(Consider all the Used Book Store reviews as spoilers.)
The first time I came across Nathan Rabin’s book You Don’t Know me But You Don’t Like Me, I was both intrigued and suspicious. I love subcultures. The pockets of enjoyment people nestle themselves into for escape are always blown way out of proportion by outside eyes, but it also fascinates me what people will come up with to entertain themselves. Myself included. Still, a book about Phish and ICP? That sounded more like punishment than pleasure. Having gone to a private high school and then a liberal arts college, I had already had my share of Phish fans. My only experience with ICP was once seeing their tour bus outside Burger King back in high school, the infamous “Miracles” video, and the depiction of Juggalos and ICP in Homestuck.
This is one of the main points of Rabin’s book: that both these bands and the people who follow them get unfairly maligned due to uninformed public perception. Rabin says that one group, Phish’s hippie fans, tends to have a better surface image due to the fact that they are mostly wealthy, white, and educated. While tedious, it’s acceptable. Juggalos don’t get as fair a shake. He immersed himself in the music festival culture of both these bands. Despite their vast differences musically and class-wise, there are a lot of commonalities the events share. They all foster a sense of belonging and family. They are almost always spectacles with ample chances for drug use. They both have frontmen who hit rock bottom and made changes to save their lives: Trey Anastasio by going sober and Violent J by walking.
The Phish sections tend to be a bit breathless for my taste. There are only so many drug-fueled epiphanies that I can tolerate, and things start to feel less genuine the longer they go on. To his credit, Rabin’s reflections on his Phish adventures are self-aware and unapologetic. I’m not surprised by anything that happens with the Phish sections. Nothing is illuminated for me in terms of the fans or the band. Rabin himself comes into clearer focus and that’s about it. I also have to admit that my disdain for Phish might color my perception of his experiences. The Juggalos sections are more enjoyable, as Rabin presents the reader with more of a history and backstory. There’s more socio-political examinations that go along with the personal discovery. Rabin comes across as more invested and excited in these moments. His enthusiasm is contagious. I found myself moved by these sections, mostly in a positive way. Though, Rabin does discuss the moment Tila Tequila was assaulted at The Gathering of the Juggalos after her performance. Rabin doesn’t shy away from the misogyny that is a big problem within these events, but he doesn’t necessarily call it out for what it is.
I’m going to take a moment to say this review was difficult to write, which surprised me. I kept critiquing the author’s actions, which given the content, didn’t sit right with me. Should a book review be a review of the author’s personal choices? Which something that is both memoir and gonzo, I’d say that those bits are fair game to an extent. That being said, any critique I had was also addressed in book by Rabin. I personally don’t find a lot of enjoyment in the “do a lot of drugs and hit the road” genre of gonzo journalism. His Hunter S. Thompson lite exploits are recounted with honesty, which makes them more palatable.
About halfway through the book, after a tumultuous and ecstatic experience following Phish, Rabin’s psychiatrist and therapist both agree he may be bipolar. The diagnosis itself gets little page time, though the symptoms run throughout the whole book. I appreciate the deft handling of his nervous breakdown. He discusses it, runs from it, holds it, laughs at it, names it. There isn’t a lot of hand wringing about it. He doesn’t fix it. It stays with him. This is a person coming to terms with himself and the reality of his situation. The title says it all: when I first started the book, I was put off by Rabin’s sentimentality around his then girlfriend and his desire to retcon himself into her past the same way he was put off by Phish and ICP. I didn’t know him, but I already didn’t like him. And I was wrong.
Why Now: In the wake of Trump’s election, Rabin himself said it best. These groups of disaffected people show us how divided we have become and how much we invest in othering as many people as we can. Trump relied on this to get elected. I would add, though, that the rub is that we all have stupid, ridiculous thing we’ve loved or still love. That the commonalities between Phish fans and Juggalos only support the idea that people will latch on to things that help them feel connected. The goal of both Phish fans and Juggalos is to grow, to be better, to learn, and to experience the world around them.
In Conclusion: This book is an enjoyable journey into two subcultures. It’s a fast read for sure, mainly because I found myself wanting to get back to the ICP stories. Rabin’s got a journalistic style that’s quick witted and approachable. For whatever critique I may have, this book is well-written, smart, and fun. For my part, I’m going to give his book 7 Days in Ohio: Trump, The Gathering of the Juggalos, and the Summer Everything Went Insane a read.
Quote: From You Don’t Know Me But You Don’t Like Me, page 71:
When Violent J tries to defend the lyrics as fresh, Bashir testily counters, “But isn’t this almost prepubescent, barely literate writing?”
Once again, the fat man in the clown makeup pushing forty emerges as more civil, reasonable, and rational than the ostensible newsman alerting audiences to the Juggalo menace. With cheerful good humor, Violent J responds, “Probably to you, because you sound smart as a motherfucker.”