On Shandling

Garry Shandling was an innovator who turned a lot of comedy on its ear, but what’s more important to me is the raw, sometimes ugly emotional core of his humor. Fraying anxiety, sizzling jealousy, swampy deposits of depression—all served with flashes of that famous mile-wide grin. We hear Garry could be quite impassioned offstage, in the best and worst senses of that phrase, and that’s no surprise. It’s the nucleus of his work.

I was under ten when “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” was airing, and even though it was difficult to understand what I was watching, I loved tuning in because it was so different. Here’s this quote-unquote sitcom where every plot device and character takes a backseat to Garry’s ongoing conversation with the viewer, a conversation that is basically just, “Wow, look at my show, isn’t it strange?” It’s a minimalist, neurotic “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.” What if your neighbor thought he was on tv all the time but refused to play it up? What if he talked about it like the weather or a bake sale?

Later we got “The Larry Sanders Show,” a transcendent entry, a masterclass of meta comedy streaked with pathos. Garry won an Emmy Award for writing on “Sanders” but he should have received an additional one for acting. When he really wanted to, the guy could get it all into one glance or wordless aside.

Garry pops up in some of the Marvel movies, and that’s deeply satisfying. An entire generation will only know Shandling as the Senator giving Tony Stark what for in Iron Man 2, the same government creep who appears in Captain America 2. I have to admit I was waiting for him to turn to the camera in both films to say, “Can you believe this? Me, a Senator? I know, but listen, there’s some good stuff coming up, so don’t walk out yet.”

I’ll miss the Shand Man. Stormy genius. And funny as hell.

“My dog’s penis tastes bitter. Do you think it’s his diet?”

Unsolicited Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Review

“Why you in my movie now, bro?” “I just am, bro. Deal with it.”

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Starring: Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg
Directed by Zack Snyder
2016

2013’s Man of Steel establishes a Superman who is profoundly uncertain of himself and his place on this alien planet. Is he a savior? Is he a threat? His parents don’t know what to tell him (raising a normal kid is hard enough—imagine if your child is bulletproof and can fly). The defining battle arrives and though he does come out on top there’s no questioning that Superman makes a handful of serious mistakes. This set the stage for a potentially excellent sequel where the Last Son of Krypton could work through his identity issues that are now also issues for the world at large.

Batman v Superman tries to get to the heart of all this, but as the title implies Superman (Henry Cavill) is now sharing the marquee with another financially solvent comic book hero. Shoehorning the Dark Knight into Man of Steel 2 is a cheap move that cripples our favorite Kryptonian’s character development, but this Batman (Ben Affleck) proves an interesting personality contrast in the sense that he is not lacking in confidence. Fearless, undaunted, occasionally brash, Gotham’s rogue has an answer for everything. Unfortunately, he’s also totally fried from twenty years on the prowl and not in good headspace to be entering a “Superman: friend or foe?” debate with the exile himself.

Ben Affleck, by the way, succeeds as Batman because it is easy to believe Ben Affleck would go fucking crazy if he had to be Batman for any amount of time in real life. He’s barely handling the terrible reviews this film is getting, can you imagine if he had to hide the Batmobile every night?

There’s enough to work with when Batman and Superman are investigating one other, the former running back to Alfred (Jeremy Irons) each act break, the latter to Lois Lane (Amy Adams). Alas, once Batman was throw into the fray the filmmakers thought, “Why not everybody else?” So we also have Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), Lex’s cronies, the U.S. Senator trying to stop Lex (Holly Hunter), the U.S. Senator who isn’t trying to stop Lex, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Wonder Woman’s computer, a little bit of the Flash (Ezra Miller), a little Aquaman (Jason Momoa), a dash of Cyborg (Ray Fisher), one or two characters who died in Man of Steel, and another major villain who probably should have held out for his own years-long franchise.

