I wanted to like Nathan Rabin’s book about his (relatively brief) time intensely following two musical acts, Insane Clown Posse and Phish. I don’t know the first thing about ICP or Phish followers, other than that they’re dedicated – it’s more than an interest, it’s a way of life – and as such I was hoping that Rabin could provide some insight from the perspective of a pop culture geek who managed to infiltrate these realms. Alternatively, I hoped that I’d get some life perspective from Rabin, an introspective man who claims to have discovered a lot about his life during his two years on this road. In the end, I don’t feel that I got much of either. In terms of learning about Phish-head culture, the picture painted by Rabin is the one you would have assumed without reading – nice people, consumed by consuming drugs, grateful for the live show. If there’s much more to it than that, Rabin doesn’t convey it. As for learning about what it means to be a Juggalo, Rabin attempts to humanize them but succeeds only in portraying them as the dangerous thug losers, or “scrubs”, that most outsiders see them as. Throwing sh*t at Tila Tequila, hurling invectives at an old decrepit Iron Sheik, accepting the fact “Gatherings” are so out of control that inevitably someone will likely get killed – none of this is admirable. This isn’t outsiders and freaks rising above their societal status, banding together to achieve something. It’s just … pathetic. (If I’m insulting any Juggalos here I apologize, as I don’t mean to. I have no first-hand experience of ICP and no way in which to judge a Juggalo other than by Rabin’s account, which is meant to be semi-flattering but isn’t.)
As for the personal side of his tale, you can tell that Rabin wanted to go there but couldn’t quite pull the trigger. I don’t know if it’s because he promised his publishers a book about Phish and ICP (i.e., not a book about Nathan Rabin) or because he didn’t have the courage to go too deeply into his own psyche, but I’m extremely disappointed that the entire book isn’t more like the very last page. After writing page after page chronicling every minute detail about the Juggalos he met, Rabin takes a sharp turn, mentions his proposal to his girlfriend, and then adds a tender message about the challenges that await him dealing with mental illness, marriage, and life, and comparing it all to a transcendent jam. He is deeply philosophical and, while on many writers this would read sappy, on Rabin it works. In fact, here’s what Rabin should have done, what I believe he actually has the writing talent to do: First, write a couple of A.V. Club articles (he’s been head writer there forever), a few thousand words each on Phish and Insane Clown Posse, just to get that out of the way. We would have gotten our fill right there. Then, really delve deep into himself, figure out why he was so transformed by his “trip”, what his diagnosis really means, why he felt compelled by a Phish concert to propose to his girlfriend at the worst possible time in his life. Rabin has already written a memoir, and now he’s written a first-person account of following two famous (or infamous) musical acts. I’ve read both and yet I still feel like I only have a glimpse of what’s going on inside his mind. I keep coming back for more, because those glimpses are so extraordinary. There are other passages like the one on the very last page that show what an insightful thinker Rabin is. There are nowhere near enough though to make this book, as written, work.