Jason Webber joins the “Dark Carnival”
If interviewing artists and musicians for nearly two decades has left me with nothing else, it has sharpened my radar for spotting self-congratulating, self-important narcissists and finely tuned my bullshit meter. And when I spotted Jason Webber, who I’d not previously met, wearing a Hugh Hefner inspired smoking jacket and balancing a martini on his fingers at the 2011 Dayton City Paper holiday party, I was sure I had his number. My instincts have never been more wrong.
Webber approached my seat at the bar, introduced himself and extended an earnest compliment about my writing for the paper. We spent the next hour sharing hits and near misses from our collective interview experiences, and I left the party delighted to have made the acquaintance of a quirky man whose self-deprecating humor, overwhelming knowledge of pop culture and journalistic bravery would ultimately inspire me to aim higher in my own pursuits.
“I actually endured quite a bit of ridicule for that jacket,” Webber recalled. “I got it from an Internet mail order company called International Male.
“I think I may be the token straight male to pull off something from International Male,” he joked. “I’m meeting John Waters on Saturday and he’s a fashion icon who is known for his own jackets, so I’m thinking about wearing it there.”
By his own admission, Webber has always held an affinity for costumes. Growing up in middle America, and experiencing “the most mundane, black and white childhood you can imagine,” Webber has always been drawn to over-the-top performers.
“I remember seeing Alice Cooper and Ziggy-era Bowie, and saying to myself, ‘Who is that!?!’” Webber admitted. “I always loved the idea of becoming someone else. Nine out of 10 days I’m just a schmuck, but if I put on a snakeskin jacket or something I suddenly become a bad ass. It is the whole Clark Kent to Superman dynamic …”
During his formative years, Webber lived a more “Clark Kent” lifestyle. He graduated from Wayne State University in Detroit in 2004, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, and held a few other jobs (including editor of an alt-weekly, and working for Toledo city government) before settling in Dayton as the legislative aide to Dayton Mayor Gary Leitzell and City Commissioner Joey Williams, reporting to Kery Gray, the executive director of the city commission, in January 2010.
Webber spent most of his day taking calls and answering queries providing accurate information to Dayton’s residents. However, outside of work, Webber became a freelance superman for Dayton City Paper balancing accounts of his personal experiences in Dayton via his “Bachelor’s Pad” column with interviews with everyone from comedians Marlon Wayans, Loni Love and Brian Posehn, to musicians like Duran Duran’s Roger Taylor. In addition to contributing pop culture-centric features for DCP, Webber also became a well-respected and trusted contributor to Vice, Ghettoblaster Magazine, Paste Magazine, AllHipHop.com and others.
Webber’s natural affinity for costumed, over-the-top acts landed him in league with fans of the clown-makeup wearing rappers of Insane Clown Posse, Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope, who he interviewed several times for publications where he was a contributor. But it wasn’t until 2012 that he ultimately captured their attention as a potential employee. Shortly after developing a cover story on influential Detroit rapper Danny “K”AE for the Detroit Metro Times, Webber was invited to a job interview with management at Psychopathic Records for the first time. In November 2012, he received and accepted a position as head of public relations for Psychopathic Records.
“There is more to that universe than meets the eye,” Webber said. “Everyone loves a good Juggalo joke, but the subculture is more complex and diverse than that. Most of the news coverage of ICP and the label has been exceedingly negative. The issue of controversy in music is as old as time. There has always been a group that the mainstream doesn’t understand, so the first instinct is to fear it. ICP is an easy target because parents don’t understand it. In that way, they’re a logical scapegoat.”
While Webber acknowledges that controversy inevitably follows a group of artists whose modus operandi is “setting horror film narratives to music,” he explains that the press – and as of late the Federal Bureau of Investigations – are prone to mistaking the cathartic live experience provided by ICP and the kinship amongst their fans for gang activity.
“It sounds corny, but these are the people that society wants to forget. These people are easy to laugh at on ‘Springer’ and ‘Maury,’ these people are the gum on the bottom of the shoe of society. But they aren’t a gang, they’re just people expressing themselves and enjoying a respite from their jobs and lives.”
Webber said he hopes that his prior experience as a writer and editor will allow him to pitch the “real” stories behind the artists at Psychopathic Records and their fans to entertainment publications. He also has his sights set on hardcore news organizations, in an effort to reverse the negative profiling these artists and their fans experience.
By the time this piece is published, Webber will already have been “down with the clowns” for several weeks. Early accounts of his time in the Psychopathic Records office indicate that it’s not exactly what he’d originally expected.
“I have not seen one bottle of Faygo since starting at Psychopathic,” he said.
On a brighter note, his “secret Santa,” Violent J, hooked him up with a stocking full of Prince-related presents and dubbed him with a new moniker, J-Webb. That alone is enough to make any self-respecting Juggalo conjure a hearty “Woop Woop.”
Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Anderl at TimAnderl@daytoncitypaper.com