The Decemberists Unveil “Calamity Song” Video

The Decemberists have unveiled their latest video for “Calamity Song,” a collaboration with director Michael Schur in his music video maiden voyage. Schur is the co-creator of NBC’s acclaimed comedy series Parks and Recreation, and has also been a writer for Saturday Night Live and a producer of The Office. The video—which premiered today on the NPR Music website—was inspired by David Foster Wallace’s gargantuan, mind-altering novel Infinite Jest. It was filmed on location in Grant Park in Portland, Oregon on the rainiest July 17 in the city’s history. Check out a feature on the video in The New York Times.

COLIN MELOY: 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 recreation of the Enfield Tennis Academy’s round of Eschaton—basically, a global thermonuclear crisis recreated 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.

MICHAEL SCHUR: The band’s manager contacted me and asked me to direct a video they were planning that referenced a section of the book Infinite Jest. 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. The production team on Parks and Recreation, many of whom are also big fans, volunteered their time and energy, and we 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.

“Calamity Song” is the third single from The Decemberists’ album The King Is Dead, a set of 10 concise country-inflected songs produced by Tucker Martine and featuring guests Gillian Welch and Peter Buck. The King Is Dead debuted at #1 on the Billboard Top 200 after its release in January.

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