August 29th would be GG Allin’s 58th birthday, believe it or not. Although somewhat ‘off-topic’ I wanted to take the opportunity to remember him as he meant a lot to me and my outlook both musically and personally.
So indulge me.
In the fall of 1989, I had just turned 18. I was about six weeks into my last ditch effort to complete high school and failing miserably. My friends were generally nice obedient church going kids preparing for a life of middle-management, middle class, middle of the road, middle of nowhere. I was a misfit among them. My hair was longer, dirtier. My grades were far worse. I liked the harder edged music and the darker, gorier films. I was a weirdo. I just couldn’t fit in. I had grown completely disenfranchised with most everything in my life.
My musical exposure was limited to the standard variety commercial radio formats and the videos that flashed across MTV. In my dim awareness rock and roll was largely staged in the arenas and stadiums of the world. The clubs might provide a glimpse of future mega-gods as they ascended to rock star glory, but I was still learning. I was unaware of the concept of 'All-Ages'. To my limited understanding and knowledge, clubs were largely the domain of beer swilling frat-boys and wet t-shirt contests.
Punk rock changed all that.
I saw ANTiSEEN and as the cliché goes, my life was changed forever. ANTiSEEN was unlike anything I had ever seen yet were everything I had dreamt of. They were primitive, chaotic and scary. By coincidence it was almost exactly the same time I first heard of GG Allin. I was still in school, just a few weeks shy of dropping out. I sat with some girls who I didn’t really know, young metal -mamas in waiting. One was a brunette, rather severe looking. The other was a chubby bleach blonde with a big ass I liked to stare at. I cannot remember their names. It was simply odd fortune that for whatever reason I wasn’t shooed away from their table. It was all the more fortuitous that one of them would have a copy of a heavy metal magazine that contained a letter from a performer called GG Allin. In it he proclaimed his intention to commit suicide onstage on Halloween the following year.
I had never heard of GG Allin. The sincerity of his writing spooked me – I couldn’t fathom what he or his music could possibly be like. I quickly searched out his records and still yet was afraid to buy one. I would stand in the record shop staring at the covers trying to imagine what sonic horrors they contained. I knew intuitively that it wasn’t heavy metal, nor would it sound like what little punk rock I’d heard. GG Allin wasn’t a mohican fashion victim, and with song titles like “Sleeping In My Piss”, “Dope Money” and “Drink Fight and Fuck” he clearly wasn’t wallowing in political dogma. GG Allin was in a league all his own. I also learned of the reputation that was fast growing into legend: violence, bloodshed, defecation and coprophagia. In the punk rock ethos that prided itself of ‘outsider’ status, GG Allin was the ultimate outsider.
I’m not sure how I came to realize that ANTiSEEN and GG Allin were friends. It certainly made sense that they would be associated in some way. These were the purveyors of the scariest, most intense noise that had ever existed. After I had seen ANTiSEEN preform the idea of onstage death no longer seemed like a cheap publicity stunt. Unlike say, David Coverdale who stood safely above the masses flanked by security detail while prancing about with his carefully coifed hair, Jeff Clayton was unafraid to get hurt. He was unafraid to hurt others and unafraid of how it looked to anyone else. He was a spastic mess of hair, blood, sweat and phlegm. And I was a terrified teenager in total awe of what I was witnessing. I remember very clearly watching him bash his face repeatedly with the mic and landing in a clump at my feet.
It only occurred to me later how revolutionary a moment this was in my life. I had stumbled into an underground movement of rock & roll performance elevated beyond theatrical convention. It was actual bloodshed and scarred flesh. It was actual violence. I never thought of a concert as a place where my personal safety could be violated by the band. It provided awareness that rock & roll performance wasn’t always a pose, that it could be - should be - the expression of inner emotions shared in a genuine tangible way.
And now this character called GG Allin was threatening to go over the edge once and for all.
ANTiSEEN had brought GG to town in 1987 and although they did not perform together it still managed to be one of the sickest, most twisted shows the city of Charlotte had ever seen. Unfortunately this was just before I got hip to the shit, and I missed out completely. By the time I got wised up the show had already transcended into legend. Years later a crude recording of it was released as a 7”ep called “Carolina In My Ass”. It added to the mystique of GG Allin.
I finally collected a few GG records. They were all different. I couldn’t piece it together. Some of the material was tight, sharply produced hard rock with a vocal that sounded positively adolescent to my ears. Others were grinding sludge with menacing vocals that sounded shredded and snarled. And yet still others sounded like they were recorded on a boombox in somebody’s basement. The attitude was largely the same, however. It reflected a sensibility that I found myself eagerly identifying with; the attitude of individuality. The proverbial “fuck you” without regard of what anyone thought, positive or negative.
I began championing GG Allin and his looming suicide pact. “Just wait” I remember telling a co-worker, “this is gonna change everything. This is gonna be front page news all over the world!”
Well, it didn’t quite happen like that.
Instead GG was arrested on trumped up charges of sexual assault and languished in the slams for 18 months. In that time grunge exploded and a new awareness of punk rock rose in its wake. For a moment it looked as if the cracks in the commercial music dam were gonna give way completely and some actual revolution in music might occur. But nope, the major labels just co-opted and codified the deal and instead of seeing the GG Allins and ANTiSEENs of the world get the acknowledgment and accolades they rightly deserved, we got spoon fed the sugar coated, safe and palatable Green Days and Nirvanas.
Released from prison in the spring of 1991, GG skipped parole and headed to North Carolina. He and ANTiSEEN finally teamed together to record one of the last truly iconic punk rock records, “Murder Junkies”. Although sitting far off on the sidelines I was lucky to be around as it all was happening. Some friends rehearsed at the same place ANTiSEEN did and got to see them work up a new song. My friend Brad called telling me all about it: “Man, they took the music from ‘Charlie’s Blues’ (a song from Joe Young’s solo ep) and GG put these words to it, just going ‘I hate people’ over and over…"
Yeah, I was pretty jealous. I won’t lie about it.
