The Ballad of a Bloody, Poop-Throwing Punk-Rock ‘Terrorist’
The new documentary ‘GG Allin: All in the Family’ examines the life of controversial punk-rock provocateur, and the family he left behind.
In the history of rock ‘n’ roll, no one spewed more shit than GG Allin—literally.
The legendary punk frontman, who died in 1993 of an accidental heroin overdose, made a notorious name for himself in the hardcore scene by cursing out and picking fights with fans, threatening to commit public suicide, and, most infamously of all, defecating on stage and then throwing his feces at the audience. A self-described musical “terrorist,” he pushed the genre to its absolute extreme, where only blood, sweat, and self-destructive rage resided. A mainstream act he most certainly was not.
GG Allin: All in the Family pays tribute to its subject’s riotous life and career—although more than just a traditional biopic. Sami Saif’s Showtime documentary (premiering Dec. 13) is also a look at his legacy, especially as it relates to his mother Arleta Baird and his brother Merle, who played bass in many of Allin’s bands, including his most famous one, The Murder Junkies. To make clear that his film is about what took place after GG as much as what happened during his slash-and-burn heyday, Saif begins by detailing the story behind GG’s headstone, which for two years has been kept locked away in a cemetery church by a Catholic priest. The reason? As videos prove, it’s because GG acolytes—staying forever true to their idol—kept visiting the place to pee, poop, and pour liquor on it.
The fact that even GG’s grave isn’t sacrosanct certainly bothers Arleta, who spends most of All in the Family expressing sorrow over her son’s chosen punk-rock path. “It hurts,” she says about the headstone controversy and, by extension, everything else that has to do with her second-born. “I loved Kevin, but I hated GG Allin,” she later admits, making a distinction between the offspring she knew and the celebrity he became. The problem is that, at least in terms of Saif’s film, it seems there was little difference between the two.
As both Arleta and Merle recount (with the aid of the director’s archival photos), GG was born “Jesus Christ Allin”—the actual name given to him by his father, a jobless lunatic prone to psychotic visions who forced his family to live in a New Hampshire log cabin with no electricity or running water. Bestowed with his professional moniker by his brother as a kid, young GG witnessed all manner of domestic abuse, which culminated when his dad held the clan hostage at gunpoint and raped his mother. Arleta would subsequently flee with her two boys and move in with her own mother. Yet the damage, it appears, was done to GG, who despite being legally renamed “Kevin,” grew into a rowdy boy who, by his own admission, liked to steal, sell drugs, and partake in other criminal activity for cash.
GG’s calling would come via the punk scene, where the bald-headed, goateed vocalist’s penchant for causing bodily harm—to himself, and others—immediately made him stand out; and not just stand out, but be beloved by fellow outcasts who embraced him as an anti-establishment, apocalyptic-nihilist kindred spirit. To that end, no one adored him quite like Merle, his lifelong partner-in-chaos who now dedicates himself to both continuing to tour and make music with the Murder Junkies—in tiny venues with a new lead singer who deliberately refuses to mimic GG’s shtick—and to profiting off his dead brother. “I keep his legacy going by pimping his shit,” Merle states as he sells GG-related items on Facebook from a garish California home decorated with serial killer movie posters, tour flyers, and other memorabilia (much of it stashed in an entire “secret GG Allin room”).
Making paintings from his own feces, relaxing in a leopard-print robe while lying on a leopard-print bedspread, and laughing at an internet list that ranks his mustache rock’s all-time second-best (ahead of Freddie Mercury, but behind Lemmy), Merle is the very thing he claims he isn’t, and doesn’t want to be: an over-the-hill punk stuck in the past. He only comes off well in comparison to his pudgy, orange-goateed drummer Donald “Dino” Sachs, who lives in a squalid NYC apartment, performs solos of middling quality, and ends shows by letting an audience member shove his drum sticks up his ass. It’s the sorriest portrait of post-punk glory you’ll ever see.
All in the Family’s depiction of what GG left in his wake certainly isn’t pretty, but the film falls short of generating much sympathy for Merle or Arletta, given that the former is doggedly uninterested in carving out an identity of his own, and the latter, in response to hearing that Merle sells his custom-made clothing and gear after each tour, tells him, “I truly believe you’re part Jewish.” Even without that bit of anti-Semitism, though, Arletta’s refusal to take any responsibility for the man GG became—epitomized by her lament, “Why couldn’t I have had normal children?”—is severely off-putting. When she confesses that she didn’t like leaving her kids alone with their father, but only explains that it was “for reasons,” it’s a stark demonstration of her willful denial of culpability for having helped create a toxic environment for her children.
All of which is to say, if you marry a madman and expose your children to his insanity for long enough, don’t be surprised if they turn out to have problems. What’s ultimately most interesting about All in the Family, however, is how uninteresting it makes GG appear. In numerous concert clips, the frontman proves an out-of-control spectacle, but his actual music is amateurish and awful; one gets the sense that GG and the Murder Junkies would have faded into obscurity if not for his stunts. Plus, his oft-stated desire for revenge against everyone and anyone, as well as his proclamations about being Jesus Christ, God, and the Devil all rolled into one, suggest that his bad behavior was due to an easily identifiable combination of awful childhood trauma, inherited mental illness, and copious drug use.
“Make them my targets. As far as I’m concerned, they’re my enemies,” GG says about concertgoers in an old interview. It’s an antagonistic outlook that made him an underground star—albeit the sort that now lives on only in the memories of the few anarchic teens who grew up listening to him, and the mother and brother who can’t let him go.