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Nathan Rabin's Psychospiritual Odyssey Among Two Lost Tribes of American Pop Culture

Posted: 06/14/2013 12:15 pm

Nathan Rabin is no stranger to manic descents into the darkest corners of mind, body and soul. His memoir, "The Big Rewind," told through the lens of pop culture, is rife with trauma, heartbreak, neglect and often-debilitating neuroses.

So, perhaps it's not surprising that soon after setting out to research and write "You Don't Know Me But You Don't Like Me: Phish, Insane Clown Posse and My Misadventures With Two of Music's Most Maligned Tribes," Rabin tumbled in a downward spiral to the pits of emotional hell.

What is surprising -- to the author and his dear readers alike -- is that the knee-jerk, stereotype-based derision he initially felt toward Phish and Insane Clown Posse soon blossomed into full-blown love and obsession.

"Going to see Phish," he said, "is now one of my favorite things. In. The. World."

Documenting two years of following Phish and the ICP to the farthest reaches of his sanity and soul, Rabin's new book is a chronicle of teshuvah -- repentance and return -- from the sin of the Golden Cliche.

As a Jewish fan of Phish whose devotion to the music regularly veers toward heresy, snagging an advance copy of "You Don't Know Me" was for me like finding the keys to the Holy of Holies while the High Priest is out on paid leave from his Temple duties. The book was a revelatory, face-to-face dialogue with divinity.

Opening the book for the first time and discovering that Rabin's introduction to the whimsical world of Phish was in Miami in 2009, and that his quest for jamband understanding had a lot do with falling in love with a girl, a hunch I once had about the deeply spiritual, serendipitous underpinnings of Phish's music and the surrounding scene began to seem all the more real.

Three years and some months ago, I made the pilgrimage to Miami for four consecutive nights of Phish. I was in high school in 2004 when the band broke up, presumably forever. The colorful caravan of intoxicating music, myth and camaraderie had seemingly passed me by, and the two innocent shows I'd managed to convince my parents to pay for and let me attend taunted and teased my memory. So Miami '09 was an emotional homecoming. The venue was mere hours from my college, friends from every facet of my life would be there and, after following Phish's reunion shows with spine-tingling jealousy earlier in the year from my apartment in Jerusalem, I had tickets to all four nights of rapturous, musical bliss.

Those shows planted a seed in my soul: I would write a book about the connection between Phish's nightly feats of improvisational wizardry and the laughably ubiquitous presence of other members of my tribe -- the Jews -- within Phish's universe, framed as a review of the four shows in Miami '09.

One of the first stories I wrote as an intern at HuffPost was "Going to Synagogue at Madison Square Garden," about the very Jewish experience of dancing ecstatically on New Year's Eve 2010 at a Phish concert.

Fast forward a few years and I'm now engaged to an amazing, Phish-loving Jewess whom I met because of that story. A few weeks from now, we will pack the car and hit the road to follow Phish along the East Coast before moving to Jerusalem later this summer.

In "You Don't Know Me," albeit a thoroughly secular source, I found confirmation for my theories about the holiness of Phish's music.

"When you have these kind of transcendent concert experiences, it has as much to do if not more to do with the audience than the band itself," Rabin told me on the eve of the book's publication. "There are so many stories at every show, at every festival, at every concert, and they just don't get told. And this was an attempt to tell one of those stories, or a couple of those stories, and preserve for posterity what is almost by definition kind of an ephemeral, transitory thing: being at a show and feeling these emotions, connecting not just with the music, but to this world, to this history, to this whole kind of tradition."

In his deftly told tale, ICP fans evolve from an illiterate horde of trailer trash-talkers to an all-embracing family of misfits in clown makeup, while the denizens of Phishland shed the collective patchouli-stained drug rug of privileged iniquity and emerge as care-free spiritual seekers of the highest degree.

From darkness to light, Rabin himself transforms on tour. Instead of compulsively obsessing over the past in order to manufacture some perfect, impossible future, cavorting at ICP and Phish's respective carnivals of darkness and light opened his eyes to the "sacred present." Asked if he'll be spotted on tour again this summer, his response was telling.

"God willing," he said, before laughing maniacally.

A longer, nerdier version of this appeared in Hidden Track.

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  • Juggalo

  • Phish fans began gathering on Friday, September 2, 2011 at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City to camp for the three nights of Phish concerts. Elizabeth Caspain aka "Mystic Diva" from Flagstaff, AZ shows off her happy face shades. Cyrus McCrimmon,

    Phish fans began gathering on Friday, September 2, 2011 at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City to camp for the three nights of Phish concerts. Elizabeth Caspain aka 'Mystic Diva' from Flagstaff, AZ shows off her happy face shades. (Photo By Cyrus McCrimmon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

  • Gathering of the Juggalos

  • It may be one of the largest beach ball parties ever as the inflatable objects appeared while the band Phish took the stage at Super Ball IX at Watkins Glen International Speedway Saturday July 2, 2011. Close to 60,000 were expected for the three day event that ends Sunday. The last concert to be held at the venue was in 1973 where over 600,000 watched headliners The Grateful Dead perform. (AP Photo/Finger Lakes Times,Spencer Tulis)

