Dedicated to classics and hits.

Friday, May 27, 2016

New Book Review: Juggalo: Insane Clown Posse and the World They Made by Steve Miller

Juggalo: Insane Clown Posse and the World They Made by Steve Miller. The cover art may be the  best part.

New Book Review:
Juggalo: Insane Clown Posse and the World They Made
 by Steve Miller
Publication date is July 12th, 2016
Da Capo Press

   The Insane Clown Posse and their fans, called Juggalos, make occasional entrances into the general popular culture.  They are know for their yearly festival, The Gathering, for being designated as a gang by the FBI (and fighting back) and for their horror-clown aesthetic.   They also make music, and run their own record label, :Psychopathic Records, which has spawned it's own universe of Inane Clown Posse fellow-travelers.  Even a neutral observer would have to say that the Juggalo sub-culture spawned by the Insane Clown Posse rates low on any scale of cultural sophistication, and high on the actual constituent elements of what makes a cohesive subculture:  shared values, physical proximity to one another and, most importantly, alienation from the dominant popular culture.

  It's impossible to over-state the importance of that last strand: alienation from the dominant popular culture.  Being a Juggalo, as revealed by the many interviews with the Artists themselves, employees and journalists who have covered the Juggalos in the national print/online media world, is very much an us vs. them mentality.   In this way, Juggalo: Insane Clown Posse and the World They Made made me think of the rise of Donald Trump and his appeal to supporters.  One astonishing difference, or perhaps, not at all astonishing difference, is the utter lack of any political element to the Juggalos and Insane Clown Posse.  You would think from the level of intense scrutiny paid by law enforcement and the demeaning stereotypes foisted upon Juggalos by the mainstream media that they were terrorists, or at least fascists, or at least racists, but the Juggalos seem to be none of these things.

   Miller takes care portraying the many Juggalos who are just plain folks, often with skilled tech service/industry type jobs, and families. Unfortunately, more time is spent detailing the various travails and conflicts between Insane Clown Posse and the world at large, most memorably their tussle, ongoing, with the FBI over their designation as a criminal street game.  A decision that, on it's face, seem incomprehensible to anyone with even a loose knowledge of Juggalo culture and music, seems even  more bizarre after reading the source material for the underlying decision.  Surely, law enforcement in versed in street gang culture would recognize the difference between Juggalos and a criminal street gang?  Sadly, no.

   There are many aspects of the Insane Clown Posse and Juggalo culture that are easy to deem as admirable, regardless of how you feel about the music.  The worth ethic, for one.  The ability to build a DIY label operation, for a second.  And, at some level, the ingenuity that it took for a couple of nowhere nobodies to create an entire eschatology and what is essentially an ideology, or at least a "way of life" for adherents.

 In a tantalizing chapter, Miller, talks to a Juggalo who has actually started a church.  One would think, considering the tax implications, that this is something Violent J and Shaggy Too Dope would at least be contemplating at this point.  I think probably the hang up is that they are both actually practicing Christians, something I gleaned not from this book, which skirts the awkward reality that both Violent J and Shaggy Too Dope are Middle Aged dads, with sons serving in the United States military.

  The downside to this book is the writing style, which is sub-New Yorker prose.  Perhaps the style is calculated to appeal to Juggalos themselves, though, and I say this with all due respect, it's hard to imagine many of the people profiled in this book picking up one themselves to read.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Blind Man With A Pistol (1969) by Chester Himes

Blind Mand With A Pistol by Chester Himes, original cover art.
Book Review
Blind Man With A Pistol (1969)
 by Chester Himes

  The 1989 Vintage Crime edition of Chester Himes' noir classic Blind Man With A Pistol carries a quote from Newsweek hailing the fact that Blind Man With A Pistol is "back in print."  That would seem to indicate that it was out of print at some point between 1969 and 1988/89, only twenty years after publication.  The time line coincidences with the artistic re-appraisal that artists receive after their death, with Himes dying in 1984, or roughly five years before the Vintage Crime edition of Blind Man With A Pistol was published.  

 The late 80's and early 90's are also the time when detective and "pulp" fiction was making a serious entry into the halls of literature departments in the American university system.  Chester Himes was a productive author between the end of World War II and the end of the 1960's.  He wrote both fiction and non-fiction, but Blind Man With A Pistol is an example of his "Harlem Cycle" about African-American police detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Differ Jones.  Blind Man With A Pistol was presumably selected from the multiple possibilities due to the late 1960's Harlem milieu.

  It was a fertile time in Harlem, with a heady mix of homosexual prostitutes, black panthers and religious freaks of all persuasions, from gleefully multi-racial hippie love cults to "Mormon" style prophets living in abandoned funeral homes with 12 wives and 26 children.   As Johnson and Jones investigate what appears to be the murder of a white john, they encounter all these outfits and more.  Blind Man With A Pistol isn't exactly neo-noir or neo-detective fiction, but it is at the end of the that period, and it coincides with the rise of "high" literature that was beginning to adopt some of the techniques of pulp fiction.

  Also Blind Man With A Pistol is very much a book "about the 60's" in a way that very many of the other books published first during this period are not.  If you exclude the fiction of the American Beats and the early long form prose of Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson, you are left with the very distant relation of mid career Doris Lessing and Edna O'Brien. 

Blog Archive