And yet, as overstuffed as this caped opera gets piling all these people atop one another, Batman v Superman keeps pace and manages to engross. Not everything onscreen is agreeable but nothing catapults you from the universe (not even the Neil deGrasse Tyson cameo). There’s intrigue, suspense, a few iconic visuals, and even a couple great jokes.

Going back to the self-assurance motif, Wonder Woman steals every scene she’s in because she knows exactly who she is, why she’s there, and where and how to draw the line (the thunderous musical sting she’s granted by the score doesn’t hurt either). Gadot’s buoyancy cuts through the visual pallor and makes you hope for Wonder Woman v Anybody. Actually, maybe start with Wonder Woman v Perry White. I want to see Laurence Fishburne—who plays White, boss of Lois Lane—take his delightful grump to the main event.

Similar sentiments can be extended to Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, a mincing prick you love to hate who appears closer to victory than a great deal of his cinematic predecessors. Killer wardrobe, too.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice gets just as grim and heavy as any other Zack Snyder film but the entire premise is grim and heavy: two of our favorite superheroes hatin’ on each other like a couple of goddamn haters. In order to make it anywhere near plausible you have to saddle these guys with handicaps of disquiet, fear, exhaustion, and recurring nightmares. If this isn’t your flavor of choice, don’t worry—depending on the way you count, BvS is the seventh Superman movie and the tenth Batman movie and there’s no way Hollywood won’t make that many more for each dude because they’re some of the most profitable folklore America has to its name.

And if all those stink, there’s always Wonder Woman.

FINAL SCORE: Three grumpy Larry Fishburnes (out of four).

Q: How Is Work Coming Along On Your Next Book?

A: Oh, you mean my book about the development of punk rock in countries outside the U.S. & U.K. that will appear in the physical realm via the Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group come October 2017? It’s going well, thank you. Obviously this is a massive and massively complex subject; I can’t imagine I’ll be sleeping much this Fall as I’m preparing the manuscript. Right now, though, it’s an utter joy to pour all my energy into absorbing music and history I’d probably be attempting to absorb in my free time anyway.

Most of the inspiration / motivation for this project stems from the fact that for years now a lot of my favorite bands have come from different corners of the globe. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to explore the roots of those bands and countless others across this island Earth. I’m learning so much, uncovering so much fascinating art, and taking in so many great stories. I can’t wait to patch it all together for you.

Sweden’s Fega Påhopp ‎(Cowardly Attacks), who only released one single, 1980’s “Pärlor Åt Svinen” (“Pearls Before Swine”). It’s great, though. Listen.

More details when they’re ready. As always, I thank you for your support and readership. I’m not sure what I am but I wouldn’t be it without you.

The Misfits Almost Settled Their Latest Lawsuit With A Reunion

The other Jersey boys: Glenn & Jerry, 1978. Photo by Ken Caiafa.

If you think the legal skull-banging between Glenn Danzig and Jerry Only ended in August of 2014 when Judge Gary Klausner threw out Danzig’s lawsuit against Only for breach of contract, think again. Danzig amended his complaint and the case over who owns the logos and trademarks pertaining to the Misfits drags on; opening briefs related to Danzig’s most recent appeal of a summary judgment Only won in April 2015 are being filed this month.

And yet, in an incredible shock, this entire affair was nearly settled over the winter holiday of 2014 by having Danzig rejoin the Misfits. That December, Danzig’s attorney suggested his client (who dissolved the group in 1983 after a six year run) and the defendant (who reformed the Misfits without Danzig in 1995) agree to a certain amount of reunion concerts, split the profits, split all future revenue from the disputed trademarks, and consider entering a new licensing agreement together with a major merchandiser. Only was receptive, so negotiations began for the first Misfits shows with Danzig in thirty years.

