The Dismemberment Plan
Emergency and I 2011 double LP pressing
It’s hard to believe that one of the most important bands in my life was one that took me a really long time to get into. I remember seeing the Dismemberment Plan play with a bunch of odd ball punk bands in the early nineties in Fairfax, Virginia. That was such an odd time for music. Grunge had come and gone and in the wake and waste of that tidal wave a lot of kids my age had found punk rock, the likes of Black Flag or The Big Boys. Immediately above us was a group of people who were beyond the “punk thing” and were working sounds that were outrageous and unusual. The Dismemberment Plan was one of these bands, but to me, they were just a bunch of cool college kids trying too hard. I thought they were a little too self aware, self-assured and with that a bit pompous. Then things started to change.
Music in Washington DC started to go from really good, to really fantastic. It seemed like every band that existed was stepping up, stepping out and going to new and exciting places with the sounds and beats they were making. Among them of course was The Dismemberment Plan. I began, much through no fault of my own, seeing this band playing shows with bands I liked. And they began to grow on me. Something about the music they were making was well beyond the goofy songs I was used to (I still, to this day, hate the song “Bra”). As I grew up and became slightly less of an asshole-know-it-all-prick I realized that The Dismemberment Plan too had grown up. Though they were still pretty damn sure of themselves, something about that braggadocio became really appealing.
I didn’t know it then, but Emergency & I was the apex of music in Washington DC. Not before and not since has there been an album from a band in that town that had the width and stride that Emergency & I had, both in pure musical performance and in emotional power. The album was rocking, grooving, funky, emotional, funny and totally otherworldly. The reissue, for the first time on vinyl courtesy of the fine folks at Barsuk, has in fact reminded me how this album feels, still like it was made from some other planet in outer space where everyone is intense, smart, emotional and looking to have a really good fucking time. Emergency & I stands up to this day as one of the most original, consistent records ever made. In fact, just writing that and listening to the album as I have been frequently lately, I realize just how much I have understated this album, not only in my public writing but in my personal life.
In 1999 when this album was finally released, I graduated from College, I had broken up with a girl I really loved, I got hired from and fired from my first job. I was still living in the suburbs of my youth at my parents house working full-time and shitty retail job, generally wasting away. It was getting cold that fall, all I was doing was going to shows, getting drunk and high, not getting laid and generally being miserable. I wasn’t quite grown up but I knew I wasn’t really a kid anymore. Emergency & I was that kind of soundtrack album to that kind of life. The linear notes I read today even echoed that sentiment. That it was initially recorded for Interscope as the Dismemberment Plan themselves were trying to reach out further I do not think is entirely coincidental. I was growing up, and so were the Dismemberment Plan.
To this day, the sad, somber lyrics of “The City” remains some of my favorite poetry. The music of that song touches and moves me greatly. There was a period after the Dismemberment Plan broke up that I couldn’t listen to this record, the memories of the time they existed and grew up into the phenomenal Change that would come out two years later, were far too difficult to have come flooding back. Even now, as I sit in my apartment, 1,800 miles from home, on the eve of their reunion in my home city, I am reminded of so many odd, difficult, wonderful and beautiful parts of my past. I am longing for an evening like “You Are Invited”, a confused evening of jilted love, dancing and unwanted, but necessary cross roads. And even I am aware that the only way through is a positive outlook, reminded by the albums fantastic, spacey opener “Life of Possibilities”.
The Dismemberment Plan went far and above what could be expected. There is a reason why there are no successors to the Plan’s music, because they were truly one of a kind. So much of music today is just a derivative of something else. Sometimes that can have very powerful, positive results, but most often it’s just pale imitation. The Clash could have only existed once and so that is true to of The Dismemberment Plan. Emergency & I may be reminiscent of a time and place in history, the result of all the energy in the world at that time, but it’ magic and beauty is that is timeless. Every song feels as urgent, pressing and wanting now as it did all those light years ago.