I finally met GG and was somewhat surprised how laid back and good-natured he was. GG forever had people in his face with a pen and a camera. I never really did that when he was around, so I think he accepted me as genuine rather than an opportunist. I did manage to score a couple of autographs at a record signing he did. Unfortunately I no longer have them. Once he saw a Ramones shirt I was wearing and flipped on it. “Where’d you get that shirt? Man, I gotta have it!! Whattaya want for it??” He traded me a shirt out of his bag on the spot. I no longer have that, either. This isn’t to say I was “friends” with GG; that would be patently untrue. But we were friendly and remained so whenever he passed through town.
My favorite memory of GG was seeing him in Atlanta on Valentine’s Day, 1992. I got to ride down with Clayton. We met at his house and he immediately asked if I could play the drums. I had been playing drums in my first band, but I wasn’t particularly good. I asked what was up and he told me that GG and his drummer Dino had been arrested the night before. They bailed GG out but didn’t have enough to get Dino, so they needed a drummer for the gig. I nervously said that I would but I knew there was no way I’d be anywhere near what they would want or need. I seriously doubt Jeff thought I was either, but the options were clearly limited. Fortunately they found a guy in Atlanta that could do it. Good thing, I would’ve made a train wreck out of the gig had I played.
We got to the club as the opening band was finishing. My friend Brad rode down with someone else and we soon met up and found ourselves backstage. Some half-naked junkie stripper girls were there with their shit openly on the table. I’d never been exposed to this stuff before. I thought I was a pretty badass punk kid but I learned real quick I was still a white meat babyfaced virgin when in the world of GG Allin. I at least had enough sense to keep my mouth shut and stay out of the way.
We were given very explicit instructions where to stand just before he took stage.
The show was incredible. GG took the stage clad in red satin panties and sporting a black eye from the police beatdown he got during his arrest the previous night. “Point out the undercover cops so we know where they are!” he commanded. “They came to arrest me tonight but I ain’t gonna fuckin’ let em do it!”
The band tore into ‘Live To Be Hated’, one of my favorites. It was great, everything you’d hope it to be and more. Although the drummer didn’t know the material very well, he was a total pro, filling in like he had been with them from the start. They were pretty tight and powerful, giving GG a solid musical foundation which he so often lacked on his recordings.
He took to the crowd several times, people scattering like scared children running in a bizarre game of tag. I have a very distinct and clear memory of him standing on a pool table, bathed in fluorescent and neon light, manically kicking cue balls.
The stripper girls joined him onstage adding further luridness to the entire spectacle. The set was short, perhaps twenty or thirty minutes. He didn’t do anything he was famous for; there was no shit, little bloodshed or fights with the crowd. Yet it was one of the most thrilling events I ever witnessed. Rock & Roll delivered in its most urgent and direct manner by one of the last great practitioners of the form.
We were again ushered backstage, sitting along the wall trying to be mindful of our surroundings. I’m sure I probably thought I looked pretty cool, but the truth is I was pretty scared. More and more people crashed the dressing room, all trying to garner GG’s attention. Somebody brought a stack of pizzas and sat them next to me. They smelled great and I was starving but I wasn’t about to throw down on GG’s pizza. Suddenly GG was next me and said “you better eat some of this pizza, coz I sure can’t eat it all.”
He sat down with me and Brad and we all dug in. He told us that Clayton had told him about our band and how we were like the “bad guys” in our scene. We had played a gig the week before and got in trouble with the club and wound being banned. Evidently Jeff had bragged about it to him. He said “You guys probably got friends and girlfriends and shit, but whatever you do, do it full on. Don’t hold back and don’t let anybody ever stop you, fuck those motherfuckers!” I couldn’t believe GG Allin was giving me a pep talk, but here we were, backstage surrounded by assorted ruffians, wannabes and hangers-on. And GG had come over to us. “Do what you gotta do” he said. “Don’t do what I do, do what you do. And do it hard!”
I realized immediately what he meant. It wasn’t about the spectacle; the blood, piss, shit and vomit. It was the will to do all that… and more. It meant taking everything you had at your disposal and using it as ammunition against the conformity and complacency of everything that you hated. It meant committing yourself beyond expression; taking action without regard to consequence. It meant conviction.
I’ll never forget that as long as I live.
Most still cannot recognize this fact about GG Allin. They still want to ignorantly dismiss him as some sort of freakish sideshow or odd footnote in the annals of punk rock. Because to acknowledge the strength of will and character of GG Allin is an admission to the fact that 95% of what has been passed off as “punk rock” - or rock & roll for that matter – is just complacent fluff; fraudulent and pandering.
Because it is.
GG Allin died on June 28, 1993. I was in the studio recording the second Mad Brother Ward record with Clayton sitting at the mixing board. He got the call, gathered us into the control room and broke the news. We sorta sat in shock for a moment and then we all knew what had to be done: to do what we had come to do. And to do it hard.
Looking back all these years later it strikes me that the more notorious “outlaws” of the punk rock underground were almost always more accepting, understanding and open than the dogmatic politically correct scene tastemakers and standard bearers. Unlike the elitists, there was no calculation to their cool. They had nothing to gain or benefit from it. However they continually took the greatest amount of heat, always and forever outside the neatly defined and carefully policed lines of punk rock acceptance and respect.
Others in this town might brag of some imagined bond they believe they shared with GG. They might have pictures, autographs, souvenirs and memorabilia. What I got was a lot better. I got influence and inspiration. I got schooled directly from the man himself.
And I’m taking that knowledge with me every time I step onstage.