Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tuesday Tune: "Calamity Song" by The Decemberists

Despite the critical hoopla showered on The Decemberists' new album The King Is Dead, the folk-pop failed to move me.  The songs weren't bad and certainly they were sung with full-throated earnestness...and yet I felt short-changed.  I'd been expecting something on the order of Fleet Foxes or The Head and the Heart.  True to their name, The Decemberists left me chilly.


But then their video for "Calamity Song" made me sit up, take notice, and re-evaluate my bad attitude.

For starters, it's a slickly-produced and well-performed video with lead singer Colin Meloy showing some acting chops.  It tells a story and makes a moral point--which is the goal of art, isn't it?

However, the most important, interesting aspect of the "Calamity Song" video, and the reason it makes it to this book blog, is the nature of that story.  Hold on to your bandannas, boys and girls, because you're about to get a heaping wallop of David Foster Wallace this morning.  The Decemberists (Meloy in particular) decided to film a scene from Infinite Jest in tribute to the late writer.  As Meloy tells NPR's All Songs Considered blog:
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.

Because he was such a complicated individual, it's hard to say whether or not Wallace would be proud, but there's no denying the appeal of the video to a larger audience--one which might be inspired to go check out IJ after watching "Calamity."  See for yourself:

P.S.  Did you catch the sly DFW reference with Jenny Conlee in the pink wig and headband?

P.S.S.  Further literary linkage: Colin Meloy is the brother of novelist and short story writer Maile Meloy (Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It, Half in Love).  Their aunt Ellen was also a writer (Eating Stone: Imagination and the Loss of the Wild).

P.S.S.S.  Colin and Maile both have children's books coming out this year.  I'm less interested in Colin's Wildwood than I am in Maile's The Apothecary.  Here's the book trailer:

1 comment:

  1. I bought the album based on the hazy memories provoked by that song -- REM playing over sweaty night-turning-into-early-morning house parties with Milwaukee's Best and dancing under oak trees while talking to Her and believing that this time you maybe actually stand a chance with Her.

    Or maybe Her hawt roommate. "So what's your major?... Cool."

    Good stuff.