A proposed 60/40 reunion profit split in Danzig’s favor was leveled to 50/50. A ten date concert tour shrank down to six—but “at least one” reunion album was added. All other participating Misfits, no matter what their stature, were to be treated as “paid employees.” In response to Only’s demand for built-in protections to ensure Danzig would actually follow through with these gigs, Danzig’s attorney wrote, “I really don’t think this will be an issue as Danzig wants to do the reunion shows” (a $250k penalty was put in place should either party fail to complete the reunion obligations).

Initially Danzig envisioned the reunion happening in 2017 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Misfits. Only wanted it “as soon as practicable.” Only also wasn’t fond of billing these performances as “the Original Misfits” (though no alternate name was suggested). The real breakdown, however, was over the same trademark issues that instigated Danzig’s lawsuit in the first place. Confusion as well as contention remained over who owned what and who was entitled to how much of any given piece of Misfits imagery. Specifics failed to be clarified, certain copyrights could not be identified, documents proving anything conclusively could not be produced.

The two sides went back and forth until February 10, 2015, when Danzig’s attorney ended an e-mail by saying, “it appears we are going to try this case.”

Dovetailing with that was some rigamarole over depositions each party was to give that month. Danzig felt he wasn’t given enough time to prepare for his scheduled deposition so he bailed at the last minute; meanwhile, Only and his co-defendant, Misfits manager John Cafiero, refused to commit to any deposition date or agreement. On April 15, the defendants were awarded their summary judgment because Danzig had provided no evidence of the pre-existing business relations that Only is alleged to have sabotaged with his fraudulent ownership and representation of Misfits trademarks. Danzig also could not prove “lost economic advantage” from Only’s activities, nor could he outline “triable facts” concerning Only misrepresenting the famed Misfits skull logo (a.k.a. the Fiend Skull, a.k.a. the Crimson Ghost).

The information above is sourced from a forest of court documents that are available to anyone via Pacer.gov and probably a few other less bullshitty legal repositories (Bortz Law first posted excerpts from said documents on their blog in October 2015; for whatever reason, Bortz’s post didn’t reach fiends until very recently). The case is Glenn Danzig v. Gerald Caiafa et al in the California Central District and at this point it could be a book unto itself. There’s a great subplot that debates whether or not Danzig performing a Misfits song in any context constitutes a performance by the Misfits.

If I hadn’t seen it all in PDF form myself I wouldn’t believe it. The American judicial system almost returned to us the Original Recipe Misfits. Concerts are one thing, but I can’t stop thinking about the reunion album. What in the hell would that be like? What could they call it? Settlement A.D.?

Parties Agree Not To Disparage Each Other Publicly, that would be a good title. It’s my favorite of all the terms they reached for this proposed reunion.

Powder Ridge: The Rock Festival That Could Be Stopped (Sort Of)

Here is another article I penned for Crawdaddy!, this time from the year two thousand eight. Some days this feels like the best thing I’ve ever done.

Having spent the first 15 years of my life there, I can say with some authority that Connecticut is a state generally populated by fuddy-duds, buzzkills, and sticks in the mud. No one there over the age of 35 wants anyone under the age of 25 to have any fun at all. I could cite countless examples from my youth, including the time my mom threw away the totally real pair of nunchucks I found outside our apartment complex or the winter we weren’t allowed to have snowball fights because some geezer in the neighborhood was convinced one of us children would lose an eye. The greatest example of the Nutmeg State’s penchant for getting all “heavy” on “the kids,” though, is the 1970 Powder Ridge Rock Festival, better known as the Three Days of Groovy & Righteous Music Old People Totally Pissed All Over.

Scheduled from July 30 to August 2 of 1970, Powder Ridge would have been New England’s answer to Woodstock. Eric Burdon & War, Sly & the Family Stone, Fleetwood Mac, James Taylor, Joe Cocker, the Allman Brothers, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Mountain, Janis Joplin, Grand Funk Railroad, and even Bloodrock were all lined up to perform at what was normally a ski retreat for uptight WASPs and their mistresses. At least one rumor suggests Led Zeppelin may have at one point been seriously considering the idea of thinking about discussing the possibility of making an appearance at Powder Ridge (no such gossip exists concerning the presence of that hippie favorite Sha Na Na). Truly, it would have been a monumental exposition of stuffed crotches, inane stage patter, and endless guitar solos.

