January 22, 2021
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Heyoka and the Little Park Behind the Prison

Why Parsons v. DOJ Is One of the Most Important Moments in the History of American Rock and Roll

We are all Juggalos, in our own right, when it comes to freedom of speech in America, in the world. As Voltaire stated, ‘I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’”—NPR.org

Hola, mi familia. It’s your dark carnival fortune teller, here to tell a story about fortune, loss, gain, expression, family, freedom, los, lettes…and giving respect where respect is due.

As you all know, after years of careful planning and preparation, Psychopathic Records has come through in a profound display of solidarity and righteous resistance. Who knew after all this time our macabre clowns would turn unlikely freedom fighters? But Parsons v. DOJ proves just that. The suit is a groundbreaking display of oftentimes base, comedic, subversive storytelling and performance art turned political, powerful, alive, and active—proof of a sentiment that I’ve always held to be true in my heart: That art, no matter how zany or shocking or seemingly apolitical, carries with it a great power through which the imagined becomes real and beauty in all forms is manifest. Art is creation. Therefore, art is powerful. And if I could sum up my own personal response to the suit in a word or a phrase, it would be just that: Powerful. I think I speak for many of us when I say that I was deeply moved by the announcement made January 8th. It was like an early birthday present for this here Capricorn cusp. It was like “Juggalo Day” came mad early. Boom. Done. That’s it. Drop the mike. What else is there to say?

Well…a voice from deep inside tells me…”More.” Much more. And that’s what I’m here for.

At the time of this writing, the worldwide news coverage accompanying this landmark suit has come and gone, for now, and after assessing countless articles, videos, interviews, and public responses, I feel that at this point a certain degree of depth is missing from the existing press and literature. What we are now facing is a great disconnect regarding Parsons v. DOJ. I use the term “disconnect” because while the case is widely known, there has been very little public commentary on it, considering. Don’t get it twisted–there’s been plenty of coverage. Plenty. And that is very, very commendable. But to this date, there’s been very little “op-ed” commentary–shocking in an age where we have limitless channels for communication, sharing, and dialogue. The tone of the media thus far has largely been straightforward and descriptive, as if to say “This happened Wednesday. Huh. Weird.” And nothing further. And aside from the eloquent statements of ICP and their fellow plaintiffs (for which MANY kudos are due), a compelling interview with underground artist Mars, an in-depth article by the Detroit Metro Times, and the short NPR snippet listed above, a substantive dialogue has yet to continue.

But in my eyes, this is the stuff of the Sundance Film Festival and Time magazine’s front page. And I’m not just saying that out of personal bias.

Here, we as writers, thinkers, and society as a whole have a unique opportunity. A challenge. A catalyst. Personally, as a “juggalette” but more so a lover of freedom, expression, art, and the right to gather in all forms, I feel that it’s time to open up a larger conversation about this case both in and outside the juggalo world. Writers, bloggers, and reporters, ICP fans or not, should seize this profound moment to address some much larger questions about personal freedom, increased police presence, tolerance, and censorship in our society. Mainstream writers should know: the fact that these larger issues have seeped into the realm of not only “rock and roll” but more so that damn Clown Posse and their kooky followers is a testament to just how necessary and crucial a dialogue regarding these larger issues has become. Parsons v. DOJ challenges us as a society to look twice at some unlikely heroes and, yes, to sweat the “small stuff” (though for the juggalo community this has been anything but “small”). It’s time to get real. It is a call to not only juggalos but to all people: This is way bigger than rock-and-roll controversies past surrounding Elvis. The United States government essentially took steps toward making a certain type of music illegal. C’mon people. If this is still a democracy, let’s share MORE ideas on this. Much more. Let’s talk.

For right now, I guess I’m just the lil gypsy to get the crystal ball rolling…

And as I searched within for a spark to get the conversation going, I initially found myself at a loss for words, which NEVER happens. Trust me. Especially when I am passionate about something (like the rights of juggalos to gather and enjoy music without harassment). It’s massive. It’s the system itself being questioned here. Big government. How can I make a statement on this? How to even approach this subject? Little me? Heh…”I’m not a very funny clown, but I’ll try.”

And after a good deal of meditation, head scratching, and contemplation, I decided that in order to make this work, I needed to first start from within, as with all things. To start with my personal experiences with the FBI profiling that’s been taking place and branch out to some things I’ve learned along the way.

***

For me, it all started when Maggie went to sign in as a visitor at the correctional facility.

An act of mercy, she was paying a visit to her brother—a young man who had been incarcerated and was serving time for charges involving the improper attainment of scrap metal. His crime was akin to a skit from cult mockumentary series “Trailer Park Boys.” Petty and nonviolent, scrapping became an easy way to earn a living in a society where a living has become increasingly hard to find.

