By Johannes Schönherr.
New York City, June 27th 1993: Notorious punk rocker GG Allin had finally served out a lengthy prison sentence in Michigan and was set to play his first concert after his release. The venue was a club called the Gas Station on the corner of East 2nd Street and Avenue B. A converted former gas station, the club consisted of a small, one-story building, housing the concert space, as well as a dense garden of rusty scrap metal sculptures out front, the work of some mad welder who was given here the freedom to create whatever his wild imagination dictated him to create. Wrecked cars resting on shaky looking metal poles high above the head gave the scenery a dangerous look – those car wrecks looked like they could crash down any minute, breaking the bones of anyone passing through below at that moment. Certainly a fitting environment for a GG Allin show. Danger was a central element of GG’s performances, after all.
It was a sunny Sunday afternoon, with the show was starting slow. Three local bands were scheduled to play before GG. Hardly anyone went inside the concert space to check them out. The audience would rather sit out in the sun, drink beer, and smoke joints in between the scrap metal art and junk.
Once an agitated GG Allin broke through the gate, though, everyone – including myself – quickly filed into the hall. Almost immediately, GG hit the stage, accompanied by his band, the Murder Junkies. Microphone in hand and dressed only in a g-string, GG bellowed out his lyrics while at the same time attacking members of the audience. Some careless punk rock chicks had brought in their small children as if they had never heard about what a GG Allin show was like; those children were hurried out the door as quickly as possible.
While singing, GG threw punches and grabbed women, pressing their faces to his crotch; he lost his g-string and soon did what he was most famous for: defecating on stage and throwing his feces into the audience. People screamed and tried to run out of GG’s way, others danced right in front of the stage. That dancing seemed to rile GG and he ordered it to be stopped, attacking some of the dancers.
Suddenly, about 10 minutes into the performance, the loud rock of the band, and GG’s microphone with it, went silent. The management of the club had turned off the power. GG was told to leave the premises.
That resulted in more broken noses as GG would now attack anyone in his way at random, all the while demanding electricity back to continue the performance. People bleeding from their faces sat outside the club on the curb, neighborhood activists showed up and demanded to know what was going on.
Eventually, GG stepped out of the club, naked, covered in his own feces and his face profusely bleeding – he had hit his head through a glass window early in the show.
Outside, beer bottles were thrown at GG while he tried to get away. But soon, the mood of the fans changed. Screaming “GG! GG!” they started to follow him as he tried to make his escape. What followed was a long march through the neighborhood. GG trying to get away from his fans, by then wearing shorts, the fans in turn not letting go of him. GG repeatedly tried to enter a taxi cab, only to get thrown out by the driver instantly. Police cars wailing their sirens were a constant soundtrack to that march through the Lower East Side but the police had no clue what was going on, who was who. All they could do was watch.
It took GG almost an hour of walk until he did eventually catch a cab. He went to the nearby apartment of a friend, had a party there that night, accidently shot up an overdose of heroin, and was dead by the next morning.
Earlier in the same month of June 1993, Hated: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies, the first documentary film about GG Allin, had had its official premiere in New York, at Anthology Film Archives, also located on East 2nd Street, only a few blocks west of the Gas Station. Directed by NYU film student Todd Phillips, the documentary tried to make sense of the strange punk rock phenomenon GG Allin. Where did GG come from? What made him behave the way he did on stage? What was his message – was there even a message?
GG Allin had been released on parole from prison in Michigan in 1991. Immediately after his release he broke parole and traveled to New York to participate in Todd Phillip’s film. He extensively talked in front of the camera, appearing to be a focused man who knew what he wanted. Revenge at society, basically, but at the same time fighting the commercial rock music business which he felt had stolen the true spirit of Rock’n’Roll. “Bringing danger back to Rock’n’Roll” was his declared mission, he said.
GG gave a concert at Space at Chase in the East Village, doing his shit-throwing and nose-breaking routine, barely escaping arrest. He embarked on a U.S. tour with the Murder Junkies that took him all the way to Texas where he was finally arrested again and extradited to Michigan where he had to serve out the remainder of his prison sentence. Todd Phillips and his film crew traveled to Vermont and met up with former teachers and high school buddies of GG. Very enlightening yet entertaining material.
As a result, Hated featured plenty of GG’s upbringing and early development: the story of an ultra-religious recluse father who had tried to murder his family including his youngest son who had been named Jesus Christ Allin on his insistence (the nickname GG comes from his elder brother Merle not being able to pronounce Jesus Christ correctly), his later name-change to Kevin Michael Allin by his mother, his youthful rebellion and his eventual turn into the shit-throwing punk rock performer.
GG Allin was present at the premiere at Anthology Film Archives. At one point in the movie a former member of the Murder Junkies turned detractor named Chicken John came up on screen, denouncing GG and declaring his “mission” failed. An enraged GG threw a beer bottle towards the screen image of Chicken John, aiming too short. The bottle hit a woman on the head, resulting in serious injury. The show was stopped, GG fled the scene. Movie director John Waters was present at the scene and later stated to the press that he was terrified and absolutely scared of that madman GG Allin.
