The article below was originally written for and published by Crawdaddy! in two thousand ten. Since that time my appreciation for the enormously absurd album discussed has only grown deeper. Just call me Stretch Nuts.
Quality, essence, virtue—terms that, by this point, are rarely (if ever) debated when it comes to Insane Clown Posse, the ultimate bastard sons of music. True Juggalos have already unconditionally accepted the alleged greatness of rapping jesters Violent J & Shaggy 2 Dope like the most fervent born again Christians, while those outside “The Dark Carnival” have difficulty thinking of a more pathetic and misguided social subset America has produced. Even Civil War re-enactors rank higher than Juggalos, mostly because of their stately 1860s facial hair and the vintage weapons they brandish that could blow your spleen across a Long John Silver’s parking lot.
The Juggalos are one thing; overzealous fans of any entity (Paul McCartney, the Green Bay Packers, the Twilight franchise) can be intolerable. Is it fair, though, to automatically malign and dismiss the Wicked Clowns themselves? I was viewing the much-ballyhooed video for ICP’s “Miracles” the other day, and I have to say, aside from the LOL-inducing, are-they-serious? lyrics, the song is pretty boring. Straight up, “Miracles” is a boring ass song. The clowns aren’t even really rapping, they’re just kinda talking softly (save for that jaw-dropping “fuck scientists” bit). The beat in “Mircales” is equally flaccid. The sub-mediocrity I saw before me got the rusty gears in my brain turning.
These guys weren’t always this bad.
Yeah, yeah, Insane Clown Posse used to be, like, kind of exciting. Actually almost insane, even. 1997. The Great Milenko. Everyone I knew had that album. Everyone I knew loved that album. It was funny, it was weird, it was stupid, the songs had legitimately cool beats. The clowns had dreadlocks. They relied heavily on the term “stretch nuts.” They screamed shit like their trashy Midwestern lives depended on it.
What happened? Am I crazy? Is this selective amnesia?
As my steam-powered noggin began chugging, I remembered that I had very similar thoughts of disappointment when ICP released the limp single “Let’s Go All The Way” in 2000. It sounded like fuckin’ half-assed 311. Where was the evil calliope music? I was dumbfounded when I saw Violent J in the video with closely cropped bleach blonde hair. Were the Wicked Clowns selling out on the final Joker’s Card?
I’m not sure it’s possible to sell out when your group is named Insane Clown Posse and you’ve been signed to a Disney subsidiary for an amount of time that can be measured in hours. Hollywood Records paid $1 million for the rights to release The Great Milenko in 1997 after a groundswell of industry buzz. Then, someone in khakis actually listened to the thing, and Disney realized these clowns were insane in the stabby killy way, not the wearing-Hawaiian-shirts-to-business-meetings way. Hollywood withdrew Milenko the same day it was released (even though it had already sold nearly 20,000 copies and was climbing up the charts) and canceled all future plans for ICP. The Clowns were at an autograph signing when they learned they were no longer part of Donald Duck’s extended family.
I can think of ten thousand hardcore punk bands who wish they could say they were kicked off a major label like that. Let’s face it: ICP were the Clinton Era’s Sex Pistols, and Disney was their great rock n’ roll swindle.
Though nowhere near as invigorating or groundbreaking as the Sex Pistols, the Insane Clown posse of Great Milenko remain worthy of more praise than they’ve ever received. Milenko offers the same template of boiling suburban rage, infectious beats, hilarious rhymes, and comically graphic violence that Eminem rode to global renown just a year or two later. Granted, Eminem is a better rapper than either Clown, but as far as gimmicks go, Em’s reference-every-current-tabloid-headline approach probably dates his material more than ICP’s insistence they belong to an evil carnival from another dimension. Besides, Eminem was already complaining about the pressures his superstar lifestyle on his second album. Marshall Mathers gets on “TRL” a couple times and bro-ham can’t handle the pressure. Boo hoo. Didn’t you fool around with Mariah Carey? Yeah, you don’t get to complain about anything.
The Great Milenko is Insane Clown Posse’s fourth album, and never again would they sound this legitimately disturbed, hilariously demented, or crazy frightening. Possibly the greatest example of this comes almost midway through the “House Of Horrors,” when Violent J intones the following:
“Lemme show you something—[makes high-pitched raspberry noise] / You know what that means? it don’t mean nothin’! / But it scared you, ’cause people don’t be doin’ that shit / But me? [makes noise again] / Bitch, [makes once noise again] I’m all about it!”
Think about that for a minute. An overweight harlequin with dreadlocks invites you into his dark, foreboding fun house. Suddenly, he turns to you amidst the dry ice and strobe lights and starts excitedly making noises with his mouth. Can you honestly say you wouldn’t vigorously soil your Tommy John boxer shorts at that very moment?
