Your Dismemberment Plan Essay Contest Winner
Okay, do I even need to say this? The concert was fucking awesome. I should give proper thanks to the g for my being my DPlan mentor, and KG for filling in the important gaps of "The Ice of Boston" and "The Dismemberment Plan Gets Rich," two necessary songs for their concerts.
David managed to find a ticket a few days ago, and snapped it up because he's heard me talk about them non-stop for the past two months, but hadn't actually heard any of their music (much less the total immersion I went through), and this sums it up, after the concert:
Me, grinning: "Um, I think that might have been one of the best concerts I've ever been to."
David, grinning even wider: "And you know their songs, I don't even know them and that fucking rocked."
Also hilarious, the various times when he'd tap me on the shoulder and yell at me how great that last song was. He totally reminded me of way back in March when I turned on Emergency and I for the first time. Remember guys? Back in March? Those were the days.
Now, I remember the g telling me that I would immediately fall in love with Travis, but I was confused when KG pointed him out setting up the equipment. This skinny guy? Of course, why do I doubt any of you. The guy is adorable ten ways from Sunday, except you know what? He's like a tiny Nathan Fillion. It was freaking me out a little. They don't exactly look alike just standing there, but once he started moving and making those facial expressions? Same person. And Eric? Solly. It was like a whole band of dopplegangers.
So as you know, the happy receiver of my second ticket was KG, and with no further ado, I bring you his Dismemberment Plan Contest essay entry, complete with fictional plot, "fudgesicle," and of course, the rhyming couplet involving Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Saturday, A Surprise on the Main Stage
Travis Morrison was walking from Well Dressed, burrito warm and begging to be eaten. He was 30 minutes from his deadline and nowhere near finished the story – and he needed fuel, dammit. The burrito was the best thing he could think of, a cylinder of tortilla and carne goodness to get him through the furious typing to come. While thinking of writing something off thhttp://www2.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gife cuff about unfashionable public figures, he set off across 18th St. with 2 seconds to spare. As he avoided an Audi by a hairs breadth, he heard a strange sound from his pocket. His cell phone, and a ringtone he hadn’t heard for a while: “Letter Full of Tears.” He kept walking down K Street towards work, fumbling in his pocket, dancing around pedestrians. Stopping for a moment, he pulled the phone out and answered. “Hello?”
“Travis, it’s me. It’s time to get the band back together.”
In a concrete bunker somewhere deep below the surface of the Mojave Desert, Joe Easley sat, staring at a computer screen. The vectors on his latest project were all off. Maybe there was something off with the magnet on the obverse side. Or the balance of the core? He started fiddling with some numbers on his notepad. This project was a hell, cooped up in a bunker, working on hovering cameras for some contractor. His major source of amusement was picking up girls with the whole “I can’t tell you what I do” thing. Unfortunately, the girls in town were about as interesting as the sterile floor, and only slightly more interested in him. He sighed and started counting the days on his contract down in his head.
All of a sudden, the phone at his desk rang. He thought about answering it for a second. It was the first time he’d heard it ring in what, four months? His messages were sent on his computer, or occasionally as a note on his screen at the beginning of his shift. The hell with it, Joe thought, picking up the old-fashioned black receiver. A familiar voice came across the other line.
“It’s time to get the band back together.”
After over a century in publication, Eric Axelson still marveled at the fact that Huckleberry Finn was impossible to teach to inner city kids. It was his second semester slinging words in Chicago, a move made on a whim and a desire for a change of scenery. Few of students, mostly from Cabrini Green and the surrounding projects, had any love for 19th Century American Lit, or for that matter anything related to sitting and reading for an extensive period of time. The ones that got hid it in a combination of shame and fear, and the ones that didn’t were more interested laughing every time Twain dropped the “n” word. But he held out some hope that he could get the kids to at least fake basic enjoyment; at this point, they were barely making an effort. Though he had all of spring break to come up with something, he wanted to get it done now, while the ideas were still fresh. The clock read 1:12; 18 minutes from last period English before the two week long holiday. He’d already resigned himself to showing a video and not expecting his students to pay attention – but in two weeks, they’d be his again.
Just then, the door opened. A messenger from the office dropped a note on Eric’s desk with a message to call a number in DC. Slightly confused, Eric grabbed his phone.
“Eric, hey. It’s time to get the band back together.”
“Which band? Is this…?”
“You know which band. Get a ticket. Save the receipt. Travis and Joe are in.”
Eric was in the corner of the studio, fiddling with his old Precision bass, when Travis and Joe walked in, laughing. He’d seen Travis a couple months ago, his last ditch effort to get someone to drive him to the airport. Joe he hadn’t since at least his crazy weird graduation party, with its strange mix of musicians and engineer types. Standing quickly, swinging the bass over his shoulder, he gave them both a bear hug and started to laugh.
“Easley, you look like you haven’t seen the sun in months.”
“Thanks for that, weird beard. What’s up with the whiskers?”
“You know, trying something new. At least I can grow something on my face, unlike our fancy-pants Post columnist friend.”
