You Don't Know Me But You Don't Like Me by Nathan Rabin
You Don't Know Me But You Don't Like Me documents Nathan Rabin's journey into two vastly different but equally mocked musical fan bases. Phish and Insane Clown Posse are about as far away as you can get from each other in terms of sound, lyrics, and subject matter. The one thing that they do have in common is that their fans have very few qualms about conscious-altering substances.
That's how Rabin finds his ticket in. He's been going through some issues lately—actually he's been going through issues his whole life. Lower-class with a foster-home upbringing, Rabin managed to carve a niche for himself in Chicago writing for the A.V. Club, a cultural review publication that belongs to The Onion. Despite that success, it certainly cannot help to be diagnosed bipolar, which is exactly what happened to Rabin on his journey.
Bipolar might be the most apt diagnosis for this entire endeavor. As I said, these two musical acts could not be more different.
Phish is the 30-year-old brainchild of Trey Anastasio. Formed in 1983, the band picked up The Grateful Dead's torch in the Nineties and ran with it, where they were able to fill the Jerry Garcia-sized hole in the hearts of Deadheads. Like that earlier band, they pride themselves on extended guitar solos, gentle lyrics, and encouraging bootleg recordings from their live shows.
Insane Clown Posse is more than anything a brilliant marketing strategy disguised as a couple of white rappers from Detroit in clown make-up. They offer their fans, known as Juggalos, a detailed mythology called The Dark Carnival. Each album release is another clue to their mythology. ICP raps about violence, mayhem, and living by your own rules.
In mainstream circles both fan bases find themselves the subject of ridicule. Phish heads, as they're called, deal with 21st-century hippie blacklash. Meanwhile Juggalos, ICP's fans, are the only musical fan base to be labeled a gang by the FBI.
So Rabin, in the midst of a few existential crises—his mental health, his job, his relationship, decided to see what these subcultures were all about. Soon he finds himself pretty enraptured with both groups and their fans. He meets people who have carved out a community for themselves when they could not find it anywhere else.
For anyone looking for an impartial anthropological study of Phish heads and Juggalos, this is not quite it. Rabin provides a history of both bands, captures the details of their shows and festivals, and he talks to a great many fans, but this is ultimately an internal conflict we're dealing with.
Everything is filtered through Rabin's anxieties. The book reminds me most of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, by Tom Wolfe. Despite Rabin's personal issues, I think he has a bit more fun than Wolfe did with the Merry Pranksters. "Whoop Whoop!", as excited Juggalos are known to say.
Another music book that secretly more about its author is Chuck Klosterman's Killing Yourself to Live. Klosterman visits the death sites of notable musicians across America, meditates on how death is more meaningful for an artist's image than life, and tries to get over no fewer than three women. Both titles complements each other.
If you are looking for that impartial anthropological study, I do suggest you watch Sean Dunne's short documentary American Juggalo. Available for free online, the film captures a slice of America in a way that I have not seen since Errol Morris' fantastic Vernon, Florida. One warning: Juggalos are not safe for work. Just to be fair, I'll also leave you with a nice, little Phish performance of the Rolling Stones' Loving Cup.
Ultimately, Nathan Rabin is an incredibly accessible writer whose enthusiasm for his subjects is beyond compare. Rarely do you get honest sincerity from a pop culture critic. In such cynical times, that is a true gift.