Maybe it’s his outfit of dress slacks, button-down shirt and varsity-chic sweater. Or perhaps it’s the aloof, intellectual lyrics he writes for his punk-Afro-pop combo Vampire Weekend.
Either way, recent Columbia grad Ezra Koenig, who plays two San Francisco shows this week, cuts a professorial profile. He’s also researching his first non-fiction book, detailing the links between Victorian-era colonialism and the modern preppy lifestyle.
Known as Mr. K or K-No to his eighth-grade history class, Koenig, 23, got his inner-city assignment through the Teach for America program.
It wasn’t easy.
“I had students who were bigger than me, who’d been held back a few years, and I had kids who’d get up in my face and threaten me, but I never got scared,” he recalls. “And even when the kids were cursing me out, I’d have a sense of humor about it. They’d say ‘Don’t let me see you in the ’hood, Mr. Koenig,’ and I’d turn it into something surreal like ‘Where is this ’hood?’”
Gradually, word got out among the Web-savvy students that their instructor had an actual band, whose MySpace page was buzzing.
And his songs — Calypso-cadenced, Paul-Simon-on-methedrine rockers like “A-Punk,” “Oxford Comma” and “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” — were good.
So good, in fact, that Vampire Weekend was snapped up by XL/Beggars, which issued the band’s brilliant eponymous debut and positioned it for several cross-country tours, cutting short Koenig’s colorful teaching career after one eye-opening year.
“And now that my kids have seen our videos on MTV, they’re very excited,” he adds. “They used to think I was a huge dork, but now we get MySpace messages from some of ’em who’ve become fans of the band, saying ‘I’m so proud of you.’”
Koenig wants to clarify one final thing: His tune “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance” was not written about his Bed-Stuy class.
“That would be the worst,” he says. “Can you imagine? You get next to these kids, you work hard for a year and then you write a song about ’em? It’s totally not about those kids, because those kids do stand a chance. That’s the whole point of you wanting to be a teacher.”
IF YOU GO
When: 9 p.m. Saturday
Where: The Independent, 628 Divisadero St., San Francisco
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St., San Francisco
Tickets: $15 (both shows sold out)