Travis turned red. “It’s just a temporary gig,” he said, “until Weingarten gets back from vacation.” He’d been writing the column for about a month, just enough time to insult about half the Post’s readers. The column he finished this week was more than likely going to be his last – a thought he had just about every week he pressed send. Stoned on the massive burrito, he had just enough creativity to write a couple of rhymes about formerly-relevant people. He was particularly proud of his Newt Gingrich limerick and the toss-off couplet on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (“Since he lacked the suave of Karzai/Mahmoud should have put on a necktie.”) “What’s with this cloak-and-dagger stuff, anyway?” Jason had given no real explanation of what was going on, just a confirmation of basic plans, no explanations, and no further contact. Despite all that, his compadres had come through.
“No idea,” Joe said, “but Jason has something planned. Good excuse for a vacation. “Up for some Mario Kart?”
Caddell walked into the studio an hour later to the sound of sudden silence. Joe had Travis down 15 points on NBA Jam and was clearly mid trash talk. They had stopped the minute they heard the door open, not knowing what to expect from their increasingly odd former guitar player.
“So you going to tell us what’s up?” Eric asked, emerging from the back room. “And what the hell, man, when did you get fat?”
Jason looked down at his slow-growth gut, hanging over his belt. He’d completely forgotten about the whole gaining-weight-from-sitting-all-day thing. “That’s what happens when you get taken out to eat all the time, I suppose. Besides, it’s better than that crazy goat beard. They let you teach with that?
“Shut up and have a fudgsicle, tubby,” Eric said, tossing the box to Jason, “and while you’re at it, care to share what’s up?”
Leaning back on a wall, he looked down. “It’s pretty stupid story, really…”
Jason Caddell sat back in his plush leather desk chair. It had been about seven years since he’d seen all of them together -- the Cal Robbins shows, the requisite after parties, then all of a sudden they’d really split up. He’d hung with them separately, but the Plan hadn’t been in the same room since 2007. And the ride from the Plan to his current life had been wild -- from an unknown indie-rock mixer and studio also-ran up, steadily, to one of the most popular producers in the country. He looked around his Potomac offices, posters and album covers on the walls. No platinum, though that didn’t actually to him. The big companies were dinosaurs in their last throes, limping around, waiting for extinction. Sales were a joke. In the meantime, Jason had more modern successes: 10 number 1 albums on eMusic; the most downloaded album on iTunes four times, once for thirteen weeks in a row; a handful of albums called “Best New Music” by Pitchfork and assorted other smarty-pants websites. Not too shabby for an old DC music type who stubbornly stayed in spitting distance of the Beltway. Not too shabby at all – a fridge full of imported mineral water, his songs coming out of every other portable player on the train. Not a household name, but known enough that he could walk into any concert hall on the East Coast without a ticket or a wait in line.
And Jason Caddell was miserable.
The first years of sudden success were remarkably fun, flying about the country, working here for Matador, there for Interscope, for an avant-garde string quartet followed by the new Win Butler solo project. But gradually, his old guitars started gathering dust. The flights became less novel, the new wave restaurants with up-and-coming chefs started to look the same, the projects started feeling just like… projects. Not fun by-products of a dream job, but work.
The negative reinforcement was the hardest part. He knew his heart wasn’t in the production game any longer, but when Danger Mouse and Esquire were beating down the door, what did heart matter? He took the collaboration, he gave the interview, he put on darker sunglasses and he kept feeding the beast. Each half assed project became a reaffirmation of something, and in the face of everything his mom had ever told him, the lazier he was, the more successful he became.
A week ago. Jason woke up and started on his usual routine. Coffee, a bagel, the Post, and some music. He surprised himself by putting “Change” on while reading the sports page. The Nats were awful… the Wiz had a chance to repeat… and was that really him on this album? He looked to see what song it was – “Secret Curse.” Wow. How long had it been since he actually felt that he rocked? He looked around his house, empty, white, Spartan. His coffee table scattered with a few investment magazines. An acoustic guitar leaning on the wall, sitting ignored. After thinking for a moment, he realized his house was boring, suburban -- and that he hadn’t actually made music in years.
He called in that day, canceling a few minor sessions to go for a drive and reset his head. And did the same the next day, and the day after that, until finally he got out his phone and decided he needed to stop what could have been an endless existential tunnel. He made some calls to some connected friends to check for dates. For a new project, or so he told them, one of those producer’s-band type of deals. He’d need a small venue, a month from now.
And then he made three more calls.
“No, to goofy. Glass Half Full?”
“Too philosophical. How about Pitchspoon?”
“Come on, that’s stupid. We can brainstorm names later. We should practice more – we’ve only got a week left.”
The oddly, suddenly, haphazardly reformed Dismemberment Plan were gathered, slightly disheveled, in the same practice space they’d been in for the bulk of a week. It was for Jason, sort of – saving his soul, or something.
