GG Allin: the gruesome life and tragic death of the most shocking man in music

GG Allin
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Having decided he’d taken performances as far as they could go, GG Allin planned to kill himself on stage – but he didn’t live long enough. 

Disclaimer: many of the videos included in this article are extremely NSFW. Viewer discretion advised, especially if you're at work...

Like his late older brother GG, Merle Allin is covered from head-to-toe in tattoos, and has an affinity for long, scraggy facial hair. Merle was also the bassist in GG’s last backing band, the Murder Junkies, during the early 90s. As can be seen in that era’s classic GG documentary Hated, Merle went eyebrow-less during this time, and sported a moustache modelled after… er, well, Adolf Hitler. 

“I still have people to this day that are afraid of me,” admits Merle. “I’m sure cos GG’s my brother, but because of my appearance too. I’m really not anything like him – I have a lot of the same beliefs that he had, but I wouldn’t go to that extreme to act them out.”

Although GG Allin had been making a name for himself in the US punk underground for over a decade by the 90s, it marked the first time that GG undertook a sustained tour, with a set backing band. And the result was pure mayhem. 

“There were shows where we feared for our lives,” admits Merle. “People would love us before we went on, and by the time the show was over they wanted to fucking kill us. There were shows where we would finish, somebody would get the van, and everybody would sneak out while people were throwing bottles, breaking the windows and flattening tyres. We would go through two or three vans a tour. There were plenty of shows where we got backed in a corner, in a dressing room with no escape, and GG would just be covered in fucking blood at the end of a show. You’d be like: ‘Damn. How the fuck could he do that to himself?’ 

There was the show at the Space at Chase, Merle recalls, “where he wound up breaking two kids’ noses – part of that’s in Hated. One of them was underage, and the club ended up closing down a few weeks after. There were a few clubs around the country that GG was responsible for closing down. I don’t know how we didn’t get fucking killed.”

GG Allin: The quest to raise the bar

But when you raise the bar that high with your performance, how do you out-do yourself? That was a question that GG pondered quite often during the last few years of his life, and he would openly talk about committing suicide on stage. Instead, GG wound up dying from a heroin overdose in mid-1993, at the tail end of another debauched Murder Junkies tour. So what exactly was it that GG did that got his and fans’ blood boiling? It’s a wild and woolly tale.

Both GG and Merle were born in the small town of Lancaster, New Hampshire, in 1956 and 1955 respectively, and raised in a log cabin with no running water. Their father was, Merle says, a “maniac recluse, very much a hermit,” who named his youngest son Jesus Christ Allin. 

“It was pretty turbulent the first 10 years of our life, before my mom decided to leave my father. I don’t know half the shit that went on. My father was very closed in, tried to keep everybody away from everybody.” 

In the aforementioned Hated film, it’s said that father Allin even pondered the idea of killing his entire family and burying the bodies in the basement, before offing himself. He never followed through, dying 15 years ago, having never travelled far from his house.

With a new lease of life, the Allins eventually relocated to Williamsburg, Vermont. Jesus Christ Allin changed his name to Kevin Michael Allin. Both Allin boys became enraptured by the music of the British blues invasion in the mid-late 60s. But when glam rock hit in the early 70s they took it a step further and adopted the gender-fluid dress of their heroes. 

“[GG] took a lot of shit for it,” Merle says, “but after a while people just ignored us; especially him, cos people thought he was just out of his fucking mind. We were going to school with a bunch of kids that were coming out of the mountains to go to school everyday – wearing flannels and overalls. We’re talking total white bumpkin; there was no mixture of people in our school, it was all white. We’d go out at recess and smoke pot – the derelicts who just wanted to listen to music and party, and go to school when we wanted to. We didn’t take it seriously because we knew we weren’t going to college, we wanted to play music.”

And play music they did. With GG on drums and Merle on guitar, the duo ploughed through such local bands as Little Sister’s Date (“playing stuff like Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper”) and Malpractice (“playing Ramones, Iggy”). Eventually the brothers checked out the Boston and New York City scenes: “There was a world out there that we needed to get into, and get the fuck away from New Hampshire.” 

Just before their relocation, a collaboration ensued. “Me and GG had been hanging out, writing songs. That’s where the very first Jabbers single was written – in Vermont in the basement of the house we were living in. And that was before the Jabbers were even a band. When he stopped being Kevin Michael Allin and became GG Allin was when he came out from behind the drums, took the mic, and was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to start my own thing.’ We didn’t really even have a name, we just went up and recorded the three songs – Beat Beat Beat, One Man Army and Bored To Death – which eventually came out on Always Was, Is, And Always Shall Be [GG’s debut album]. But that was in 1978 when I left to go to Boston and GG moved to Manchester. He got married, moved, and put the Jabbers together.” 

