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Phishheads, Juggalos and Nathan Rabin

A new book by the former A.V. Club writer, You Don't Know Me but You Don't Like Me, debunks presumptions about maligned musical communities.

Photograph (right): Noffar Gat
Are there two modern musical subcultures more reviled by outsiders than Juggalos and Phishheads? If you’d asked former Onion A.V. Club head writer (and current staff writer for Pitchfork’s film blog, the Dissolve) Nathan Rabin that question four years ago, his answer—both professionally and personally—would have unequivocally been, “No, and with good reason.” But then he spent two years attending Phish’s and Insane Clown Posse’s curious meetings and engaging these devoted communities firsthand, documenting the journey for his latest book, You Don’t Know Me but You Don’t Like Me. We present some of the Phish/ICP haters’ common generalizations, as well as the straight dope from the book and reactions from Rabin himself.  

Presumption: They’re all college-age stoners.
You Don’t Know Me’s perspective: Lots of Phishheads are mature professionals, some looking to recapture their ephemeral youth, others drawn to the communal pull of camaraderie and performance.
Rabin’s reflection: “I found them to be a pretty sophisticated bunch, in terms of being a fairly well-educated lot.”

Presumption: They have primitive musical sensibilities.
You Don’t Know Me’s perspective: Phishheads appreciate the band as savvy curators-cum-interpreters of vintage rock, jazz and funk.
Rabin’s reflection: “The music is complex in a lot of ways that takes patience and time to understand. I don’t think anybody goes to a Phish show because they heard their hits on the radio, because they have no hits on the radio.”

Presumption: Drugs are the gateway to Phish’s music, not the other way around.
You Don’t Know Me’s perspective: If anything, the band’s epic jams and pharmaceuticals share a symbiotic relationship—but once a fan lets Phish’s music take hold of them, they may not need the intoxicants.
Rabin’s reflection: “At a really great show, there’s a perfect alchemy between the music and the people and the substances, but that isn’t inherently necessary for the journey. There are lot of people who love Phish who are very sober people. I mean, Trey Anastasio is sober.”

Presumption: They’re all angsty white kids.
You Don’t Know Me’s perspective: While there’s an ample number of angsty white kids, the ICP tribe includes plenty of black Juggalos—many of whom find comfort in being included in something bigger than themselves.
Rabin’s reflection: “A lot of things about Juggalo culture appeal to any group that might be a minority. If you’re different or offbeat or maybe not part of the mainstream, it’s a way to have a sense that you’re with people that like you just because of who you are and because you like this group.”

All they care about is beer and boobs.
You Don’t Know Me’s perspective: There are plenty of beer and drugs, but the same might be said of any music festival. There are boobs, too, but so many boobs that it almost becomes mundane.
Rabin’s reflection: “One of the interesting things was running across a lot of people who were very self-conscious and openly straight-edge. One of the Juggalos I follow on Twitter, his handle is ‘StraightedgeJuggalo.’ ”

Presumption: They are hostile to the LGBT community.
You Don’t Know Me’s perspective: Though the performers involved areprimarily male and hetero, there’s a proudly down-to-clown queer contingent among the Juggalos.
Rabin’s reflection: “There are lots of pretty out lesbians there. There are lots of badass, really strong women with their tits [out] who weigh 300 pounds, and they kind of rule things at the Gathering more so than the dudes who are 130 pounds.”