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Jack White + Insane Clown Posse Collab: Was It Ahead of its time?

Tahlia Palmer: Steady Eye

Jack White + Insane Clown Posse Collab: Was It Ahead of its time?

Andrew Ryan

Insane Clown Posse are probably best known to all the non-Juggalos out there for their song “Miracles”. They have been around since 1989, amassing a huge fan base over time, a huge tight-knit fan base who are known as Juggalos, who are generally perceived by outsiders as awful. Insane Clown Posse believe in God (this is shown quite clearly in Miracles) though they don’t identify as Christian, but they have apparently been leading their fans towards Him from the beginning anyway. They write songs with social commentary, which is communicated in simple, easy to digest ways. They express the frustration of social ills through the heaviness of their music, and encourage their fans to express themselves freely too, express their frustrations, get it out.

Social commentary example, from a fan talking on the newgrounds forum in 2002:

“The song “Terrible” off “The Amazing Jeckel Brothers” album:
“The country we live in was built by slaves
Beat down and murdered and stuffed in they graves
You put a slave owner on a 1 dollar bill
And you wanna know why I kill people!!!!
Bombs are blowing up, cops are corrupt
And all ya care about is who the president fucked!
You don’t know terrible, you will
As soon as our wagons come over the HILL!“”

As can be seen in this doco, sense of community amongst fans is very much encouraged, and played out in spades. The focus is definitely on bonding. They crave social interactions that are open, warm, and supportive, just like everyone else… and they get it, in numbers, through clown-painted-faces and celebrations marked with the exploding-of-bottles-of-softdrink. Some Juggalos get in to trouble, like every group, everywhere, but by the nature of their adamant self-identification with the culture (tattoos, jewellery, merchandise), those ones are very much noticed by the authorities.

In 2011, the FBI put Juggalos on a list of gangs to keep an eye on, which lead to negative treatment of those who identify as such. The band and a few fans are suing the FBI to strike the name off this list, and to pay for any damages incurred.

“The Juggalos are fighting for the basic American right to freely express who they are, to gather and share their appreciation of music, and to discuss issues that are important to them without fear of being unfairly targeted and harassed by police.”- Michael J. Steinberg, ACLU of Michigan legal director.

In that very same year, guitar music man legend Jack White collaborated with Insane Clown Posse CP on two tracks- one of which is mostly made up of a Mozart composition about getting your arse licked- and released it on vinyl. I heard this track not long after its release, and was repulsed, confused, amused. I had very little knowledge of ICP, and I was under the impression that Juggalos were a bunch of meat-headed idiots who love wasting beverages on each others – and their own- heads. My respect for Jack White dropped. I stopped caring about listening to his new releases, and perhaps many in my circles of friends and acquaintances did too because barely anything ever came up about him, though we all appreciated and enjoyed The White Stripes at some stage.

Fast forward to the other day, and I learn that Jacky Boy has just released a new album, and that the vinyl pressing of this album has got some experimental vinyl-technology things going on with them. A few firsts, infact. Hear all about it from the man himself in this video.

He has long been a staunch analogue-recording guy, and it makes sense for him to release some never-before-done shit on his latest album, jumping into the recently re-opened market of vinyl collectors; doing it before anyone else has a shot to explore these innovations. Ahead of his time. And I’ve come to think that Insane Clown Posse collaboration was kinda ahead of its time too.

How did the ICP + Jack White thing come about? There are plenty of interviews with ICP about it (not very in-depth ones mind you), and they say he asked them if they wanted to work with him, but I couldn’t find any interviews with Jack, no words on the reasoning. So I want to guesstimate those things.

Maybe there is something to the fact that Jack White was raised in a Catholic family… perhaps there was a recognition that while ICP are one of the most loathed bands in the world, and he garnered a lot of criticism for wanting to cut a record with them… they also have a sort of spiritual fervour that he found enticing, interesting, appealing to work with?

As was explored in the conversation between he and Conan O’Brian (which I highly recommend watching), he likes to struggle in his art, likes to create constrictions on himself to make himself work harder. Perhaps Insane Clown Posse were the ultimate struggle?

Maybe both of those things have something to do with it.

But I think it goes a lot deeper. In this interview I just linked to, White talks about using the idea of a façade as a test to see if people can look past the external to just listen to the music (The White Stripes all dressed up like kids and candy whilst playing blues music, for example). The attitude reminds me of my friend Marty, who has recently been sporting a rather striking- and what some might call a rather offensive- mullet. We hadn’t seen each other or spoken in a few years until last week, and at one point in the evening I mentioned his hair, how I liked it, and his reply was what I gather Jack White is trying to say about the façade concept: “Yes! It acts like a filter, the good ones can see through it.”

Maybe, maybe, Jack White played this facade game again with Insane Clown Posse. Perhaps he set it up to see how ICP’s fans would react, as well as how his own would. He was met with a lot of weirdness and criticism from his own fans- as I said earlier, I was definitely among the omg-wtf-no crowd- but interestingly, among the reactions of Juggalos on the internet, I have come across predominantly positive and supportive attitudes.

So I am finally relistening to Leck Mich Im Arsch, to get a new reading of it, three years later. Maybe he’s trying to teach ICP’s listenership something? Showing them that hundreds of year ago, someone they thought was just some old guy chamber-music bullshit was actually a badass, and wrote silly songs for his friends. It’s a good plan: tell ICP about that song, get them to describe it in their own way, have their producer make their sounds to go along with it, drop in a heavy “look, it’s me on guitar” thing, and Bob’s your uncle, Juggalos have learnt about Mozart, under the assumption that he freaky as helllll. As far as using available communication technology to reach a previously unreachable audience goes, this is pretty interesting.

Who knows, perhaps Mozart will keep the Juggalos from organising themselves in to a political force to be reckoned with? Or maybe it will influence that inevitable uprising in a positive way. Jack White, changing the world for the better, one clown-painted-face at a time. Maybe.

Post Script-
I had never heard the B-side track, so I hunted it down and gave Mountain Girl a whirl. It’s country as fuck; big ol story tellin’. I think what Jack is doing it offering a new medium for the communication of ICP’s own ideas, something they probably won’t do of their own volition or invention. A new medium opens up the potential for a different audience too… It’s a pretty good story, if you can ignore the occasional shouting of the lyrics. Get Blixa Bargeld on guitar, Mick Harvey on drums instead of the twanging fast paced country gi-tar, and you’ve got yourself a near Murder Ballad, only a little less poetic.

Jack White did an experiment, and now that it’s been 3 years or so, I reckon I can say that I totally appreciate what he was trying. I wouldn’t listen to this record for pleasure, but I am certainly glad to give it a little study time.