Because it’s our custom to track down Parks And Recreation co-creator and executive producer Michael Schur and get him to talk in depth about his most recent creative projects, we called him up today to talk about the great new video he directed for The Decemberists’ “Calamity Song.” The video has already gotten plenty of media attention, due in part to its clever references to David Foster Wallace’s weighty 1996 literary epic Infinite Jest. As Schur discussed with the New York Times, he was a devoted fan of Infinite Jest when he was a student at Harvard. He wrote his senior thesis on the book, and met Wallace after inviting the author to campus to receive an award from The Harvard Lampoon.
Schur was approached to direct the “Calamity Song” video because he went to school with the brother of the Decemberists’ manager, who remembered his affinity for Infinite Jest. Decemberists' frontman Colin Meloy came up with the video’s concept—which involves teenagers playing the fictional game Eschaton—and got acquainted with Schur by talking about the book for an hour over the phone. Schur, who calls the Decemberists his favorite band, was thrilled to discuss his favorite book with Meloy. “If that’s where it would’ve ended, that would’ve been great for me,” Schur told the A.V. Club. “That’s something I’d bid $10,000 at a charity auction for.”
Schur says he “was a crazy, crazy music nerd in high school and college, and out of college when I lived in New York. Then I got married and had kids, and have fallen way behind.” He got into the Decemberists at “probably the height of my nerdom,” back in the late ’90s and early ’00s.
Schur managed to work in a reference to another one of his musical favorites from that period, Neutral Milk Hotel, in an episode of Parks And Recreation from last season, which centered on April being upset that her new husband Andy doesn’t know that the indie-rock cult favorite is her favorite band.
“I’ve been trying to work Neutral Milk Hotel into some TV show that I worked on for 12 years now,” Schur said. “I finally realized that I run this show and nobody can stop me.”
As for “Calamity Song,” directing the video was “such a lightning bolt out of the blue,” he said. “The only way I’d ever do this again is if the Beatles reunited and did a video based on ‘A Day In The Life’ that referenced my own 8th grade journal. That’s the only more personal scenario for me.”