Unfortunately, the citizens of sleepy little Middlefield, where the Powder Ridge resort is located, were just not having it. Fearing complete annihilation at the hands of shirtless, grubby youth types, townies banded together, visited a Middlefield Superior Court, and received a temporary injunction against the Powder Ridge Rock Festival and its promoters on July 28, a mere two days before the proposed start of the concert.

Normally, anyone slapped with a legal band-aid such as this could just rip it off via appeal or by merely paying whatever fines would be incurred. The ball doesn’t roll like that in Connecticut—appeals against temporary injunctions aren’t permitted in the state that gave us Christopher Lloyd (or at least they weren’t in 1970). Paying the fines wasn’t an option either. “The court ruled that the festival was a public nuisance,” a court official was quoted the day the injunction was granted. “That doesn’t mean it wants $110,000. That means it wants the festival stopped.” Proving Connecticut wasn’t just talking out its ass, State Superior Court Judge Aaron Palmer swatted down a request for a reversal the next day. He also tapped Middlesex County attorney Vincent Scamporino to be his muscle, ordering Scamporino to enforce the injunction by any means necessary.

Talk about harshing your mellow.

I want to single this tiny community out as the big party poopers, but they really aren’t unique. According to Wikipedia, the most accurate and reliable source of failed rock concert information in this day and age, 30 out of 48 planned major music festivals in 1970 were cancelled due to the complaints of cranky old people. That’s a staggering 63%. With statistics like that, it’s a wonder Jolson and Model Ts didn’t make a comeback. Powder Ridge stands out, though, because the idealistic youth who were so looking forward to watching Little Richard gesticulate in an open field would not go quietly into the Connecticut night.

Indeed, no court injunction was going to stop their party. The concertgoers descended upon Middlefield that weekend anyway, extending a figurative middle finger directly in the faces of the crotchety Establishment jerks who tried to ruin their fun. Not that it was all that hard to reach Powder Ridge once the injunction was handed down—“by any means necessary” in Connecticut apparently means putting up a handful of “FESTIVAL CANCELLED” signs and hoping everyone just goes away. Authorities waited until Friday, July 30, the first day of the festival, to close off all roads leading to Middlefield. By this time, several armies of music-hungry kids were already hanging around, waiting for something to happen.

The figures on just how many people showed up to this non-event fluctuate: one source will say the Powder Ridge crowds didn’t surge beyond 10 or 20,000, while others claim over 50,000 breezed into Middlefield on that faithful 1970 weekend. I paid a visit to Middlefield last year, and while the rolling, picturesque hillsides of the ski resort looked to offer enough space for any number between the aforementioned guesstimates, the town itself seemed to bristle at the arrival of three extra bodies. Children shot icy glares from their seats inside the cozy diner as my friends and I passed by. Adults quickly turned their backs as we came upon the general store. I can see how the looming threat of a giant rock festival would send the residents of this peaceful burg into a complete tizzy. But by early Friday afternoon, it was too late for them to do anything. A small country of rock fans had arrived, ready to shake their groove thangs and get down. It looked like this thing was happened whether they wanted it to or not. Had the kids actually triumphed? Would the musicians actually show up, emboldened by the positive attitude and optimism of several thousand rock fans, and put on the greatest concert of the pre-US Festival era?

Hell no. The bands stayed home. I guess they were all up on their New England permit laws. A few unannounced local acts turned up to provide spontaneous entertainment over the course of the three days (including Fairfield’s Goodwill and New Haven rockers the Mustard Family), but the only scheduled performer who showed up to Powder Ridge was irrepressible folk singer Melanie. “I said, ‘I just got a feeling the court injunction will be lifted and everybody’s gonna have a concert,’” the plucky songstress remarked in a 1978 radio interview, probably echoing most ticket holders’ thoughts at the time. “’Cause how can they do that, you know, after they take the money, and the people are there already anyway, I mean, why bother?”