GG Allin: "As soon as he got on stage, he just transformed"

While Merle and GG didn’t play together during the 80s, Merle would check out performances by GG, who by now had transformed into a punk rock Tasmanian devil, taking Iggy’s confrontational performance style to a whole new level. “He would flip somebody’s table over, go up to somebody and take their drink and pour it over their head, roll around on the floor, or grab the pipes and climb up. And that was all it took to get thrown out of a club back then. He pretty much got banned from every place. 

“It just came to a point that the band would rehearse, get a gig, the show would last 10 or 15 minutes, and the band just got totally fed up. They’d been putting all that time into rehearsing, and got frustrated cos GG would say: ‘Okay, tonight we’re gonna get through the set, I’m not gonna do this and that.’ Then they’d get on stage and you couldn’t control him. As soon as he got on stage, it didn’t matter what he told you, he just transformed. I don’t think he could help it. The Jabbers couldn’t take it any more and the band broke up.”

Despite having a daughter and being married (up until the early 80s), GG continued on his rock ’n’ shock quest entirely on his own terms. “He basically lived on the road, or wherever somebody wanted to invite him to do some recording. A tour for GG in the 80s was getting on a Greyhound Bus, riding around the country, and playing two or three shows in different towns with bands that would learn his songs. He was like the Chuck Berry of punk. He never really kept a solid band together.” 

As a result, quite a few band names have been linked to GG’s shows and recordings from this era, including the Disappointments, the Toilet Rockers, the AIDS Brigade and the Holy Men. Some of GG’s best-known albums were released during this time, including You Give Love A Bad Name and Freaks, Faggots, Drunks & Junkies, while his live shows got increasingly brutal and nihilistic. 

There’s a case in point on the DVD Live And Pissed. Recorded in late 1988 at a San Francisco gig, GG (dressed in only jockstrap and boots) continuously fights with ‘fans’, cuts himself with shards of broken glass, urinates, defecates… oh yeah, and performs several fan favourites, before landing in hospital. 

GG Allin: "He was drunk all the time, pissing the bed every night, drinking until he’d fall down"

GG may have been making a name for himself in the punk underground (receiving accolades from Jello Biafra and Thurston Moore), but his personal life was in a shambles by this point. Due to the nature of his eventual death, many assume heroin was his vice. Merle: “People have this idea that GG woke up and fell asleep with a needle in his arm. And that’s not true. He was drunk all the time, pissing the bed every night, drinking until he’d fall down.” 

Feeling that he’d reached his limit, GG decided he was going to kill himself on stage, and went as far as announcing the date he was going to it: October 31, 1990. But fate interrupted what would’ve been his most gruesome performance ever, when he was sentenced to jail in Michigan. 

“GG got arrested in 1989 for Intent to Commit Bodily Harm Less Than Murder. That basically stemmed from some party this chick invited him and his band to, and she wanted to fuck everybody in the band. Then when it got time to get down to what she really wanted, which was for someone to treat her rough, he treated her rough. They didn’t have the communication lines open, they were all drunk, and it turned into a night of hell. He ended up burning parts of her body and carving her breasts; fucking her up pretty bad. She called the cops a bunch of times, they came, she would tell them to go. 

“In the end, she wanted to marry GG, and when he said no, I guess she decided she’d get revenge and turned him in.”

While in jail for two years, the date of his planned suicide came and went (“He wasn’t going to kill himself in prison. That would have been anticlimactic”). During his prison stay, GG had largely sobered up, and shaved off his long, unkempt hair. By the time he was released from jail in 1991 he was a new man – but meaner and angrier. 

Merle could sense that GG’s pent-up aggression would translate to further on-stage pandemonium, and for the first time since the late 70s the two Allin brothers were bandmates once more. The Murder Junkies were formed shortly afterwards, with a guy called Chicken John as guitarist, who recommended a drummer, Dino. “He’s notoriously known in New York for being ‘the naked drummer’. Dino came into a rehearsal, got naked, started playing, and we were like, ‘He’s the fucking drummer!’ Cos there’s nobody like Dino. And that was the Murder Junkies right there. Then we fired Chicken cos we hated him.” 

They placed an ad in the Village Voice, which resulted in the hiring of a pair of guitarists – Cincinnati transplant Bill Weber and Dee Dee Ramone. Merle: “Me and GG were just like, ‘Man, we gotta have Dee Dee, cos he’s Dee Dee! But you know what? We gotta have Weber, cos Weber’s a great guitar player.’ So were just like, ‘We’ll turn down Dee Dee’s amp a little bit just to make sure Weber drowns him out.’” 

