I went psychopathic//Chopping throats with a hatchet//Got a job at the donut shop//Just to poison the cop
As we watched Insane Clown Posse scream out yet another violent and grotesque set of lyrics about murder against a comically carnival-themed backing melody, I leaned over to my friend Tom and tried to shout over the noise, “Have you seen my mom?”
“WHAT?” Tom yelled back, confused.
“Have you seen my-”
As I attempted to get some reassurance for the anxiety that my 5' 2 mother had been trampled in the mosh pit of clown-face-painted Juggalos, a full 2 liter bottle of Faygo smashed into the railing next to me. (Faygo is a cheap brand of soda that Insane Clown Posse is known for pouring on their audiences at shows.) At the speed the bottle had been going, had it hit me, it might have broken my arm.
“What the hell!” I read Tom's lips, “Where are we?!”
I turned back to the stage and tried to focus on this rhetorical question, but was too busy trying to spot my mom's body in the crowd of sweaty screaming clowns.
My mother and I haven't always had the best relationship. She was a single mom of two and married three times while I was growing up, to three, very different, very absent alcoholics/addicts (one of whom was my father.)
Our boundaries were often unclear, and much of the time it seemed she was more of my friend than my parent. At the same time, my mother has always been an incredibly unique, independent, energetic and hilarious woman, and now that I'm an adult I can finally appreciate and experience those qualities in her that while I was growing up, seemed inappropriate or careless at times.
One of the qualities I love about my mom is her vibrant enthusiasm and openness to new and unfamiliar things. It can sometimes be challenging, however, for friends and family to humor her, when she becomes intrigued or possibly obsessed with something that others might not share her interest in.
She once went through an intense phase where she was really into the Twilight franchise. This occurred many years after the last Twilight movies were released, and although she hopped on the wagon late, she insisted on going (accompanied by her incredibly patient and generous partner) to Forks, WA on a Twilight-themed tour.
At some point after her Twilight obsession began to dwindle, she started listening to Insane Clown Posse, and a new phase began.
For those readers who are unfamiliar with Insane Clown Posse and the group's fan base, the music might be best described as a kind of gore-shock-carnival-rap. The main members of ICP go by the names "Violent J" and 'Shaggy 2 Dope" and wear evil black and white clown face paint in every interview. ICP fans affectionately call themselves and each other "Juggalos," and embrace a powerful group-mentality.
Juggalos often speak about thinking of themselves as one big clown family, and audiences at shows are rife with drunken camaraderie. While there is a communal aspect to ICP and their fan base, the majority of the group's lyrics are grotesque, often offensive, vulgar and misogynistic. Many of ICP's songs talk about killing, beating people, sexual encounters, and chopping off chicken necks with a hatchet.
Before going any further, I should say that my mom does not currently and never did identify as a "Juggalo." She does not paint her face like a clown, her close friends aren't into ICP (in fact many of them are appalled by the fact that she is) and she recognizes that the group's music can be incredibly problematic. Her friends and family (including myself) have had countless conversations and arguments with her about the gruesome and often disturbing lyrics that ICP is known for, trying to convince her to feel differently.
I had many of these conversations with her myself. And then one day, she called me and announced she had bought tickets to what would be her first Insane Clown Posse concert, and wanted me to go with her.
“No way.” I said, very simply on the phone.
“Please?” she asked, “It would mean a lot to me.”
Standing in the crowd, I knew I shouldn't have said yes. I should have convinced my mom not to go, or at least convinced her not to upgrade her ticket to the VIP pass where she would get to meet Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope and their crew. I shouldn't have let her walk off into this drunken clown mosh pit where she might be lying underneath hundreds of Juggalo feet, going unnoticed. I was frantic.
Tom nudged my arm, “Hey! Hey!” he yelled, “There she is!” He was pointing to the stage.
We watched silently as my mother, a huge smile stretched across her face, walked out amidst a group of VIP members. Most of the others had thick, black and white clown makeup dripping down their faces, but underneath they were all smiling as wide as my mom. Each of them carried the same 2 liter bottle of Faygo that had almost taken me down a few minutes earlier, and they shook the bottles wildly.
The VIP members kept their eyes on the members of Insane Clown Posse, and when they got their cue, they each opened the cap on their bottle, and soda began to spray violently in every direction. It flew across the stage and sprayed all over the mosh pit, the audience, and my mom. The crowd went insane.
The main members of ICP began rolling out cart loads of the 2 liter bottles onto the stage, and shaking and opening them one after another. The crowd got drenched. Luckily, Tom and I were a little too far away to get more than a few splashes.
It was then that I noticed my mom was wearing a white tank top with a black bra underneath. The tank top read “PSYCHO BITCH “in large scrawling letters.
As Faygo continued to soak the crowd, I lost sight of my mom again, but felt a surprising sense of relief after seeing the smile on her face, and the way she seemed to fit in with the rest of the VIP group. They looked like one big clown family. I wasn't worried they were going to trample her, or forget about her. I was excited for her, and in fact, I felt inspired by her confidence in such a bizarre, unfamiliar space, surrounded by people who had been total strangers at the beginning of the night.
I could write an entire article on Insane Clown Posse, Juggalos, the symbolism of “The Carnival,” the appeal of transgressive and grotesque stories about murdering powerful authority figures and having sex in public places, my dislike for ICP in general...but this experience ended up being first and foremost about my mom.
At the end of the day, there is no single or clear answer as to why my mom is drawn to ICP. I've asked her many times why she likes the idea of hanging out with Juggalos so much.
“Oh, I don't know,” she said once, “I think of myself as like...their aunt or something. Yeah, I'm an aunt of the Juggalos. I just like them!”
I appreciated this answer, and believe her feelings have to do with the communal, friendly, and mostly (based on my own experience) respectful atmosphere that ICP's audience emits during concerts and other ICP events.
After the concert, my mom told me about an experience she had waiting in the VIP line, when a fight broke out in front of her. Two drunk Juggalos in clown makeup began throwing punches at each other as they screamed and swore on the sidewalk. When the people around them noticed what was going on, a chant erupted among the crowd. The other ICP fans formed a circle around the two fighting men and began yelling “FA-MI-LY! FA-MI-LY!” in unison.
This call -- chanting the word “family” -- is popular among Juggalos, and reveals the kind of connection many ICP fans feel as an audience. As the rest of the people chanted, the two men stopped fighting, and joined in themselves.
It was truly one of the most bizarre experiences of my life watching my mom hold a 2-liter bottle of Faygo above her head as it frothed out onto her and the crowd in the mosh pit, feeling a mixture of horror, protectiveness and pride.
I spent a long time, even after moving out at age 16, being embarrassed by my mom. I know I'm not alone in this – it's hard, especially I think, for children of single parents (mothers particularly) not to associate ourselves with our parent's actions, even if we no longer liver with them. But being able to let go of that embarrassment – of that judgement – can be so freeing.
I still fall back into that place of judgment or embarrassment sometimes, but moments when I have been able to accept my mom for who she is, to laugh with her and enjoy being around her, are the moments I've felt the most at peace. Even when those moments have involved crazy psycho clowns screaming in the background.