Any artist who attempted to take the main stage at Powder Ridge supposedly faced the threat of arrest. Undeterred, Melanie snuck in with a local news team and commandeered a Mister Softee ice cream truck to power her as she warbled for assorted pockets of the crowd on various hilltops. It was truly a moment that epitomized the can-do spirit of this particular generation, not to mention a testament to the versatility of ice cream trucks.

According to comedian Lewis Black in his book Nothing’s Sacred, scheduled super group Rhinoceros also performed at Powder Ridge that weekend. I’m not sure how true that is, mainly because I found no verification of it anywhere else, but also because Black makes no mention of the concert being a complete wash in his tome—it’s just the backdrop for a funny story about screwing up a parking attendant job. It wouldn’t shock me if Black’s memory of this event has become clouded or confused with another.

The handful of artists I contacted regarding Powder Ridge, including Ten Years After, Grand Funk, and the almighty Bloodrock, didn’t remember the festival at all. Granted, it was a long time ago, and none of them were actually there, but come on, this was a defining moment in rock n’ roll history. It was the music festival the kids went to but the bands bailed on. How disillusioning! You could tack it on the list of “Moments We, The Hippie Youth Culture, Knew the ’60s Were Over” (ever notice how most of those moments didn’t even occur in the ’60s?). Doesn’t Bloodrock keyboardist Stevie Hill feel any remorse for leaving his peeps hanging high in the almost-mountains of Connecticut? No, he doesn’t. The words “Powder Ridge” are no more meaningful to him than “toaster oven” or “Bud Bundy.”

Ironically, the hard-nosed Establishment seemed to care more about the kids at Powder Ridge than any of the bands who supposedly embodied love, free spirit, and revolution. Scamporino knew calling in the cops or National Guard to disperse the surging crowds would probably result in brutal, unnecessary violence. He decided to pull a Herbert Hoover and do nothing. The concert goers would eventually figure out the concert wasn’t on, pick up their love beads, and go the heck home. The Zemel brothers, owners of the ski resort, were a little more proactive. One of them took to the main stage with a bullhorn as the sun was setting Friday evening to try and politely convince the masses it was time to leave. The crowds weren’t having it. They had come this far. No dope with a bullhorn was gonna ruin their festival, man.

But with no Janis, no Fleetwood, and not even one Allman Brother to help kick out the jams, what were all these kids going to do for the next three days? Drugs, of course, as many as they needed to forget the fact they were stuck on the crowded grounds of a New England ski resort in the middle of August without food, shelter, entertainment, or running water. Hallucinogens began circulating early; eventually, to meet the staggering demand, dealers began dumping their wares (including LSD, mescaline, speed, mushrooms, and STP) into open barrels of water around the festival site.

This “electric water,” as it was known, created what physician William Abruzzi called a full-blown “drug crisis” by the second day. The doctor was treating up to 50 patients an hour at Powder Ridge who were experiencing bad trips. With the only amplification/electricity coming from ice cream trucks, it was tough to get the word out that most of the drugs on site were low quality and giant purple fire-breathing frog inducing. A nearby middle school was turned into a makeshift infirmary to help treat the increasing number of freak outs.

The absence of music and circulation of suspect drugs didn’t dampen everyone’s spirit at Powder Ridge. According to local news reports from the time, plenty of attendees felt ample amounts of brotherhood and good vibes as they were forced to create their own happening. Some claimed they never wanted to leave this beautiful scene and were hoping the ski resort could become a new anti-establishment community where revolutionaries could live out their lives, exchange ideas, and continue to consume ridiculous amounts of drugs away from the weak bummer that was the real world. There were calls to elect a “Freak Mayor” of the aborted festival as early as Friday night. That never happened (everyone was probably too busy trying to figure out how to handle the bleeding rainbows they saw shooting out of each other’s eyes), but at least one flag was made to celebrate the possibility of an unprecedented Powder Ridge Nation. Cobbled together from dirty clothes and scraps of fabric, it naturally read “E Marijuana Unum.”

