The Complicated Legacy of GG Allin

The Complicated Legacy of GG Allin

The song starts out simply enough with guitar, bass and drums all locked into a staccato three-chord pattern. Then the vocals come in. The singer can carry a tune well enough, with a hint of a provincial New England accent. The lyrics are Ramones-cartoony, advising a self-absorbed love interest to "just button your lip" and "shut your mouth, stop acting like a twit!" The chorus is rousing: "Don't talk to me! You don't talk to me!"

Fast, catchy and easy to play: It's understandable that this song has become a much-covered punk classic. Where did it come from? A compilation of punk obscurities? An unreleased Dead Boys session? A regional sampler?

No, no and no. The singer is the late GG Allin, and the song, "Don't Talk to Me," is from his first album, 1980's Always Was, Is and Always Shall Be.

If you did a double take, it's probably because descriptors like "catchy" and "tuneful" don't figure into the GG Allin legend, as documented in Todd Phillips' documentary Hated and myriad YouTube clips. There, the Allin on display is a booze-addled, skin-headed Tasmanian devil. He performs naked, attacks audience members, throws his bodily fluids at people, bashes himself in the head with microphones and beer cans, bleeds profusely and grunts out a few songs Cookie Monster-style before the police arrive. He died in 1993 of a heroin overdose after a two-song set at New York City's Gas Station club, the entirety of which is included on Hated as bonus footage.

All of these antics have entered rock legend, but it's easy to forget that Allin once fancied himself a musician and songwriter. Up until about 1984, he lived in and around New Hampshire, where he produced catchy pop/punk tracks with his first backing band, the Jabbers. His live shows, while rambunctious, hadn't yet incorporated bodily fluids or other scary audience participation. Not surprisingly, it's this early period that is now gaining renewed attention.

"I'm fascinated by the guy's body of work and legacy," says Tom Scharpling, host of The Best Show on WFMU With Tom Scharpling. "He wrote some legitimately great songs early on, but somewhere along the way lost his marbles and became this doomed soul who was something of an indie-rock tabloid sensation. Pre-Internet, you would hear about things GG did or said through fanzines and the odd Richard Bey TV appearance. So the guy was strangely larger than life, because you weren't sure where he was or what he was up to. Imagine GG Allin with Twitter, and you can see how the illusion would've been diminished."

"I think there are a couple main groups of GG fans," suggests Jason Ross of St. Louis' BDR Records. "There are those who take it somewhat seriously as an excuse for crummy music and bad substance-abuse problems. The other group is mostly record and music fans and other folks who like it overall for the car-crash aspect, but realize there's some good music under it all. The handful of early singles and the first LP were truly brilliant."

"Don't Talk to Me" has become a phenomenon unto itself. Dum Dum Girls and Ty Segall have recorded cover versions. Queens of the Stone Age, No Age and Times New Viking have been caught on YouTube performing it live. Here in St. Louis, Shaved Women has made it a staple of its live set, and Doom Town performed it just before Halloween as "GiGi Howlin and the Murderhunkies."

"I don't think the interest is anything new," says Doom Town bassist Ashley Hohman. "I think his serious fans have always been there, and then there are the people who appreciate the Jabbers stuff as something kind of separate because it is classic power-pop punk. A song like 'Don't Talk to Me' is just as timeless sounding as a song such as 'Lexicon Devil' by the Germs."

"'Don't Talk To Me' is a song that everyone in the band enjoys and has a good time playing," adds Shaved Women singer Ben Salyers. "The Jabbers era is his most accessible work on all levels. He hadn't yet dived off the deep end into total nihilism, yet was offensive enough that well-mannered liberal-minded people can feel as though they are being offensive by covering him."

"It's a really fun song to play," Dum Dum Girls vocalist Dee Dee told Denver's Westword earlier this year. "It was funny to see how polarizing it was for our small community of listeners."

"I've looked up the Dum Dum Girls [version], and let me say that GG would not be impressed," suggests Peter Yarmouth of Black & Blue Records, which has kept Always Was and other early recordings in print.

The Scharpling and Wurster comedy team has frequently mined the Allin legacy as a guaranteed source of laughs. According to several of Jon Wurster's on-air characters, Allin was a "singer" who tragically "passed on" after a "concert" in New York. This is inevitably followed by some harebrained scheme, such as a biopic, a tribute album, a reality show (American Scum Rocker), a "Laser Allin" planetarium display and an "Allintown Fun Camp" for kids. "GG is an evergreen," Scharpling says. "He comes up more frequently than just about any other pop culture figure and never seems to get tired."

Earlier this year, contributors to The Best Show on WFMU were promised Rated GG, a compilation of "cleaned-up" cover songs. "It's a way to diffuse the deification," Scharpling explains. "He wasn't a messiah. He was a troubled guy who acted like a complete dirtbag and did time in jail for his actions. The notion of neutering his message made perfect sense. But the songs really hold up!" After some delays, Rated GG is due in December with contributions from the likes of Ben Gibbard, Ted Leo, the Mountain Goats and Fucked Up. Scharpling is keeping mum on details, but he does promise "a strummy doo-wop tinged acoustic number that will be the song of the summer."

What would Allin himself have made of this renewed attention? "GG predicted it," says Yarmouth. "He always said people would make money off him once he died. So many bands want to be taken seriously as being hardcore punk or whatever, so they will say they love GG. Some truly are legit, I'm sure, but many are just doing it to give them street cred."

One wonders whether the GG Allin of "Don't Talk to Me" — scatological, rude, but not yet scarily unhinged — had any idea what the next decade had in store. He's obviously not available for comment, and brother/executor/bassist Merle Allin did not respond to repeated interview requests. But it's striking that "Don't Talk to Me" concludes on a dark note: "I'd like to tie your hands and feet and put you in a sack." Allin went to jail in 1989 for allegedly assaulting a woman with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder.

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