Insane Clown Posse is an unabashed force for good in America today. They probably always were, most of us were just too busy making fun of their fans to realize that. This review was written the day after the hip hop duo Insane Clown Posse canceled the 2020 edition their infamous ‘Gathering of the Juggalos’ festival. The group, made up of face painted rappers Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope said on Twitter “The bottom line is that we REFUSE to risk even ONE Juggalo life by hosting a Gathering during these troubling times.” Most Americans don’t have jobs that value their employees like that.
This is not to argue that ICP makes good music. They’re more famous for their look and their rowdy fans than their actual musical ability. I find certain songs endearing, for example, “My Axe” from ICP’s 2000 album Bizazar. It’s a song about murdering members of the KKK with a hatchet. Like everything about ICP, it’s not subtle, it’s not done with great skill, and it is graphic as hell. Take whatever swipes you like at the technical aspects of that song, it’s politics are perfect and if you disagree with their stance on Klansmen, chances are you suck. What people don’t seem to understand about ICP, or more accurately, can’t be bother to learn, is that under the fright make-up and cartoonish violent they’re messaging is surprisingly positive. The overarching theme of the ‘Dark Carnival’ world they’ve created through their songs is meant convince their fans to be better people. The ‘Dark Carnival’ is essentially if Hell was a circus. The evil are punished there, so be a good person lest you join them. ICP makes a point to say that all are welcome in their fandom. It’s a haven for all the misfits, weirdos and downtrodden our society seems to produce in greater and greater numbers. This book tells their story. The unique way they’ve chosen to adapt to the alienation of our modern times. The band Phish also features prominently in this book, but I could give a shit about Phish. It’s an in-depth look at a musical fandom that is too often ridiculed. Delves into their rituals and all the wild shenanigans they get up to. And also Phish fans. This book’s title says it all: You Don’t Know Me But You Don’t Like Me by Nathan Rabin.
The main meat of this book involves the author, and entertainment writer named Nathan Rabin, spending roughly a year or two following the bands Phish and Insane Clown Posse. He goes to their concerts, he interviews their fans, he paints an intimate picture of the mythology of both bands.
The book itself is broken up into alternating chapters, once centered on ICP, followed by a chapter on Phish, repeated throughout the whole work. At its best it’s high quality journalism in the gonzo style of Hunter S. Thompson. Rabin takes drugs and fucks up his face at a Phish concert. He visits the famous ‘drug bridge’ at the gathering of the Juggalos. The main problem with writing in this way is that it only really works if you’re Hunter S. Thompson. Thompson’s self-insertion into his books works because the half-real, half-embellished literary Thompson could conceivably go toe-to-toe with the Hell’s Angels or go to Vegas with little more than a suitcase full of drugs and his lawyer. Thompson’s literary persona is endlessly entertaining, his drug-crazed antics matching the insanity of the stories he covers. Nathan Rabin is a much more by-the-book man. He played by the rules, honed his craft, and got a stable job at The Onion. Nothing’s wrong with that, but the insertion of himself into his own book is the least interesting part of this for me. Throughout Rabin’s exploration of ICP and Phishs’ fan bases, he deals with a number of personal problems, including a bipolar diagnosis and some pretty severe relationship issues. There’s nothing wrong with these parts of the book, but they’re not why I bought it. I want to learn all the weird facts about ICP’s history and read about concert shenanigans. Hunter S. Thompson knew to only insert himself into his work in ways that enhanced the story. You learn next to nothing about him in Hell’s Angels because the only things he reveals about himself are the shenanigans he gets into with drunk biker gangs. Rabin’s long diatribes about his personal struggles would be compelling in another context, but they take away from the main draw of the story.
I want to read about Juggalos. How two white-trash outsiders started a hip hop duo based around murder and clowns and made it into an almost unimaginably lucrative music empire, considering the product their selling. I want all the tattooed, face painted, Faygo spraying craziness. Regale with tales of this nonsense and nothing else, goddammit!
About half of this book does that. The portions of this work that deal with ICP are far and away the best parts. It’s a bird’s eye view of a beautifully strange subculture for a class of Americans most either never think about or just cross the street when we see them. Every Juggalo interviewed in this book could have a biopic made about their lives. Their storied are ones of struggle and pain, punctuated by moments of comradery and madness that come in the form of ICP’s shows. They’re utterly gripping. You convert those parts of the book into a long-form article in a magazine and it’s getting a Pulitzer. The other stuff, particularly involving Phish, just doesn’t have the same draw. The Phish fans in the book tend to be more mainstream then the Juggalos. They have day jobs for the most part and lack the rituals and mythology of ICP fans. Rabin gives a solid history of the band, but the Phish segments serve mostly as the stage through which he works through his personal issues, as his ex-girlfriend turned fiancé really likes the band. Rabin clearly like the music of Phish more than ICP, but his descriptions of the bands songs make it sound like overindulgent stoner rock, which is incidentally what every one of their songs I’ve heard sounds like. Simply put, Phish fans are weekend warriors, Juggalos are in it for the long haul. Phish fans didn’t riot and try to kill Tila Tequila during a festival. Phish fans aren’t labeled as a gang by the FBI. There’s no question which fandom is more interesting.
Quote of the Story:
“Insane Clown Posse fans now had a distinct identity. They weren’t just poor kids from shitty neighborhoods in Michigan who got drunk and high and involved in curious rituals; they were Juggalos. They had a name. They had traditions. That gave them a form of power. Following Insane Clown Posse wasn’t something they did. It was who they were. Even more than Phish followers, fandom defined them. It set them apart from the rest of the world and drew a thick, impregnable line between Insane Clown Posse and everyone else. The group didn’t seem to have casual fans: Either you had a fucking Hatchetman neck tattoo, or you thought they were a crime against music. There was precious little in between.” –Nathan Rabin
Keep or Donate?:
Read this book, but definitely donate afterwards. The ICP stuff is great, but there’s too much other fluff to make it worth the shelf space.