The scene at Powder Ridge. Photo by Jean-Pierre Laffont.

By the time the sun was setting on Sunday, August 2, however, everyone was starting to come down and slowly realizing the dream was over. A ski resort where they paid $20 for overflowing portajohns and acid-induced nightmares was no place for the first city founded by way out dudes and their old ladies. The kids all started to leave, wondering if they’d be able to get their money back. Refunds weren’t given initially as the promoters, known confusingly as Middleton Arts International, were intent on making this concert up at a more prestigious venue. Deals were attempted with both Yankee and RFK stadiums, but those fell through.

Around the same time, the IRS filed a large tax levy against Middleton Arts and indicted chief promoter Raymond Filiberti on perjury charges. There was an alleged mafia link in there somewhere. That might explain why nothing else ever happened. There was never a Powder Ridge make-up concert, none of the ticket holders ever got a refund, and no one was ever held responsible for ripping off upwards of 50,000 people. Plenty of attendees were arrested as they left Middlefield, though, for dealing drugs on the grounds of the ski resort.

It should come as no surprise there was a sharp decline in outdoor hippie music gatherings following Powder Ridge. “Festivals are really dead,” remarked Dr. Abruzzi shortly after what could be called the biggest disappointment in Connecticut history (aside from Charles Rocket’s unexpected suicide a couple of years ago). “Society can’t understand why kids want to do what they want to do, so they can’t find a way for them to do it.” That thought could apply to so many generational conflicts, from the flappers of the ’20s who just wanted to hang out in basements, drink, and do the Charleston to the skate punks of the ’80s who just wanted to hang out in parking lots, do whippits, and grind on some gnarly pavement to the hackers of today who just want to hang out on a LAN network, smoke crystal meth, and pwn n00bs. It’s a sick, never-ending cycle, a gap that not even Dr. Phil or the Grumpy Old Men movies could bridge.

The residents of Middlefield must have felt pretty smug when Powder Ridge went south and became one of the last nails in the ‘60s coffin. Finally, they could go back to their Mint Juleps and golf tournaments, confident in the fact they had stopped Joe Cocker from polluting their fresh colonial air with his raspy caterwauling and general stink. Connecticut was safe for everyone over 35 again. It would remain that way for many years to come. In fact, the only other serious threat these people had to face came in 2005, when a false emergency broadcast went out over the airwaves calling for the evacuation of the entire state (obviously the work of bored, horny teens jacked upon the good stuff).

At least the scene at Powder Ridge was groovy enough to see the birth of a love child. Dina Amoure, born to Peter and Shelley Rowland of New York City, popped out onto a grassy Connecticut knoll in the middle of that crazy, crazy weekend (the proud father passed around joints in lieu of cigars). Dina is the official Powder Ridge Baby, the human representation of not letting things become a total bummer, even if the suits are trying to bring you down and the water is all polluted and you’re gonna get busted by a pig the second you walk outta there, man. Hopefully Dina has grown into a wonderful flower loving enough to let her own kids keep whatever stray ninja equipment they find lying around their family’s apartment complex and have snowball fights whenever they please.

Here’s to you, Dina, where ever you are.

Yes, Virginia, The Great Milenko By Insane Clown Posse Is Dope

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.

Unsolicited Stay Puftin’ On The Ghostbusters 2016 Trailer

Certain elements excite me (crisp look of the establishing shots, everything with Kate McKinnon, the car) and certain elements give me pause (recycling of the library ghost, recycling of Slimer, the ghost punch). Judgment reserved until I exit the theater in July but definitely interested to discover what else this remake / reimagining is cooking up. Ready for busting to commence.

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