The Clowns’ bizarre viewpoint also pops up in the slow, introspective jam “How Many Times?” At first, it seems like this song is just another chill rap tune about dealing with life’s smaller aggravations (particularly highway traffic). Then, apropos of nothing, one of the clowns starts losing his shit because he cannot pay for fast food by imparting scientific knowledge upon the cashier (“Can I walk into McDonald’s to the counter / and tell ’em you can make limestone from gun powder? / Will they give me a cheeseburger if I know that shit? / Fuck no, fuck you, and shut your fuckin’ lip!”). That ICP favors the barter system comes as no surprise, as I don’t believe psychotic circus workers generally keep bank accounts.
I’d call it a double standard that people have been regularly eating up GWAR for so many years when their musical output is at least equally as stupid as ICP’s, but everyone involved here is a white male from flyover states. GWAR wears foam rubber cocks that shoot fake ejaculate all over their audience and they get more respect from the outside world than ICP. Does that make any sense? Perhaps ICP lowered their market value by aligning themselves with an off-brand soft drink like Faygo. Winn Dixie brand doesn’t cost much more, and it carries a less backwoods stigma. Good rule of thumb: if they can afford to put a NASCAR driver on the bottle, you won’t look stupid drinking it.
Another point to ponder: if the Insane Clown Posse is so bad, how come legends like Alice Cooper and Slash make appearances on Milenko? Those guys don’t necessarily go around lending their legacies to crap (Alice Cooper was in Wayne’s World, for the love of Chris Farley). What could Slash have to gain by appearing on the major label debut of some rapping clown band? Nothing, really, aside from a paycheck he probably didn’t need. He’s Slash! He must have simply dug the hot circus jams.
Perhaps it’s all a tomayto / tomahto thing. I believe there’s some kind of genius in lyrics like “He eats Monopoly and shits out Connect Four!” (Violent J’s description of an average ICP fan in “What Is A Juggalo?”). If you can’t see that, I guess we’re just in opposite time zones. This entire debate brings to mind an astute remark usually attributed to actress Mary Woronov: there is a difference between art and bullshit; sometimes, bullshit is more interesting.
Yes, The Great Milenko is targeted at people who would rather spend a Saturday afternoon watching “Charles In Charge” and doing whippets as opposed to visiting the nearest Christo exhibit or foreign film fest. Yet you can’t view this album through the same “OMG, irony fail!” prism as “Miracles.” Milenko is a finely-tuned, gratifying journey through the admittedly low brow genre of horrorcore, second only to the first Gravediggaz album in terms of relative greatness. Juggalo fervor has overshadowed ICP’s music in recent years, be it good or bad. No one seemed to bat an eye when the Clowns released 2007’s The Tempest, possibly the first hip-hop album featuring a song about a roller coaster. Seems like they had to make a crazy joint like “Miracles” just remind people they’re an actual musical group and not just some out-there trailer park cult.
Hopefully one day bizarre and sickening minutia like Juggalo baby coffins will be separated from ICP’s musical catalog and The Great Milenko will garner recognition as the worthwhile exercise in cathartic silliness it is. If Music From “The Elder” by Kiss could eventually find a home in our shared cultural circle, there’s hope yet for the fourth Joker’s Card.
By this point, everyone knows Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious barely played on his band’s epochal 1977 debut Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. Vicious was sidelined at the time of recording with jaundice, which turned out to be a weird stroke of luck for the Pistols considering the fact Sid had yet to rise above novice level on his instrument (and, spoiler alert, never would). Guitarist Steve Jones, pictured, laid down the lion’s share of bass on Bollocks, although Jones and his band mates allegedly left in some of Sid’s amateur plunking at an extraordinarily low volume just so their most self-destructive member could be technically correct when he told people he had played on the album.
Flash forward two decades. Insane Clown Posse score a major coup in terms of credibility by getting Steve Jones to play guitar on their Great Milenko rap rock hybrid track “Piggy Pie.” For years, this unexpected union elevates both ICP and Jonesy—who was already a hero of mine for being the most normal-looking guy in the poster band for punk rock—in these watery, bloodshot eyes. The Wicked Clowns respected the Sex Pistols, and a Sex Pistol respected the Wicked Clowns (or at least thought playing on an ICP record was good enough for “a larf” and “some f’ckin’ dough, y’knowhutuhmean?”).
Well, come to find out via this A.V. Club interview with Violent J that not only were ICP completely ignorant of Steve Jones’s musical history when they landed him for Milenko, they didn’t even bother showing up when the guitarist came in to record his part for “Piggy Pie” and ended up muting most of what he played anyway. Disrespecting Steve Jones—how does THAT work? Quoteth J the Violent:
…I didn’t want to be there in the studio because I didn’t know who Steve Jones was, and I didn’t want to say something stupid, or I was too shy and didn’t want to meet him. So I was off doing something else, and that’s when Shaggy [2 Dope] was in jail, and he missed the whole thing…I let our producer Mike Clark stay and our A&R [person] Julian stay. So when they were done, I came back into the studio and I heard what Steve Jones played, and I didn’t like it. It was too wild-style. So what we did was, we used our old tracks, and we used one little track of Steve Jones in there, at really low…So he was in there, but the majority was Mike Clark playing it. We used it for the name value. We were like, ‘Featuring Steve Jones on guitar,’ because technically it was Steve Jones playing on there.”