Of course, Maggie herself wasn’t a scrapper. She was an EMT and an ambulance driver. Every day she was saving lives, with a whole lot of care and concern for her patients. She took a lot of pride in her work.

I remember when my phone rang. She was in tears–a rarity for Magz. “You’ll never guess what they did to me…” she trembled.

Maggie was wearing an Insane Clown Posse t-shirt when she signed in for visitation. Unbeknownst to her, this was “gang apparel” to the correctional facility. Her brother’s joker card tattoos listed him in a database as a gang member, as well.

Shortly after signing in, she was handcuffed and beaten by a group of male guards. She is all of 5’3 and 150 pounds.

And they put my Maggie in a cell.

“Gang members can’t visit other gang members,” they said. “That’s an offense,” they said. They interrogated and threatened her. They took pictures of her. She explained she could lose her license to be an EMT—her livelihood, her calling, her passion—if they chose to press charges. She pled for her job. And at the mercy of an officer familiar with her work as an EMT, after a few hours, she was released, physically bruised but more so emotionally and psychologically.

All because she was wearing an Insane Clown Posse t-shirt.

Now, Maggie’s detainment is not an isolated incident. If you are an ICP fan, you have undoubtedly read hundreds of testimonies like hers in the “Hatchet Herald” newsletter. Everyone has picked up on the increased police presence at the venues. It has affected all of us. But this is nothing new.

There’s always been a hint of police presence in the juggalo subculture. And sure. We’re the embodiment of chaos, and sometimes the cops get called out to the venues. But slowly it escalated beyond the occasional bust at a tailgate party. Cops started “dispersing” crowds outside the venues using excessive force, and on one occasion, I saw male officers beating this young woman with nightsticks. It was crazy. And everyone remembers when Peoria was tear gassed because the police could not stand the idea of women bearing their breasts, which is the worst thing ever, right? Of course. Women have no right to show their bodies. Of course not.

But it’s very different now. It’s like the fumes from that Peoria tear gas have spread and dissipated. And now that stench is everywhere, affecting all of us who are ICP fans, in our daily lives. Stickers and t-shirts and decals on the backs of our cars make us targets, and as for sporting that merch in high schools? Forget it. You’ll get expelled. And it’s wrong. We know this. I’m not going to sit here and preach to the choir. It’s just a really scary thing when you really sit down and think about it. It’s time for the public at large to know about this. People should have the right to wear whatever they want. They have the right to listen to music, no matter what kind of music it is. They have the right to support their favorite artists. And they have the right to gather with their friends without harassment—that is, IF this is still a democracy.

…Is it?

See, back in the day, Beatlemania was banned in Soviet Russia. The music was outlawed. Their fans were profiled. It just wasn’t allowed. So this isn’t the first time in rock and roll history that this kind of government restriction has been implemented. But now, for the first time in AMERICA, a democracy, followers of a certain kind of music have been criminalized. It’s absurd. Again, this is America, or as FLH’s resident Texan Scottie D would say, “‘Murrkaah.” Land of the “Free.” [Note from Scottie: I don’t F’ing talk like that…y’all]

Damn…

Now, coming from where I come from and a place that I still call home, I’m not going to wrap myself in the flag and say I’ve always had complete faith in the system. Contrary. My great grandfather was Lakota Sioux, so of course I can’t talk “freedom” and “justice” on stolen land. I’ve never really known freedom in its truest sense.

But the angry Sioux in me still demands some space. Something. And it’s the little things. The little everyday acts of rebellion through art and music. That’s where I find it. That’s where I create my space in this concrete jungle. I’ve always felt my connection to the juggalos helped foster this space for me, through the friendships I’ve found and the community that loves and embraces me.

Later on in my life, I was fortunate enough to discover a full-on connection between my Lakota heritage and my strange calling to this community. A trusted elder compared my experiences reading tarot at the Gatherings to the Lakota tradition of sacred clowning, or Heyoka. Now you can read more about Heyoka here and decide for yourselves (http://dreamflesh.com/essays/clownpath/), but I feel that a quote from this particular essay sums up our situation quite succinctly in light of Parsons v. DOJ:

The Heyoka were dangerous to tyrants and exploiters because they were so disorganized and so completely honest. They could see with the eyes of a child, and because of this, could spot a phony a mile away. In old times, the European invaders hated them, of course, so it was either be killed or find a way to hide…Those who survived did so by learning to be Tricksters, to change their form, to become invisible if necessary…And in modern times, Heyoka sometimes emerge into the public eye as artists/musicians who break the boundaries of ‘good taste’ and aesthetics…

I wonder. In this new-age Babylon, do the juggalos and ICP embody the ancient spirit of the Heyoka? And now we are being forced to become invisible in order to survive. That is, unless someone decides to fight it…Thus, ICP and the juggalos have a case pending. And for this, I am so grateful.

