Former Onion A.V. Club editor Rabin’s memoir You Don't Know Me But You Don't Like Me: Phish, Insane Clown Posse, and My Misadventures with Two of Music's Most Maligned Tribes documents his adventures with the legions of misunderstood fans who follow jam-band Phish and rap group Insane Clown Posse.
In your time following Phish and ICP you overcame your initial resistance and attained a real degree of admiration for both “Phishheads” and “Juggalos”. How did this happen?
I came to both groups as an empathetic outsider, though I brought a lot of preconceptions and prejudices to the project. My first time following Phish and first visit to the Gathering of the Juggalos, I enjoyed the carnivalesque spectacle, but the music just kind of washed over me. I didn’t connect with it emotionally because it takes a lot of time, energy, and attention to really listen to music and not just hear it. When I really started listening to ICP’s music I was shocked and overjoyed at how fun, goofy, and outrageous it was. People like to laugh at ICP but with a few exceptions their music is supposed to be funny. I responded to the freedom from judgment and self-consciousness, and the way it celebrated losing and failing and imperfection. On a similar level, the second summer I followed Phish I fell in love with their music. It registered on a level that had everything to do with emotion and little to do with intellect.
These fans feel complex mixtures of pride and embarrassment about the music they like. What do you think of the idea of a musical guilty pleasure?
I think the concept of the “guilty pleasures” implies a judgment and superiority. It’s a way of conceding that certain vulgar cultural artifacts give us pleasure even though we are, on a fundamental level, “above” them, that we’re too smart or ironic or hip to really enjoy these silly things even if we seem to be smiling or laughing or exhibiting the physiological signs of enjoyment. The older I get, the less use I have for that way of thinking.
This book covers a particularly tumultuous period in your life. Could any other band have become what Phish and ICP became to you, had they come into your life in the same way?
I discovered both of these bands when I was at a particularly vulnerable point in my life. The original vision for the book entailed me covering not just the divergent fan bases of Insane Clown Posse and Phish but rather a whole slew of subcultures. I went to The Disco Biscuits’ festival, Kid Rock’s cruise, and the Jam cruise. I enjoyed them, but didn’t connect emotionally the way that I did with Phish and ICP. That’s partially because I was depressed but also because there was a psychological barrier that had to lift before I was able to push this weird little book past the finish line.
What is the public misperception about each of these fandoms that you would most want to set straight?
I think there’s a widespread misconception that both fan bases are homogeneous and conducive to easy caricature: ICP fans are illiterate, meth-addled, racist, and rural; Phish’s fans are cartoon hippies with white boy dreadlocks and an odor that can be detected from space. The truth is a lot richer and more complicated. Phish’s fan base in particular is incredibly eclectic and entails jocks, geeks and academics, and people far outside the hippie template. And there are smart, culturally engaged people who enjoy the surreal world ICP has created.
You meet some surprisingly thoughtful people in each fanbase, and I believe one of the things people will take from this book is some shame at the very fact that they were surprised.
Thanks. I had to throw out much of what I initially wrote about the first Gathering because I went back and re-read it and it felt mean-spirited in a way that horrified me. It wasn’t until I let go of those preconceptions that the project began to feel honest and valuable.
It’s been joked that pop culture writers will soon outnumber genuine fans at the Gathering of the Juggalos. What made it possible for ICP to re-emerge as a cultural force?
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that ICP has grown respectable but I do think the culture at large has developed a grudging respect for what they have accomplished. Even if you don’t like ICP’s music, you have to respect their hustle and longevity. I also think the music video for “Miracles” introduced ICP to a whole new audience. It revitalized a group that had peaked commercially in the 1990s. True, it made them a source of ironic amusement, but Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope handled this renewed attention with the right note of good humor. They’re geniuses at branding and marketing and the mainstream has given them a rare second chance to make a big impression. The Tila Tequila incident at the Gathering of the Juggalos also played a role, even if it played to the worst stereotypes of Juggalos.
What is your current level of engagement with the Phish and ICP communities?
In a perfect world, I would follow Phish every summer and cap it off with the Gathering. In this world, I need to be a little more selective. I follow a lot of Juggalos via Twitter and have a good relationship with their publicist, who has been trying to set up an interview where Violent J would interview me about my book, which would be utterly surreal and pretty awesome. I really hope Phish fans like the book. It is nothing if not an honest and open expression of sincere love and appreciation but you honestly don’t know. I got a blurb from Parks & Recreation writer and Analyze Phish host Harris Wittels, who might just be the comedy world’s preeminent Phish fan, which made me feel like I was on the right track. I’d like to feel like I belong in both communities, and that I have done right by them, but that’s ultimately up to the fans to decide.