By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Travis Morrison could have this job if he wanted it. If he felt like giving up his day (and night) job fronting The Dismemberment Plan, he could step into a gig talking and writing about music with no trouble, with little discernible change in his routine. It's something he would do, something he does, anyway. Few musicians pay as much attention to what's going on with music right now, what happened before, what's coming next than Morrison; other than, say, Elvis Costello or Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, most musicians have only working knowledge of the past, present and future of their own careers. Even though The Dismemberment Plan is nominally a rock band--akin to calling OutKast a hip-hop group: sort of true, but then again, not really--his sights are much broader than that. The Dismemberment Plan Web site, www.dismembermentplan.com, features a regularly updated list of the Ten Greatest Songs of All Time (Right Now)--usually compiled by Morrison, with the occasional two cents from one of his bandmates--that, as of this writing, featured selections by The Smiths, Gil Scott-Heron, Public Enemy, XTC, Paul Simon, De La Soul and Nation of Ulysses. Sometimes, it's 10 rap songs or old soul classics, all Steely Dan songs or a handful of tunes he just heard on the radio in Washington, D.C., where the Plan is based. Whatever. As Cameron Crowe said through golden god Russell Hammond in Almost Famous, Morrison digs music.
Or maybe he could be a sportswriter instead. Morrison has a better handle on what Michael Jordan's return to the NBA--and his arrival in D.C., specifically--means than any Sports Illustrated staffer. He can tell you why former Washington Wizard and recently traded Dallas Maverick Juwan Howard will never be happy anywhere he plays, why it's more fun watching the women of the WNBA than their male counterparts, why D.C. seat-fillers are still trying to figure out how to be fans of any team other than their beloved Redskins. "The Wizards? Nobody knows how to be a fan, because they've been an embarrassment," Morrison says. "They weren't even like the Chicago Cubs; for the last couple of years, they played basketball like they had really good dope at home. They just wanted to get the fuck off the court and blaze up. Either that or they've been blazing before they got there." OK, he probably won't be unseating Washington Post columnist Michael Wilbon anytime soon, but admit it, he has an entertaining viewpoint. Dallas Morning News NBA beat writer Marc Stein won't explain why Mavs boss Mark Cuban has to be a dick and an asshole, but Morrison will. Gladly.
Though he could do both, Morrison (the son of journalists) has a different writing gig, one as shaped by reportage and personal insight as the best columnists. Over the course of three albums--1995's !, 1997's The Dismemberment Plan is Terrified and 1999's Emergency & I--Morrison mainly used his lyrics to, as he says, "document what's going on in the lives of people around me as much as I can." Those lives have included the drama queens and kings of "Academy Award" ("Showing them how you're dangling yourself from the cross/I'm all out of nails but here's your hammer, boss/And the Academy Award for ridiculous overacting goes to you," from ...is Terrified) and the damaged partygoers of "Gyroscope" ("If you spin fast enough, then maybe the broken pieces of your heart will stay together/But something I've seen lately makes me doubt it," off Emergency & I). While Morrison has usually included his own life in these song stories (check ...is Terrified's "The Ice of Boston," a little one-act about a lonely New Year's Eve, a few bottles of bubbly and a phone call from Mom), on Change--The Dismemberment Plan's fourth album, released late last year--he is pretty much the only one in the crosshairs.
"The lyrics are very introspective," Morrison admits, on the phone from his home in D.C. "In large part, the overall picture seems to be about detachment, the good and bad sides of that. And also, I'm 29. These lyrics were written in my late-20s, and that's something that just happens to a lot of people my age, to be honest...You know, you get to a certain age where you're just tired of bickering with this person over and over again. You reach that magic point where you're like, 'I can just go make new friends.' And all the old drama when you're a kid, it just starts to turn your stomach.
"Because you kind of realize you have to go in search of your own value system, and the only thing that will make you happy is constructing a coherent one and then striving to live up to it as much as you can," he continues. "At first it's lonely, and then it's liberating, and it happens to most anybody that doesn't have serious emotional problems. For all these reasons, yeah, the lyrics do definitely have a reflective bent. You could say they're too reflective. You could say they're kind of self-centered or just floating out there or, at the very least, they don't make for good entertainment. Yeah, that's perfectly game. There's plenty of records like that that I haven't enjoyed for exactly that reason. But I did it, and that's that."