02 July, 2009

You're Not Punk And I'm Tellin' Everyone

Before the beginning of Hated: GG Allin and The Murder Junkies, their "one week only" video feature, Pitchfork have put up a fairly stark warning:

The following film contains obscene violence, explicit sexual content, and ridiculous music. If you're not into watching guys push things into their anuses, people pissing on each other and smearing themselves in shit, or dudes dancing around with corpses, please consider reading some of our highly professional music reviews instead.

The Management.
Well, there certainly are bodily fluids. If there's one consistent thread that can be traced through this film, it's the presence of nudity, aggression, excretion and anal manipulation. I think we are meant to be offended, and I sometimes wonder if Allin and his fans are leering at the 'norms' viewing. I wasn't particularly offended, but I wouldn't say I enjoy watching these things*. "Kids leave the room" seems somewhat ironic though: as an attempt to shock these tactics may be extreme but they are also juvenile.

The film explores the world of GG Allin, then with his band The Murder Junkies, and incorporates footage from the late 80s through to a tour in the early 90s. Tours would typically end in the police station or the hospital; Allin, usually performing fully naked, would not hesitate to lash out at members of his audience, who were expecting it. Gigs ended in scrums or were broken up by the police, and Allin delighted at all times in pushing the proverbial envelope of punk rock to it's furthest extreme.

Fascinatingly, this 1994 documentary is directed by the same Todd Phillips whose more recent work has included Road Trip, Old School, the Starsky and Hutch remake and the current box office hit The Hangover. It's another small reminder that the 'mainstream' is not necessarily as far away as I like to think. It shouldn't really be a shock that a successful filmmaker started small, with a rock-doc about a punk act with an obscene stage show and little musical finesse to back it up.

Although Hated is full of footage from live shows, the one thing that is conspicuously absent in the film is any real mention of music. These performances are really just an opportunity to view GG in situ. Closer to performance art than music (as the spoken word performances hint), punk rock was simply the best stage for his abrasive, aggressive style. Arguably, he doesn't display any other talents beside his showmanship (which is remarkable). In one segment he plays a guitar and sings. It's a short song rendition and pleasant enough, with a rough, croaky aesthetic. Today, he'd add some distortion and call it lo-fi, and we might well love it, but beyond this, music is sidelined**. The Murder Junkies are not a particularly inspiring musical force.

His bandmates are adorable. Brother Merle Allin plays bass and boasts a spectacular moustache. A totally addled "Dino the naked drummer" runs through some of the technical details of playing naked, and sprays out some narcotic remarks about spirituality. An ex-bandmate delights in dissing his former buddy, whining impotently about how GG is nothing special. But Allin had a number of devoted fans who evidently thought he was. One clearly knew him quite well, and revels in telling the story of the time GG told him to get a woman, any woman, to urinate on his face. The occasion was Allin's birthday.

The film itself starts by placing a quote onscreen:
"GG Allin is an entertainer with a message to a sick society. He makes us look at it for what we really are. The human is just another animal who is able to speak freely, to express himself clearly. Make no mistake about it, behind what he does is a brain"
This is attributed a few seconds later, once we've had a chance to take it in: John Wayne Gacy, Death Row, Menard, IL. There are a few mentions of Gacy in the middle of the film, highlighting the acquaintance of Gacy and Allin, who visited him in prison, as did several of Allin's fans.

I can't agree with Gacy's statement. The presence of "freaks" is not a comment on society. Rather, it is that these "freakshows" find an audience who wish to view real destruction as entertainment. Maybe this does involve a sick society, but the grisly obsession with serial killers as people who have gone beyond regular boundaries again seems juvenile to me. I agree that a human being is "just another animal," but the reaction most would have to GG Allin must if anything emphasise our differentiation. I am not aware that Allin did express himself clearly - if anything, his actions are an undeveloped response to his existence, environment and his own makeup. They certainly give us a lot to think about, and he was certainly possessed of incredible charisma, but the assertions of his intelligence are, I think, excuses to enjoy this voyeurism for a while longer.

In the latter parts of the film Allin and others discuss his assertion that he will commit suicide on Halloween 1992, possibly on stage, possibly with zealous fans also killing themselves alongside him. It seems a logical progression in the manifesto of "no limits," and in one spoken word performance, Allin lashes out at a spectator who tells him to do it sooner. But Allin does not say he is unhappy - he makes overtures about wanting to have "a strong spirit," but I wonder how much this action would be his own choice, how much it would be the product of bravado, hype and his own mischosen words. GG Allin actually died accidentally of a heroin overdose in June 1993.

Is there something about GG Allin and his fandom that runs deeper than bodily functions and senseless violence? Something in the extreme personal libertarianism, the undoubted anger and reticence to relate to others, suggests this really was a case of a distressed man, possibly unwell, attracting an unpleasant freakshow of fellow sufferers and disenfranchised youth. It must have been quite a spectacle. Maybe my efforts to medicalise are precisely the mainstream sentiments that he and his fans would have derided. Maybe he was healthy, I'm sure he had some fun.

Would I recommend Hated? Because I'm not sure whether I was watching it as a voyeur myself. It's a decent documentary that some people might find hard to stomach. GG Allin was a fascinating character who was undoubtedly very talented at what he did, who could have formed his fans into a cult, if that had been what he wanted. As a subject matter, he was repulsive, honest, intimidating, purile, and often tiresome. But never dull.

At any rate, be quick, the film will be up on pitchfork for maybe a couple more days. Youtube would have your back, but there's a bit too much nudity and faeces in this one.

*"Nothing offends me" is basically a challenge, and besides, it's not true. There are things that offend me, in fact deeply and on a daily basis, but it helps not to get too wound up about them and proceed in a catatonic glazed-over fashion. On the other hand, things like disgusting photographs, clips of surgery, these don't offend me. Sometimes, what offends me is the apparent intention of the person who is putting these images in front of me. Offence is difficult to monitor and while I'm probably not "easily offended," a large element in the perception of this is the amount of things I simply have to let slide.

** In modern indie culture this should not really be surprising. Music is not necessarily the natural environment for the concepts we load it with, it is merely the next best place to store our desired aesthetic - it can be deregulated and decentralised, it needn't be expensive, it can form a fully interactive culture, it lends itself to film, writing, fashion, nights out, visual art, and it has a physical output, which can be produced cheaply, circulated wildly, and associated with as many additional concepts and ideal-images as we wish to give it. The Murder Junkies are not even a particularly great example.

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