[WATCHED: August 22, 2011] “The Calamity Song”
I woke yesterday to the news that one of my favorite bands had made a music video which was a tribute to one of my favorite books, Infinite Jest. Colin Meloy was a reader during the Infinite Summer project (one of the more high profile readers, although he didn’t really contribute beyond the first week). When I saw him at BEA, I asked him if he finished the book and he said that indeed he had. Weill according to this story from The New York Times, Colin liked the book so much that he wanted to use one of the great scenes from the book as the basis of a music video. And since The Calamity Song has the line “In the Year of the Chewable Ambien Tab” which is an allusion to Infinite Jest‘s Subsidized Time, well why not use that as the song.
The video was directed by Michael Schur (a huge Infinite Jest fan) who is a major figure behind Parks and Recreation. The video is a bare-bones retelling of the Eschaton sequence from the novel. For those who have not gotten to that scene yet, Eschaton is a game of global annihilation played on a tennis court. There are strategic places you are supposed to hit from across the court (so it’s a physical game, not just an academic one) with your 5 megaton tennis balls. The scene is challenging to read because there’s so much going on, but the video does a very good job of giving you the essence.
Sure, diehards will have lots to quibble about (it’s raining, not snowing; Ann Kittenplan (the girl who gets hit with the ball) is totally hot–not so much in the book; and the scene doesn’t end with someone’s head crashing through a computer monitor). Most of the quibbles are addressed in the Times article but some are easily answered anyhow–it was filmed in two days, it’s a flat screen monitor (you can’t put your head through that), and why not have a hot Ann Kittenplan, it’s a music video, right?
One of my favorite responses about the overall tone of the video comes from Colin himself. He knows that the scene in the book is much darker but
Despite the grim stakes that are implied by Eschaton, Mr. Meloy said there was “almost a ‘Looney Tunes’ aspect” to the “Calamity Song” video. He made the case that its spirit of “hilarious chaos” was exactly what was needed in a time that sometimes feels as uneasy as the one Wallace envisioned in “Infinite Jest.”
“There’s this kind of resigned dark humor that people can hold onto,” Mr. Meloy said. “It can be a moment of levity. Whether or not we are really moving into the end times, I think is hard to say, but at least we can have a sense of humor as we go down.”
Even if you don’t know Infinite Jest, the video is fun and clever and, who knows, maybe it’ll make one or people try to read it. Of course, if you’re a fan of IJ, there’s lots of wonderful details that the video captures, from the ETA logos to the Y.D.A.U. on the monitor.
Oh and the song is great too. Watch it here.