Hated became a cult hit not only in the U.S. but also in Europe, Japan, and beyond. Todd Phillips, who followed up his debut with the 1998 doc Frat House, later changed genres, switching from documentary to Hollywood comedy. His Hangover trilogy (2009, 2011 and 2013) grossed record box office profits.
Fast forward 24 years, to April 2017 and the premiere of a new feature-length GG Allin documentary at Copenhagen’s Huset Biograf theater. Titled The Allins and directed by Danish filmmaker Sami Saif, the new documentary takes a very different approach to addressing its central subject. While Todd Phillips was able to directly interview GG Allin himself and thus to portray a very contemporary figure, Sami Saif had to turn to the surviving members of the Allin family. Saif had the full support of both Merle Allin, GG’s elder brother and the bass player in GG’s last band, the Murder Junkies, as well as the full support of GG and Merle’s mother, Arleta.
Very funny and at times very sad, the film opens with video material of various drinking parties at GG Allin’s grave in New Hampshire, shot by fans attending the parties. Inspired by the onstage antics of their idol, they pissed and shat at the grave, leaving trails of destruction across the whole cemetery. GG’s survivors were less than thrilled by that: Arleta tells the camera that she was tempted to shoot her gun at those fans, Merle is seen hitting the head of a fan with his guitar. One fan eventually toppled the headstone on GG’s grave; it has been in storage at the local priest’s house ever since to discourage any further graveyard disturbances.
As much as Arleta and Merle detest those antics at GG’s grave, they are proof that GG has not been forgotten. In fact, putting the search words “GG Allin” into youtube today will yield an overwhelming amount of historical concert and interview video footage as well as recordings of almost every song GG ever put on tape. GG’s general attitude of “I don’t give a shit what anybody thinks”, of “fuck authority,” and “there are no limits and no laws” still resonates today, more recently due to a rebellious stance against American conservatism and the limitations set forth by the suffocating forces of political correctness.
One major force in perpetuating the gospel and memory of GG Allin is his brother Merle. The film crew visits him at his house in Los Angeles: GG memorabilia cover almost every square inch on the walls while Merle is busy selling off as many newly produced GG fan articles as possible. GG bumper stickers, GG refrigerator magnets, GG dolls, anything will find its buyers. Merle has re-released every vintage GG recording he could find. Merle also kept the Murder Junkies band alive after GG’s death, with original “naked drummer” Donald “Dino” Sachs still hitting the hides. They occasionally tour Europe now; GG himself had never made it out of the U.S.
In short, Merle lives off the legacy of his brother. That legacy, smartly exploited, provides Merle with the life he always wanted to live, doing whatever he wants while residing in a spacious house in Los Angeles and driving a Japanese sports car. GG himself never owned much more than would fit into a paper bag.
Merle is a soft-spoken interview partner, candidly providing details of both his and GG’s youth and greatly helping the film move along smoothly. While Merle has nothing but fond memories of GG, their mother, Arleta, is more conflicted. A humorous old lady with an artistic streak, Arleta looks back at a tough life. After breaking off from her crazed husband, she had to work hard to provide for her two sons. Without much paternal supervision, Merle and GG hitchhiked to rock concerts, eventually forming their first band.
They made their first recordings with a band named Malpractice in 1977, with Merle on bass and GG on drums. Arleta would run the lightshow. Listening to Malpractice now, their music sounded like mainstream pop rock of the time. Things got a bit rougher when GG joined the Jabbers. Well, the attitude of the band got rougher, not so much the music. Songs like 1980s Rock’nRoll were still sweet pop and fun. “Kevin had the ability to become a real musician,“ Arleta says, “but he wasted it all. He destroyed himself.” After the Jabbers broke up, GG disappeared from Arleta’s life for several years, performing with a multitude of bands, eventually taking on a serious drinking and drug habit.
“I always loved Kevin,” Arleta says, “I hated the GG he became.” Merle also says that GG seemed to have two personalities: the calm, reliable Kevin when he was in private and the wild rock’n’roll animal GG when he was in public. Problem was that GG was almost constantly in the public, performing, hanging out with people he felt he needed to impress.
GG did greatly improve as a musician over the years, recording deeply touching versions of old country standards (Pick Me Up On Your Way Down), outlaw ballads (Echo Park by Warren Zevon) but also writing very insightful songs based on his own drug lifestyle. His song Sitting in this Room sounds as grippingly tragic as any Denis Johnson short story reads.
At the same time, GG’s performances got more and more out of hand. Attacks on the audience, defecation and self-mutilation on stage became the rule rather than an exception, GG’s drug use reached potentially fatal levels. GG Allin eventually met his fate in the night following his concert at the Gas Station in New York City.
At its premiere in Copenhagen, Sami Saif’s The Allins was screened in a double feature with Todd Phillips’ Hated. The two films complement each other greatly. While Hated captured GG Allin in his strongest days, The Allins adds much information on his background and the developments that lead GG to become the person he became. It may take a few more years but eventually the smell of GG’s shit will faint, his onstage antics will become mere legends while the quality of some of the songs he wrote and performed will eventually receive the attention they deserve. The Allins certainly opens up the path towards such a progress.
Johannes Schönherr is the author of Trashfilm Roadshows – Off the Beaten Track with Subversive Movies (Headpress, 2002) and North Korean Cinema – A History (McFarland, 2012).