning
Editor’s note: This month’s cover profile of rising rock star Andrew VanWyngarden is unique in our 35-year history: As best we can recall, Memphis has never run a cover story on someone whose parent is one of our own number. Since 1992, Bruce VanWyngarden has been editorial director of Contemporary Media, Inc., the parent company of this magazine; since 2001, he’s been editor as well of our sister publication, the Memphis Flyer. Here’s Bruce’s take on all that’s happened to his son: —KN
First, let me say, I was surprised, yet happy, when Ken Neill first proposed a few weeks back that I write “something about my kid” for this issue. Who doesn’t want to write about their kid? I actually have two kids and two stepkids and they all should have columns written about them.
My daughter, Mary, has her master’s in social work and is also a licensed massage therapist. She’s in the process of moving to Austin, Texas, where she will no doubt take the city by storm.
My stepdaughter, Agatha, graduated from NYU and is now in her second year at the Cardozo Law School in Brooklyn, making good grades and well on her way to being a successful attorney.
My stepson, Roman, is a freshman in the optional program at White Station High School, where he plays in the marching band and makes excellent grades. He’s becoming a pretty good guitar player.
My son, Andrew, also attended White Station, graduating with honors in 2001. He went off to Wesleyan University in Connecticut and graduated in music in 2005. Since then, he’s been able to make something of a living in the music business. In fact, he’s done so well, that the editor of this magazine decided he was worthy of a cover story. And I suppose he’s right.
Andrew and his musical partner, Ben Goldwasser, formed a larky duo in college called The Management. They made a couple of self-produced EPs and achieved some notoriety on campus.
After graduation, they landed a gig opening for a band called Of Montreal. They borrowed my 1996 4-Runner and went on the road for a few months, setting up all their own equipment, performing, tearing down and loading out their equipment, then jumping in the Toyota and driving a few hundred miles to the next night’s gig. They call that “paying dues,” I believe.
Then, in 2006, a Columbia Records executive happened to hear their EP and came calling. The rest is something of a blur, when I look back on it. They released an album in 2008, Oracular Spectacular, that went platinum or gold in 12 countries. It was named to numerous Best of the Year, Best of the Century, etc. lists. They toured around the world for 18 months. They were nominated for two Grammys. They made a second album in 2010, Congratulations, and toured around the world again, playing to sold-out shows in every country (they’ve appeared on every continent except Antarctica and Africa).
They have been on all the late-night shows at least once, including Saturday Night Live. Their music is on video games, television shows, and has been used in several movies. They are, in short, something of a phenomenon.
Over the past four years, those of us in Andrew’s family have had to make adjustments. For example, I’ve learned to stop arguing on the Internet with people who criticize MGMT. I’ve learned that just because some website says your son is dating Kirsten Dunst or Katy Perry, it’s not necessarily true.
I’ve learned that I can’t possibly watch every YouTube video taken of my son’s performances. I’ve learned that Andrew can handle success and stay grounded and focused. I’ve learned that many people who follow me on Twitter only do so because they hope I’ll tweet something about Andrew.
I’ve learned to offer advice when asked, and to give unconditional love and support when needed. But mostly, I just stand back and watch my kids grow and evolve as the years speed past. It’s one of the greatest pleasures this life has to offer. Or as Andrew once wrote: “I’ll keep your dreams. You pay attention for me.”