  • Phish Returns At Hampton Coliseum - Day 2 - Backstage And Atmosphere

    HAMPTON, VA - MARCH 07: Phish performs at the Hampton Coliseum on March 7, 2009 in Hampton, Virginia. (Photo by C. Taylor Crothers/FilmMagic)

  • Phish New Years Eve Concert

    Audience during Phish New Years Eve Concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

  • Juggalette

  • Phish

    From left, Ken and Eric Anderson drove from Denver, Colo., for Phish's concert at Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, Virginia, on Friday, March 6, 2009. (Photo by Rob Ostermaier/Newport News Daily Press/MCT via Getty Images)

  • Juggalo

  • Phish fans showed their enthusiam as Phish jammed through their opening number Wednesday night in Denver.

    Phish fans showed their enthusiam as Phish jammed through their opening number Wednesday night in Denver. (Photo By Karl Gehring/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

  • Juggalo

  • Phish fans began gathering on Friday, September 2, 2011 at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City to camp for the three nights of Phish concerts. Walter Clymer aka "Pyro Gypsy" from a Alaska plays his guitar after putting his tent together on the soc

    Phish fans began gathering on Friday, September 2, 2011 at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City to camp for the three nights of Phish concerts. Walter Clymer aka 'Pyro Gypsy' from a Alaska plays his guitar after putting his tent together on the soccer fields. Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post (Photo By Cyrus McCrimmon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

  • Gathering of the Juggalos

  • Phish fans began gathering on Friday, September 2, 2011 at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City to camp for the three nights of Phish concerts. Rory Wilson of Boulder carries her hula hoops for dancing in the camping area. Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denv

    Phish fans began gathering on Friday, September 2, 2011 at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City to camp for the three nights of Phish concerts. Rory Wilson of Boulder carries her hula hoops for dancing in the camping area. Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post (Photo By Cyrus McCrimmon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

  • The 2003 BillBoard Music Awards - Arrival

    LAS VEGAS - DECEMBER 10: The Insane Clwon Posse attends the 2003 Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena December 10, 2003 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The 14th annual ceremony airs live tonight on FOX 8:00-10:00 PM ET Live/PT. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Getty Images)

  • Phish Returns at Hampton Coliseum - Day 3 - Concert

    HAMPTON, VA - MARCH 08: Trey Anastasio of Phish performs at the Hampton Coliseum on March 8, 2009 in Hampton, Virginia. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

  • Phish

    Phish performs during the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn., Sunday, June 10, 2012. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

  • Phish fans began gathering on Friday, September 2, 2011 at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City to camp for the three nights of Phish concerts. Bob Blanding of Winter Park, CO stakes down his leaf for shelter on the soccer fields. Cyrus McCrimmon,

    Phish fans began gathering on Friday, September 2, 2011 at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City to camp for the three nights of Phish concerts. Bob Blanding of Winter Park, CO stakes down his leaf for shelter on the soccer fields. Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post (Photo By Cyrus McCrimmon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

  • 2011 Outside Lands Music And Arts Fesitval - Lands End Stage - Day 1

    Phish performs at the Lands End Stage during the 2011 Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival held at Golden Gate Park on August 12, 2011 in San Francisco, California.

  • Disco Man 2010

  • 2012 Bonnaroo Music And Arts Festival - Day 4

    MANCHESTER, TN - JUNE 10: Trey Anastasio and Phish perform at Day 4 of the Bonnaroo Music And Arts Festival on June 10, 2012 in Manchester, Tennessee. (Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)

  • 2011 Outside Lands Music And Arts Festival - Lands End Stage - Day 1

    SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 12: Phish music fans attend the Lands End Stage during the 2011 Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival held at Golden Gate Park on August 12, 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

  • 2011 Outside Lands Music And Arts Festival - Lands End Stage - Day 1

    SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 12: Phish performs at the Lands End Stage during the 2011 Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival held at Golden Gate Park on August 12, 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

  • Phish in Concert at Wetlands - June 1990

    Phish during Phish in Concert at Wetlands - June 1990 at Wetlands in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Steve Eichner/WireImage)

  • 2011 Outside Lands Music And Arts Festival - Lands End Stage - Day 1

    SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 12: Phish performs at the Lands End Stage during the 2011 Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival held at Golden Gate Park on August 12, 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

  • Phish - Commerce City, CO

    COMMERCE CITY, CO - AUGUST 31: Atmosphere as Phish fans attend the first concert in a set of three Phish concerts at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on August 31, 2012 in Commerce City, Colorado. (Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)

  • 2011 Outside Lands Music And Arts Festival - Lands End Stage - Day 1

    SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 12: Phish performs at the Lands End Stage during the 2011 Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival held at Golden Gate Park on August 12, 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

  • Phish in Concert 1995 - Mountain View CA

    MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA - SEPTEMBER 30: Phish drum circle scene at Shoreline Amphitheatre on September 30, 1995 in Mountain View California. (Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)

