I Watch The Decemberists’ David Foster Wallace Video

Books, Music, Writers

I’ll be upfront: I don’t care for the music of The Decemberists. I’ve tried, after being told repeatedly how “deep” or “clever” or “literate” the lyrics are, and how good the music is—but it all strikes me as awfully bland stuff, like someone’s shitty take on R.E.M.

Anyway, I do very much like David Foster Wallace’s novel Infinite Jest, the “inspiration” (yes, I’ll put the word in suspicious quotation marks) behind The Decemberists’ new music video for “Calamity Song.” Here’s their singer/songwriter Colin Meloy (via NPR)—

I wrote “Calamity Song” shortly after I’d finished reading David Foster Wallace’s epic Infinite Jest. The book didn’t so much inspire the song itself, but Wallace’s irreverent and brilliant humor definitely wound its way into the thing. And I had this funny idea that a good video for the song would be a re-creation of the Enfield Tennis Academy’s round of Eschaton — basically, a global thermonuclear crisis re-created on a tennis court — that’s played about a third of the way into the book. Thankfully, after having a good many people balk at the idea, I found a kindred spirit in Michael Schur, a man with an even greater enthusiasm for Wallace’s work than my own. With much adoration and respect to this seminal, genius book, this is what we’ve come up with. I can only hope DFW would be proud.

I’m not going to conjecture whether Wallace would be proud or not. That seems like total asshole move. But, I am interested in seeing a filmed version of Eschaton, and I do like Michael Schur’s show Parks and Recreation. So I’m going to watch the video now—unmuted and everything—and then post a reaction. Here’s the vid—

Okay. Nice production values, I guess. I think that’s the band, right? I like it when bands are in their own videos and “act.” I guess they’re playing the older ETA kids who are watching the game this Interdependence Day. The singer is Pemulis, that seems clear. It snows in the Escahton episode, but it looks like only some rain here. I like the Otis P. Lord kid, but I don’t know if the other kids look right. This is weak criticism, I know. Hmmm. The song . . . well, I’m not into this song, but I guess it’s pleasant enough. It’s terribly competent. Bits of it sound like a sped up version of R.E.M.’s “Talk About the Passion.” Some of the lyrics seem to reference or play off of Infinite Jest maybe—like “Year of the Something Something”  or something.

I don’t know. What can I say here? I hope no one tries to make a movie out of Infinite Jest. It was all I could do to fast forward through most of Jim from The Office’s movie of Hideous Men.

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6 thoughts on “I Watch The Decemberists’ David Foster Wallace Video

  1. Yeah, okay, this was a lame post. Sorry. I thought I’d come up with something more to say, but, no. Also, the post is also probably written in the idiom that so irks Maud Newton.

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  2. It’s not too lame… even if I love the Decemberists.

    I disagree about the criticism of the video compared to the book though, as I don’t think it’s really meant to be a re-enactment in full. I think it bothers me that chaos reigns in the end, as I’d rather it be a stand-alone game of Eschaton.

    Question though, what seems like an asshole move, the whole inspired by video or the DFW would be proud thing?

    Also, the post is also probably sorta written in the idiom that gets Maud’s goat, but whatevs, eh?

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    1. Hey, PT—the asshole move, to be clear, was hypothetical — not the band’s vid or Meloy’s comment that he hoped that DFW would like the vid — what I intended to say was something like: I would be a total asshole to watch this video and then presume to say something like, “Wallace would have been proud” or “Wallace would approve” or whatever.
      I don’t know about the vid—I got the impression that they were trying to reenact the chapter where Pemulis oversees the younger ETAs play Eschaton, with Lord officiating. I went back and reread it after this post actually (probably should’ve done that first, but, whatevs bro). But there are clear costume indications about who is who (Pemulis with the yachting outfit; Lord with the Beanies) and other cues, like Kittenplan getting hit, etc. But yeah, creative license and whatnot and so on, eh?
      Finally, this is a lame post—I thought I’d watch this vid and come up with some reaction, something to say, but I didn’t. And by that point I’d invested some time into writing it — not much, but more time than just, say, watching the vid— so I posted anyway, even though (again) I really had nothing insightful or clever to say about the video or the song.

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      1. Yeah, I think you are right about the similarities. I just want it to be less a reenactment and more a random match. It feels less thought out this way.

        Thanks for the clarification on the hypothetical asshole move. I agree with that one wholeheartedly; it’s a only a little weird to hope someone would be proud when they have no say, but it is an asshole move to actually say they would.

        I’ll accept it as a lame post, yeah, but it’s still better than what I do, which is only think about writing not-lame posts on a blog or even not-lame lengthy responses on a blog (i.e. your Tree of Life post) and never following through.

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  3. How to improve this post:

    1) Take it down.
    2) Post *the* best clip from Parks & Recreation in which Aziz Ansari sings a unique version of the opening line to Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” and eats a pepper so hot that he’s forced to put a comforter in his mouth minutes later.
    3) Never write about guys who rebel against guys named Nick. Bad form.

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