Irony, you have a phone call at the Dark Carnival concierge desk. Please pick up.
I would love to hear Jonesy’s side of this story. Does he know he got the Sid Vicious treatment on The Great Milenko? Does he care? Why isn’t Steve Jones on TV all the time so he can answer these questions? Watch this clip of Steve rambling on while playing Sex Pistols riffs and tell me you couldn’t watch him for five hours a day every day on the idiot box. Go ahead and tell me that, but we both know you’d be telling bigger lies than Ollie North.
Oh, and to all the Juggalos out there reading this—before you blindly attack me, please keep in mind that I am on record as an ICP supporter and still consider The Great Milenko one of the motherfuckin’ freshest albums ever made, regardless of Steve Jones’s volume. I swear on Jamie Farr’s nose I’m down with the clowns. Please do not drown me in Cherry Faygo the next time you see me at the post office.
“Alan Greenspan ain’t got nuttin’ on me, stretch nuts!”
It seems like there’s been a lot of stuff online lately pertaining to Juggalos, i.e. that unflappable subset of Insane Clown Posse fans who make members of the KISS Army look like junior ROTC. This is probably because last month saw the tenth annual “Gathering of the Juggalos” in some Illinois cornfield. That’s right—ICP’s fans have been getting together, painting their faces, and spraying each other with dime store soda pop for a full decade now. Seems the “Wicked Clowns” aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, and that’s scaring / irritating / amusing the pants off 2009 America.
Juggalos have never gleaned much respect from those outside the “Dark Carnival,” probably because they actively support the most ridiculous rap act since Arsenio Hall’s Chunky A. Yet something about relentlessly dogging these people strikes me as shallow and pointless. Who are Juggalos hurting by wearing greasepaint and worshiping blatantly stupid crap? No one.* I mean, taking a shower in Faygo and calling everyone you meet “stretch nuts” doesn’t seem any dumber to me than wearing a giant block of fake cheese on your head to a football game or participating in a Civil War re-enactment. Given the choice, I’d rather sit through ICP’s entire discography than put on a wool jacket and hang out with a bunch of accountants who wanna pretend it’s 1863.
The big hoo-ha concerning last month’s “Gathering” was Ice Cube’s headlining appearance. How could a founding member of N.W.A. lower himself to appear before the court of a thousand Juggalos? “Clearly this is his nadir,” critics huffed. I guess you all forgot about Cube’s recent cinematic quest to become the black version of post-Fletch Chevy Chase (“It’s always wacky when Ice Cube goes camping!”). We should feel lucky he still considers doing musical things at all these days, considering how much money Hollywood is probably throwing at him to make those lousy Hey, Are We Doing Something? flicks. Besides, Ice Cube isn’t even the most famous person to pal around with Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope. No less than Alice Cooper and Slash(!) made guest appearances on their breakthrough Great Milenko record.
ICP released a new album just this month, Bang! Pow! Boom! (guess they’ve been watching a lot of the old “Batman” TV series). Yes, it features songs called “Juggalo Island” and “Imma Kill U,” and no, I’m not going to bother listening to it. However, I will also not bust on anyone for listening to or liking it, nor will I bust on anyone who outwardly appears to enjoy the greater ICP oeuvre. There are better, more worthy targets out there, people. Let’s direct our ire and nasty humor towards those who really achingly deserve it, like Jon, Kate, Lindsay Lohan, the government, lawyers, Morrissey, Kanye West, people who brag about not owning or watching television, the Kardashians, George Lucas, banks, people who talk during movies, Sean “P Diddy” Combs, Jay Leno, and, of course, Brett Favre.
To all the crazy Juggalos potentially reading this—keep up the good fight, and try to play nice with those Slipknot kids, okay? They’ve had a hard time ever since their father got laid off.
* = Unless you’re talking to cops in Pennsylvania; the Monroe County district attorney’s office just announced they consider Juggalos a gang, like the Latin Kings, because last week four ICP fans murdered a contemporary with baseball bats over a snitching violation. Based on some of the stuff in this article (particularly the bit about the detective having “studied the Juggalos since they first appeared…two years ago” and marveling at the fact they “speak their own language”), it sounds more like Monroe County should classify Juggalos as blood-sucking aliens from the Z Sector. There are other pockets of this country where Juggalos are considered a serious threat to public safety, but there are also pockets of this country where it’s illegal for two consenting adults to have sex in any position other than missionary. My point is the law isn’t always right, you can’t judge an entire group of people by a few misguided strands, old people need to stop blaming music they dislike for everything.