Sunday, July 16, 2006

Hard rockin', hard livin' pantless sociopath...

This weekend I watched a documentary on the late, unlamented hardcore punk icon G.G. Allin. I was interested in seeing it because, back in my surly youth, G.G. Allin was understood to be the most extreme of the extreme. My friends and I, all honor students from loving families, were into punk rock, but we wouldn’t dare to go to a G.G. Allin show. When G.G. Allin played, he hit people. He set things on fire. He took off all his clothes and cut himself with beer bottles. Most notoriously, he sometimes even took a shit on stage and threw it around. The stuff we liked—stuff that sounded like trash compactors stuffed with glass bottles and screaming orphans, mind you—was like Benny Goodman next to G.G. Allin. Sure, we had our adolescent angst and our outsider outlooks, but if someone offered us tickets to a G.G. Allin show, we’d say no thank you, sir, we’ve got a big civics test coming up tomorrow. And we promised mom we’d clean out the garage. And we had to go to the nursing home to help out with activity hour that night anyhow. We fancied ourselves punk rock, but we weren’t that punk rock.

Which, looking back on it now, was a good thing. Because, after seeing the man in action, one conclusion becomes inescapable: G.G. Allin was really, really messed up. And not in the good “rock-and-roll outlaw” way that he and his army of enablers/fans fancied. He was a felon with a band (not a very good band, but still...) or, more accurately, a very loud sideshow geek. The film is full of people—including G.G. himself—spouting off about the freedom his act represents, but the connection between human liberty and taking a dump in front of a bunch of churlish misfits with bad haircuts is left ambiguous. I imagine it’s supposed to be some sort of neo-primal thing. If that’s so, it makes sense that G.G. and his devotees have to reach for lofty terms like “freedom” and “anti-authoritarian” to describe his schtick. After all, who would trust a guy who can cogently and subtly describe his need to smear his turds up and down his chest? That would be even worse, I guess.

Which brings us to another element of G.G.’s appeal: his “realness”. Punks, more than most people, are preoccupied with authenticity. That’s fine, but I can’t help but think that their understanding of the term might be just a tad reductive. To them, teenagers and young adults all, authenticity is infantile. It’s obtained by not obeying whatever stand-in for mommy and daddy comes along—the cops, the club owners, various uptight and gainfully employed people, etc, etc. With G.G., this is taken to the absolute limit: he doesn’t even kowtow to toilet-training! What a badass!

The footage of him performing in various dingy clubs is illuminating, if you can stomach it. It would take an adolescent to find anything transgressive in his behavior. Overweight, with a shaved head that seems contrived to keep his audience from realizing that this is a balding man quickly approaching middle age, he throws random punches at people in the crowd, beats himself in the head with his microphone, and belches out poetic bon mots about how much his ass stinks. The effect is more like watching a beer-gutted, aging, naked man having the mother of all temper tantrums. It’s not cool. It’s kind of sad.

Even more troubling—and this is a subject the movie seems to want to gloss over—is his penchant for violence against women. Here we have footage of him throwing a female heckler against a wall, but this isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. Mentioned briefly, but not elaborated on, was G.G.’s prison term in Michigan. I’m sure his audience would like to think that his incarceration was due to a repressive society not being able to deal with his elemental truths, but in reality he was locked up after pleading no contest to raping and torturing a woman. That the kids who put so much stock in their pathetic idol could ignore or make excuses for this sort of thing shows, perhaps, that hypocrisy isn’t solely the domain of the sell-outs and suits of the world.

Since G.G. kicked the bucket (predictably enough, by heroin overdose in a shitty walk-up on the Lower East Side), there hasn’t been anyone crazy enough or shameless enough or “real” enough to lunge into the smelly gap he left. Marilyn Manson might aspire to the same sort of asshole hedonism, but he’s basically a member of Kiss born a few decades too late. And his music is pretentious stupid instead of just being stupid-stupid, which makes all the difference as far as punk credibility goes.

No, G.G. was sui generis. There will never be another G.G. Allin. And—to paraphrase Martha Stewart—that’s a very good thing.