August 23, 2011

In The Year Of The Chewable Ambien Tab

The Decemberists have released a video for "Calamity Song" (from their recent album, The King Is Dead).

There are so many strands of awesomeness associated with this video that my Awesomeness Meter has just about overheated and started spitting out smoke and sparks. See?

Several songs on The King Is Dead were inspired by REM (and, perhaps more specifically, its 1986 album Lifes Rich Pageant). [The Decemberists played "Cuyahoga" (from LRP) on "Morning Becomes Eclectic" on February 10, 2011, and they have played "Begin The Begin" (LRP's lead track) in concert with REM guitarist Peter Buck.]

Buck plays 12-string guitar on "Calamity Song".

A "Calamity Song" lyric -- "In the year of the chewable Ambien tab" -- is a clear nod to David Foster Wallace's novel Infinite Jest, in which the naming rights for future years are sold to advertisers. Most of the novel takes place in The Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment (2009).

The video for "Calamity Song" recreates one of the more famous passages of the book (Eschaton) and is the music video directorial debut of Michael Schur, the co-creator of "Parks and Recreation" and a former writer for "The Office". Schur, who you may also know as Ken Tremendous, is a huge Red Sox fan.
A New York Times article about the video begins (my emphasis):
While there are many details in the life of Michael Schur ... that convey his obsession with the David Foster Wallace novel "Infinite Jest," perhaps the most salient is that his wife once forbade him from discussing that 1,079-page-long work of fiction at social gatherings. "If you were at a cocktail party and you go, 'Oh, you're a person who's into this?'" Mr. Schur said recently at his office in Studio City, "now I know what you and I are doing for the next two hours. We're talking about this."

Not unlike a certain rule I had imposed upon me against expressing my frustration with and white-hot hatred of (now, thankfully, former) Red Sox manager Jimy Williams and his asinine lineups. Although who could have ever guessed that once he was canned, and his successor was on the job, I would be fervently praying for a return to the wonderful days of Mr. Weebles.

I wrote "Calamity Song" shortly after I'd finished reading David Foster Wallace's epic Infinite Jest. ... 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.
(Other stuff: The first live performance of the song (August 6, 2009) and a solo performance by Meloy. In June 2009, Meloy wrote a post for Infinite Summer.)

The Decemberists are my favorite band, and Infinite Jest is my favorite book. This was tantamount to telling me I had just won two simultaneous Powerball lottery jackpots, on my birthday, which was also Christmas. Thus, my response to him was that, although I was pretty sure this was an elaborate dream I was having, if it were in fact real, then yes, I would be interested. ... [W]e shot the whole thing in one day in Portland. Infinite Jest geeks will hopefully enjoy all of the specific references and small details, but we tried to design it so that those with no knowledge of the book at all would be able to understand and enjoy it, as well.
Ye Olde Royle Blog:
The video dramatizes what is probably the best single scene[*] from David Foster Wallace's massimum opus Infinite Jest, in which the students at a Massachusetts tennis academy simulate nuclear war through a game called Eschaton that involves lobbing "5-Megaton" tennis balls at athletic gear representing the combatants' (AMNAT, SOVWAR, IRLIBSYR, SOUTHAF, and IRLIBSYR being more or less self-explanatory) strategic targets, all laid out on a map encompassing several tennis courts. We get Decemberists frontman Colin Meloy as Michael Pemulis/The Peemster, grand don and progenitor of Eschaton, drummer John Moen as aspiring sportscaster Jim Troeltsch, and keyboardist Jenny Conlee as a pink-wigged Ziggy Stardust cum DFW himself, as well as child actors playing Otis P. Lord, who runs the Eschaton show from his computer cart, Evan Ingersoll, who brings on the real chaos by launching a ball at Ann Kittenplan, who in the video looks quite a bit more diminutive than the novel's steroid-addled version. Director Michael Schur opted not to end the video with Otis P. Lord's head inside of a computer monitor because "They're all flat screens, and you can't put your head through a flat screen." I only wish he had included the jockstraps re-purposed as MRVs.
*: This is not true. Not even close.

The other tidbit from the article is that Schur recently acquired the film rights to Infinite Jest. However, he says he has no immediate plans to make a film. (And perhaps his acquisition is simply a cunning plan to prevent anyone else from making a film of what would seem to be an unfilmable book (a semi-amusing thought, since one subplot of the novel deals with the fallout from viewing a highly addictive film), which may be a far better idea than doing a film himself.)


Michael Holloway said...

Thanks for this - made my day.

I like it when other people have the same epiphanies as I do.

Until it becomes pop, derivative, a reflection - then I die a little inside.

Michael Holloway said...

To be clear - I don't think that any of the threads here are derivative - I think it's a heart felt celebration of the work.

laura k said...

his wife once forbade him from discussing that 1,079-page-long work of fiction at social gatherings.

Did I write this sentence?

I can guarantee Schur's wife is not controlling or demanding. It takes a lot to get to this point. Once upon a time, I forbid Allan to use the word "Jimy" in my presence.

allan said...

This song is totally stuck in my head.

aka "7 Chinese Decemberists".

Dr. Jeff said...

I was given the book a few weeks ago as a gift, so I guess it's time to start.

SoSock said...

This post ranks only slightly lower on the awesomeness meter than the subject of said post. I had to stretch my computer searching skills to their antiquated max to find this....
then I realized there was a link. I'll be damned :-)

So after watching I agree. Pretty damnm awesome. And I'm pretty into REM, especially since Mitch Easter is a local boy, so this song is right in my wheelhouse

laura k said...

Once upon a time, I forbid Allan to use the word "Jimy" in my presence.

And if I had read the post, even slightly, I would have realized Allan had already told you that.

But I didn't read the post.

Because I already heard about it.

Because it is about DFW.

You get the picture.

Zenslinger said...

This is too cool

allan said...

Had a dream
You and me and the war of the end times
And I believe
California succumbed to the fault line
We heaved relief
As scores of innocents died

And the Andalusian tribes
Setting the lay of Nebraska alight
Till all that remains is the arms of the angel

Hetty Green
Queen of supply-side bonhomie bone-drab
If you know what I mean
On the road
It's well-advised to follow your own bag
In the year of the chewable Ambien tab

And the Panamanian child
Stands at the dowager empress's side
And all that remains is the arms of the angel
And all that remains is the arms of the angels

And you've receded into loam
And they're picking at your bones
Will call cold
We'll come home

Quiet now
Will we gather to conjure the rain down
Will we now
Build a civilization below ground
And I'll be crowned
The community kicked it around

And the Andalusian tribes
Setting the lay of Nebraska alight
Till all that remains is the arms of the angel
Till all that remains is the arms of the angels


It would be cool if while playing this live, Meloy sang Mildred Green instead of Hetty Green.

Leslie said...

I noticed you wrote "one subplot of the novel deals with the fallout from viewing a highly addictive film"--is that really a subplot? Isn't it more like a key part of the book?

Jesse and Nate said...

They are all subplots.