The juggalos? We are wild children. Some live like nomads. Others are fry cooks with hearts of gold. Some are educated. Some ain’t. It’s all walks of life. And it all revolves around music and an unspoken code of love and brotherhood. A slightly “off” sense of humor. An affinity for the grotesque and absurd. And underneath all this, there is an inherent longing for justice, as chronicled in the Dark Carnival mythology and saga.

And is there a place for us here, as Heyoka, as the modern-day tricksters? Do we have a spot?

Bringing it back from the political to the personal, which is all I really can do when faced with such great questions, I know that yes, I for one do have a spot.

There is a patch of woods where I have always gone. A park along the river. A little park behind the Philadelphia correctional facility. It is where I go to think and where I painted the majority of the art for the Dark Carnival Tarot deck, which makes it a very special “juggalo” place for me. Many afternoons I spent on a bench or deeper in the wooded areas, painting those colorful grimacing clown faces on the cards. Learning tarot. Studying my craft. Walking. Meditating. Listening to the earth. Hearing.

And that little park behind the prison isn’t much. But it’s my own.

When my back is to the river, I’m still staring at all the bars and barbed wire. The towers. The incarceration. The pain.

But then I turn and face the blue water. The sky. The clouds. The trees. As the grip of the military-industrial complex tightens, there are very few places like my park left. Just on the edge of every picnic lurks the prison, razor wire jaws grimacing…

In a way, since I was practically still a girl, ICP and later the juggalo world as it has come to be has always been my little park behind the prison. A place where I could run to and escape the nonstop traffic and the urban sprawl. Just beyond the prison gates of society, I could find color and beauty and a place to be an artist. To be loved and truly love. Without judgment. To laugh at the absurd. To laugh in the face of death itself. And to be what I am called to be by my very lineage. The Heyoka. A sacred clown.

The park remained a safe spot. The prison stood in the gloomy distance, only a distant threat and reminder.

With the FBI gang listing and everything that continues to transpire as a result, it’s like a plan has been made to expand and develop that prison. Add new wings. New buildings. Take up more space. Expand into my place. My solace. Level my trees and soccer fields and park benches and develop something else. Something different entirely.

And if the FBI report laid the blueprints, ready for the construction of this monstrosity, then Parsons v. DOJ done brought the cease and desist. It’s like a chain of hands stretched out like “No.” Enough. Let’s protect the little space that we do have here for dreaming and keep us out of the prisons. For color. For silliness. For creativity. For true freedom.

And I can’t do nothing but respect that. And encourage the conversation to continue until this injustice has been resolved. And I hold gratitude in my heart that my brothers did stand up for this, because it is personal, political, and much more. It is about saving that space for the Heyoka in our society. And making music and history in the process…

Rachel Paul (@darkcarnietarot) is the author and illustrator of the Dark Carnival Tarot Cards and the unofficial Faygoluvers graphics grrrl. She bounces back and forth between Philly and Detroit and loves her little park behind the prison, Jumpsteady’s The Road, and Candy Apple Faygo. Visit her at facebook.com/darkcarnivaltarot or etsy.com/shop/darkcarnivaltarot.

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    Faygoluvers Comments

  1. The Notorious, L.T.B.

    LTB

    Comment posted on Thursday, January 16th, 2014 09:22 pm GMT -6 at 9:22 pm

    Tl;dr. Just kidding. That was fucking awesome wowzers. much love, and my condolences to your friend.

  2. scruffy

    scruffy

    Comment posted on Friday, January 17th, 2014 01:10 pm GMT -6 at 1:10 pm

    good read.

  3. scruffy

    scruffy

    Comment posted on Friday, January 17th, 2014 01:12 pm GMT -6 at 1:12 pm

    oh yeah… happy birthday, too, wowzers.

  4. MR.J

    Comment posted on Sunday, January 10th, 2016 09:31 pm GMT -6 at 9:31 pm

    i found this very interesting. mainly because i have just recently theorized this connection (Juggalo’s as the new evolution of the Heyoka or holy clown) . but i dont think we need to worry about hideing or changeing our form our ancestors did that so that the day would come when we would wake up as a family and let the world know just exactly how they are fucking things up…. but then again its just a theory. and im just a dude living in a basement. WWLSD.

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