  • 2011 Outside Lands Music And Arts Festival - Lands End Stage - Day 1

    SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 12: Phish performs at the Lands End Stage during the 2011 Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival held at Golden Gate Park on August 12, 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

  • Phish Returns At Hampton Coliseum

    HAMPTON, VA - MARCH 06: Phish Fans attend their return concert at the Hampton Coliseum on March 6, 2009 in Hampton, Virginia. (Photo by Cory Schwartz/Getty Images)

  • 2011 Outside Lands Music And Arts Festival - Lands End Stage - Day 1

    SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 12: Phish performs at the Lands End Stage during the 2011 Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival held at Golden Gate Park on August 12, 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

  • Phish's Festival 8 At The Empire Polo Club - Day 2

    INDIO, CA - OCTOBER 31: A general view of day two of the Phish Festival 8 on October 31, 2009 in Indio, California. (Photo by Dove Shore/Getty Images)

  • Bonnaroo 2009 - Day 4 - Phish

    MANCHESTER, TN - JUNE 14: General view during Phish performance on stage during Bonnaroo 2009 on June 14, 2009 in Manchester, Tennessee. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

  • 2009 Bonnaroo Music And Arts Festival - Day 2

    MANCHESTER, TN - JUNE 12: Artist Joe Young works on a weekend long painting during Phish's performance at the 2009 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival on June 12, 2009 in Manchester, Tennessee. (Photo by Rob Loud/Getty Images)

  • 2009 Bonnaroo Music And Arts Festival - Day 2

    MANCHESTER, TN - JUNE 12: Artist Joe Young works on a weekend long painting during Phish's performance at the 2009 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival on June 12, 2009 in Manchester, Tennessee. (Photo by Rob Loud/Getty Images)

  • Bonnaroo 2009 - Day 2 - Phish

    MANCHESTER, TN - JUNE 12: Phish performs on stage during Bonnaroo 2009 on June 12, 2009 in Manchester, Tennessee. (Photo by C. Taylor Crothers/FilmMagic)

  • Phish Returns At Hampton Coliseum - Day 2 - Backstage And Atmosphere

    HAMPTON, VA - MARCH 07: Phish performs at the Hampton Coliseum on March 7, 2009 in Hampton, Virginia. (Photo by C. Taylor Crothers/FilmMagic)

  • Phish Returns At Hampton Coliseum - Day 2 - Backstage And Atmosphere

    HAMPTON, VA - MARCH 07: A general view during Phish Returns at the Hampton Coliseum on March 7, 2009 in Hampton, Virginia. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

  • Phish Returns at Hampton Coliseum - Day 3 - Concert

    HAMPTON, VA - MARCH 08: Trey Anastasio and Mike Gordon of Phish performs at the Hampton Coliseum on March 8, 2009 in Hampton, Virginia. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

  • Phish Returns At Hampton Coliseum

    HAMPTON, VA - MARCH 06: Mechandise is sold prior to the Phish concert at the Hampton Coliseum on March 6, 2009 in Hampton, Virginia. (Photo by Cory Schwartz/Getty Images)

  • Phish Returns at Hampton Coliseum - Day 1 - Concert

    HAMPTON, VA - MARCH 06: Page McConnell, Trey Anastasio, Mike Gordon and Jon Fishman of Phish perform at the Hampton Coliseum on March 6, 2009 in Hampton, Virginia. (Photo by C. Taylor Crothers/FilmMagic)

  • Phish Returns At Hampton Coliseum - Day 1 - Concert

    HAMPTON, VA - MARCH 06: Page McConnell and Trey Anastasio of Phish perform at the Hampton Coliseum on March 6, 2009 in Hampton, Virginia. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

  • Phish Returns At Hampton Coliseum Day 2 - Backstage And Atmosphere

    HAMPTON, VA - MARCH 07: A general view during Phish Returns at the Hampton Coliseum on March 7, 2009 in Hampton, Virginia. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

  • Phish Performs at Keyspan Park in Coney Island - June 17, 2004

    Phish Fans (Photo by James Devaney/WireImage)

  • Phish IT Festival Day 2

    Phish (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

  • Phish IT Festival

    Phish (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

  • Phish New Years Eve Concert

    Audience during Phish New Years Eve Concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

  • Phish In Concert New Year's Eve - December 31, 1999

    Atmosphere during Phish In Concert New Year's Eve - December 31, 1999 at Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation in Big Cypress, Florida, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)

  • Phish Returns At Hampton Coliseum - Day 2 - Backstage And Atmosphere

    HAMPTON, VA - MARCH 07: Phish performs at the Hampton Coliseum on March 7, 2009 in Hampton, Virginia. (Photo by C. Taylor Crothers/FilmMagic)

  • Phish In Concert New Year's Eve - December 31, 1999

    Atmosphere during Phish In Concert New Year's Eve - December 31, 1999 at Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation in Big Cypress, Florida, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)

  • Phish In Concert New Year's Eve - December 31, 1999

    Atmosphere during Phish In Concert New Year's Eve - December 31, 1999 at Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation in Big Cypress, Florida, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)

 

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