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.