David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest: The Soundtrack (With Endnotes)

Categories: In Print

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One of Time magazine's Top 100 English-language novels of the last century, the late David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest is a gargantuan book. Its cutting, comedic views cover a broad swath of American life, but focus on family dysfunction, chemical dependency, depression, entertainment saturation and the notion that everything in this country is for sale.

Set in a not-very-distant future, the book's events occur over several years, designated no longer by numerals, but subsidized by corporations willing to shell out the most dough for naming rights. As it were, many of the novel's events occur in the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment, rather than, say, 2017.

Infinite Jest follows the Incandenza family, Bostonians of considerable pedigree, whose Enfield Tennis Academy is a collective of supremely intelligent students and administrators. They live up the hill from Enett House, a halfway house for recovering addicts. The bulk of the book's characters reside in one or the other. Everyone is broken in some fundamental and hard-to-fix way.

Wallace was the embodiment of the "write what you know" adage. The book's nearly 1,100 pages (and 388 endnotes!) are filled with poetic wisdom on depression. Wallace struggled with the disease for years and committed suicide in 2008.

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David Foster Wallace
His legacy is, in part, an important but intimidating novel. Many folks hold its two-pound heft in hand and head on over to the Stephen King section.

A work of this magnitude needs more audience. As much as Wallace would hate the idea, there should be a film adaptation of Infinite Jest for those of us too lazy or busy to read it. And these are the bands whose music could set the right tone for the film.

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5. Iron & Wine
Iron & Wine singer/songwriter Sam Beam shares some similarities with James Incandenza, the fictional family's patriarch and a central character. Incandenza is a film director. Austin-based Beam graduated with a film-school degree and was teaching the subject at the University of Miami while he wrote songs for his first album.

His work has been featured on soundtrack albums previously, most notably his cover of The Postal Service's "Such Great Heights" from Garden State. Beam's sparse compositions possess the kind of lonely melancholy associated with the book's heavier themes. 1

4. Dropkick Murphys
Going solely on bands with Massachusetts roots, Dropkick Murphys best fit the bill. 2 Many of Infinite Jest's more colorful characters are its blue-collar Bostonians, the same sorts of chowderheads that might actually attend a Dropkick show.

The Celtic punk band's biggest hit, "I'm Shipping Up to Boston," has been used in film (The Departed) and is a staple at Boston pro sports events. Two of the Incandenza brothers are athletes (Orin, the eldest, is a kicker for the Arizona Cardinals and Hal, the youngest and the book's central protagonist, is a star junior tennis player), so there's a sports-song connection already in play.

Dropkick Murphy's catalog includes enough songs about drinking and drunkenness to make them strong contenders, since a good deal of the book concerns substance abuse and recovery.

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3. Radiohead
Wallace was an academic who attended Harvard grad school before abandoning higher learning to write full-time. A serious discussion about bands suited to the task of penning music for his greatest work has to include the smartest band performing today. Who could argue with Radiohead if the criteria is intelligent and demanding presentation of creative ideas? 3 Infinite Jest challenges readers. Radiohead challenges listeners.

At the core of the book is the relationship between the brothers Incandenza. Radiohead's got its own pair of siblings, the Greenwood brothers. A book that spends so much time reflecting on suicidal tendencies probably benefits from the fellas who wrote such chipper ditties as 'How to Disappear Completely" and "Let Down."

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" ... the place is a pawn shop under attack by [French Canadian] wheelchair assassins ..."  "Everyone is broken in some fundamental and hard-to-fix way."  So that brings to mind Bare Naked Ladies, a Canadian band writing about Brian Wilson lying in bed (for three years).    A Quebec band would be better, but I don't know any.

MadMac topcommenter

DFW's work was bloated, self-absorbed, and schizo--it reads like a junky debating Live's "White, Discussion."A movie version of any of his works would best be attacked by Jim Jamursch to put some heart into DFW's lithium-starved yammerings. 

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