(1994) director Todd Phillips
Most musicians are known for their music. GG Allin was known more for his performances than for his music, though by all accounts he produced a great deal of material in his short life. Allin’s performances, with his band or in “spoken word” poetry readings, involved nudity, violence, self-mutilation, excrement, and a significant dose of danger. That is what he believed in, bringing the danger back to rock and roll. That is if he believed in anything.
Nihilistic and misanthropic to a fault, Allin used music and performance as confrontations, attacking the audience literally (with his fists and anything he could get his hands on) and figuratively (through his outlandish, gross-out antics). His style and tactics had antecedents in Iggy Pop, and other early punk, as well as in avant-garde groups like Throbbing Gristle. But in the late 1980’s-early 1990’s, when Allin’s notoriety was at its peak, it’s arguable that the punk scene from which his band emanated, aggressive as the music could be, had become increasingly more predictable, and performances like his were outrageous and transgressive. His whole style was about being offensive, not simply politically incorrect but baiting and taunting.
This film was shot in the early 1990’s by Todd Phillips, who at the time was a student at NYU. The film presents Allin and his brother Merle (the bass player for The Murder Junkies), and their drummer, in interviews and in performance, and an interesting portrait starts to come together. Merle and Allin had a bizarre childhood with a religious recluse abusive father (who named GG Jesus Christ Allin at his birth. The “GG” came from his older brother’s inability to pronounce the younger sibling’s name.) And it seems clear that there is really an fascinating story behind Allin’s life.
Phillips, who has gone on to fame as the director of The Hangover (2009), really managed to capture something in his student project, because only days after a screening of this film, which Allin attended, Allin wound up dying of a heroin overdose at the age of 36. He had often threatened (or promised) to commit suicide on stage, but obviously never followed through on that. He was often jailed for his abuses and transgressions.
I found the film quite interesting. But I have to tell you that there is a lot of pretty nasty stuff in his performances. From shoving a banana up his rectum to pounding his face bloody with microphones, defacating on the floor and then rolling around and eating the feces, getting his mouth urinated into and then puking… It’s not at all for everyone.
Nor was Allin. Back in the day, he was a topic of conversation, but not a personal interest. I am pretty sure I wouldn’t have gone to one of his gigs, and having seen this film, I think it’s safe to say that was the right idea. His shows were good opportunities to get injured or covered in scat.
But I guess I’m feeling a little of, well, perhaps not respect, but understanding of what he was and what he did, at least in the way that the film portrays it. He was a crazy, fucked-up person, who found an outlet for his pain and anger, which he even suggests probably kept him from murdering anyone. But there isn’t a touchy-feely positive sensibility in his world, and I found it remarkable how his brother lived alongside him and recognized his being for what it was. He can’t have been an easy person to know. And while his music remains somewhat of an unproven thing to me, I think his performances were dangerous, offensive, and at the same time not exactly riveting. Not riveting the way that most musical performances strive to be. It was ugliness exemplified. And I think that was the intent.