Thursday, June 13, 2013

Following Phish and Insane Clown Posse, Nathan Rabin Finds Much More in "You Don't Know Me, But You Don't Like Me."

Having read Nathan Rabin's previous works, his memoir The Big Rewind, and his collection of columns, My Year of Flops, I knew to expect almost anything from his new book. But when You Don't Know Me, But You Don't Like Me turned out to be about Phish and Insane Clown Posse, I turned a certain shade of green-not the envy kind, the slightly sick kind. The worlds of these groups didn't exactly intrigue me; they scared me.

We're thrilled to say that Nathan Rabin is coming back for his newest book, on Tuesday, June 25, 7 pm, in an event sponsored by WMSE 91.7 FM.

While I don't really listen to much music now, both bands had their first bouts of fame when I was a rather thorough fan, whose listening and chronicling was nothing short of obsessive. Despite this, I was pretty confident that I had not listened to a song from either band from start to finish. One was too trippy, the other too scary.

But then I stepped back and viewed everything from a different lens. As a reader, I have always been drawn to subcultures. One of my favorite Dan Savage books is Skipping Towards Gomorrah, where the author immersed himself into the world of gamblers, swingers, gluttons. I'm embarrassed and yet strangely proud to say that the only Howard Jacobson book I've read is his nonfiction book of Jewish subcultures, Roots Schmoots. And while I've never sat through a complete episode of "Little People, Big World", I still think about John Richardson's In a Little World, about the social world of little people and dwarfs.

Nathan Rabin, over the course of a couple of years, followed both acts on tour. He went to their festivals of Superball and The Gathering of the Juggalos. He met the followers and learned their stories. And in a sense, he became a follower. For while in previous years, he disparaged both bands without really knowing their music, he realized that you need to appreciate the music to avoid being the disparaging outsider journalist.

The worlds of Phish and Insane Clown Posse (or ICP, for short) have some similarities that separate them out from, say, Rod Stewart fanatics. Theres the outsider status, and a strong drug culture element to following both bands. But mostly there's a philosophy inherent in each group's following.  There is a bit of cultiness about the whole thing, except that I think neither Trey Anastasio and Violent J had any interest in really being charismatic leaders.

On the other hand, there are dramatic differences to the two acts', their cultures, and their trajectories. For most of its career, Phish has been tolerated by the media, while ICP has been pretty much hated. The major labels worked very hard to break Phish, while ICP's major label contracts generally involved collecting the cash without much marketing effort. ICP was perceived as being racist, when there are specifically anti-racist references in their music. To Rabin, and it all comes down to class--Phish followers are generally societal haves while the Insane Clown Posse Juggalos are have nots. In just one example of the differences between the two acts' fan bases, there are several books available on Phish, but I can't find anything in print in the Ingram database on Insane Clown Posse.

Because Rabin journeys to all these gatherings almost completely by bus, he winds up meeting all sorts of folks along the way. Sometimes its Greyhound, and other times it is special coaches just for the festival goers. I assume that lots of these folks are in no condition to drive, so that's a good thing. But for Rabin, it also gives him a chance to connect with all sorts of folks. Even at the concerts themselves, people are up to connecting with strangers. You're all sort of one clique at these things, and at he Phish gatherings in particular, it's pretty easy to make instand friends, and though you may never see them again, it's not considered good form to allude to the temporary nature of the bond.

You'll probably much-maligned but indisbutably catchy "Miracles" video from ICP, which Rabin credits as sparking his connection to the band. And then you'll want to see the parody. And then you'll want to see the Gathering of the Juggalos promotional video. And then you'll want to see the Saturday Night Live parody of said promotional video. So I'm cutting to the chase and including that. I'm sure you've seen it, unless you tend to fall asleep early and have a rule that you never watch funny video clips. You can watch the Kickspit Underground Rock Festival video here. Warning, it has some adult language, but we're talking Saturday Night Live adult.

But I'm giving away nothing. This is as much Rabin's story as it is the two bands' and their followers'. And yes, the arc of redemption involves first heading into the abyss. I should say up front that I was concerned about the drug use that's in You Don't Know Me, but You Don't Like Me (parental warning!), particularly because it seemd like a particularly shaky thing for someone diagnosed as bipolar (Mr. Rabin, I've just morphed from your reader into your mother.)

It's a story that had me listening to each band's music for the first time, as well watching the parodies and the interviews. And speaking of interviews, we learn in the book that at the same time Rabin was working on this project, and still with a full-time job at the AV Club, he worked on a project writing the text for Weird Al's coffee table book, which came out last fall.  Here's a fascinating video interview with Rabin and the AV Club.

Our event with Nathan Rabin is Tuesday, June 25, and in a supremely strange coincidence, that's the same night that Weird Al Yankovic is appearing at the Brookfield Barnes and Noble for his kids' book, My New Teacher and Me. Their signing begins at 6 pm. Get there early enough and you can probably do both, and get your copy of Weird Al: The Book signed by both Weird Al and his official biographer, thoough I should note that you must by your copy of his kids' book from Barnes and Noble in order to get in the signing line. Hey, I wonder what Weird Al Yankovic followers are called. After a bit of research, the answer seems to be "Weird Al Yankovic fans."

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