“…Or you’re here to save me from becoming boring. Or maybe this is a mission to teach me how to rock again. Or maybe I’m just bored out of my skull with the tedium and the tension and I’m sick of making other people’s music for them and I miss our good times and want to play again. Then again, I also may just want to show off how much money I have…”
They had another week left before the show, billed as a “mystery act” at the Black Cat on the main stage. They were tossing out false names left and right, searching for an apropos pseudonym, while trying to remember songs they hadn’t played for years. Six days, 14 pizzas, and one very fragrant practice space later, things were starting to come together. By some miracle, Travis remembered the lyrics to 90% of their usual songs. Eric had never forgotten his bass lines, and the drum parts were flooding back to Joe at a fever clip. Somehow, their erstwhile ringleader on this particular adventure was the least prepared. Jason’s fingers were slower; he hadn’t so much as thought of a Plan song until the random, unexpected day he hatched this plan. But even he was coming around; if not as skilled as he had been, he was making it up through sweat.
“Can’t we just not say who we are? We’re a mystery act, it’s good enough, right?”
“The guy from the Black Cat wants to leak something, have it published on some blog, get interest started a few days early.” Jason didn’t care if no one showed up, frankly, but some of his bandmates were more nervous. Looking at Travis, staring at a lyric sheet, looking like he was dreaming of playing an empty room, that was more than clear.
“We can take a Pearl Jam tactic, call our selves ‘Obina Ekezie’ or something.”
“How about ‘8.5 Minutes’ from the top?” Travis said. It was the first he’d said in about an hour; usually a fountain of stupid band names, his memory for old Plan songs was about the only thing going for him, at least in his mind. His voice was weak, his confidence low. He hoped he’d have it down in a week. Oh god, he thought. A week, the first show in years.
The first show in years for Eric as well. But he was hardly a ball of nerves – more a pillar of joy. After teaching, trying to reach kids with uncertain results, he needed a catharsis. In this room, he was close to finding it. His three best friends in the world were with him, playing songs he’d never been more proud of, from the best years of his life. A weird feeling, remembering those times, traipsing across the country in the back of a cramped van, in a positive light. In some ways, he’d forgotten the rut the band had been in. Everything sounded fresh and clean, like they’d never heard the songs before, like they were actually re-inventing their own wheel. It was like the first time. But so much better.
Joe beat the drums, steady as usual, settling into the groove of “Superpowers.” He’d played his drums on and off over the last few years, moonlighting with the odd cover band made up of colleagues here and there. Most had no idea he’d been in a fairly excellent, semi-successful band at one point. In fact, he’d forgotten at times. But now, watching Travis’ nervous charisma, Eric wobbling back and forth to his own rhythm on the bass, and a larger but still stoic Joe getting closer and closer to those old guitar licks, he remembered having fans, living by playing the drums, making music day in and day out. The feeling slipped in, an old friend he hadn’t seen but had never forgotten. The comfort was easy to forget, but easier to remember.
As Jason broke into his solo, bending the strings a bit further, coaxing out a half step, a whole step, finally entire notes up and down, he stopped thinking of the band as “being back together.” Stopped thinking about the different paths they’d been walking down, the years where the name Dismemberment Plan barely crossed his mind. The show was the only thing on his mind; everything else just didn’t exist.
That Saturday, a band the audience only knew as “The Fudgsicles” stood in the wings of the Black Cat. There was a packed house, curious onlookers promised only an unexpected, secret reunion of a band they hadn’t heard in a long time. Fauxhawked, crewcutted, dyed, braided, arms akimbo, feet nervously shuffling, laughing, theorizing, re-theorizing, denying, affirming, but in the end, just waiting. Most had high hopes, for Cactus Patch, or maybe Monopoli, while others simply had hopes for a fun night.
A singer, in black, signaled the lights guy. The background music stopped. He walked on stage. A collective gasp settled across some of the older folks in the audience. Younger onlookers, confused, asked who the band was. Some suspected; Some knew very well. Some had no idea. The drums started, a simple beat and a simple guitar line.
“Called in sick to work today/I couldn’t get a damn thing done.”
Every third person in the audience, had, by that point, figured it out. Bouncing in place, they started to sing along. A few, the lucky ones who had known all along, had listened to Change, to Emergency & I, hell, to Is Terrified non-stop for the last week. The words were as fresh to them as the day they’d bought the albums. Songs came back to others a little more slowly. Half the audience had no idea; half-yelled tutorials filled the air between songs.
Travis, buoyed, elated, surprised, turned and smiled to Jason. They’d whipped through three, five, seven songs without saying a word to the audience. In some ways, they didn’t have to; even the uninitiated were in the club now, hearing the Plan. Hearting the Plan. Wiping some sweat from his brow, he pulled the mic closer.
“Some of you might have figured it out. We’re the Dismemberment Plan. We’re from Washington D.C. and we’ve missed you all. And we know the name Fudgsicles is stupid, but don’t blame us; some crazy blog person came up with it spontaneously. This is a song some of you might like. It’s called ‘The City.””
Beaming, the band members looked at each other. Arms were raised in the audience, cell phones, cameras. A cheer, a dull roar, various 30-somethings scattered throughout the young crowd beaming like they were back in high school. Jason started to play a simple, two note theme. It may have been the first time they’d heard the song, or the hundred and first. But the audience, initiates and old hands, looked on, rapt, as The Plan, for the first time, for the last time, or maybe for something in between, came together.