But the twin-guitar Murder Junkies line-up lasted for only a few rehearsals before Dee Dee flew the coop. It was also around this time that up-and-coming filmmaker Todd Phillips began shooting GG and his adventures in hopes of putting together a documentary. That documentary would be the cult classic Hated.

GG Allin: How rock’s all-time anti-mainstream artist was suddenly embraced by the mainstream

The Murder Junkies then hit the road, with GG opting to skip parole. What followed was typical GG-style shows.

“Every fucking show was just crazy,” Merle recalls. “There was one show in a skate park with 17 kids that got arrested; they were all underage and drinking. Dino and GG both got arrested, so we had to bail GG out, because we couldn’t go on without GG, but we didn’t have enough money to bail them both out. We bailed GG out, went down to Atlanta, picked up a drummer and used him to play the show. Then we drove back to Dalton, Georgia, picked up Dino, then drove to New Orleans for our next show.” 

But it was only a matter of time until GG was hauled in for jumping parole. 

“During our 1992 tour he got arrested in Austin, for lewd behaviour – all the things GG does on stage. The cops came in and arrested him. Then they decided they would extradite him back to Michigan, and he served out the remainder of his sentence – another year. 

“So from March of 1992 until April of 1993, we basically recorded [Brutality And Bloodshed]. When he came out of prison he had the lyrics all written, and he just put them to the music. A month later we were on the road again.” 

Unlike after his first prison stay, when GG was freed this time his health appeared to be on the decline. 

“Me and GG were in Chicago – this was the next-to-last date of the tour, in late June 1993 – and he just looked bad. He’d been out on the road for a month abusing himself, and we talked about him dying and about his funeral. And GG was like: ‘When I die you guys better have a fucking party.’” 

GG got his wish soon enough. But not before playing arguably his most violent show ever (delightfully captured on video, and included in Hated). Playing a hole-in-the-wall NYC venue called the Gas Station, GG got primed and ready beforehand by snorting cocaine with a photographer friend. “Once he got into the gig and played the two songs and got shut down, he was just wired out of his mind. He was strung out from having so much energy inside that he couldn’t release. It just spilled out onto the street, up and down Alphabet City. If you haven’t seen the Gas Station show, it’s insane! You can watch stuff on video and you can get an idea of what it was like, but it’s 10 times more intense being there.” 

The next morning, June 28, 1993, Merle got a phone call telling him that GG was dead, from a heroin overdose. 

“When Johnny Puke called me that morning and said: ‘You better get over here. Your brother is on the floor, he’s not moving,’ I knew he was dead. But it shocked me, ‘cos he wasn’t ready to go at that point. I mean, other times of his life it wouldn’t have shocked me.” 

Almost immediately after his death, GG’s legend grew, thanks in part to the popularity of the Hated documentary, released a year after he died. Then a number of renowned rockers began voicing their appreciation of GG, namely Faith No More (who covered I Wanna Fuck Myself for their 1995 single Ricochet), CKY, and Hank Williams III (who covered Bite It You Scum and Raw Brutal Rough And Bloody respectively). 

After GG’s death, Merle attempted to continue the Murder Junkies. But when vocalists proved hard to find, he shut it down and concentrated on running GG’s official website and selling merchandise, CDs, and videos. 

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of GG’s death, the Murder Junkies reunited with Antiseen frontman Jeff Clayton for a show (along with a reunited Jabbers) in the town where GG is buried, Littleton, New Hampshire, which was released in 2006.

It’s strange how rock’s all-time anti-mainstream artist was suddenly embraced by the mainstream. “Everybody’s into GG,” Merle says. “He’s been dead for years and he was so far ahead of everybody else. Look at that Jackass stuff, with people doing all this extreme shit. Where the hell did that come from? GG must have influenced these people. GG would never be played on MTV, but at least people that are influenced by him are. One day maybe the world will catch up enough so GG will get some kind of recognition that he fucking deserves. The kids are getting wiser – they’re realising that there’s somebody like GG out there.”

Greg Prato

Contributing writer at Classic Rock magazine since 2004. He has written for other outlets over the years, and has interviewed some of his favourite rock artists: Black Sabbath, Rush, Kiss, The Police, Devo, Sex Pistols, Ramones, Soundgarden, Meat Puppets, Blind Melon, Primus, King’s X… heck, even William Shatner! He is also the author of quite a few books, including Grunge Is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music, A Devil on One Shoulder And An Angel on the Other: The Story of Shannon Hoon And Blind Melon, and MTV Ruled the World: The Early Years of Music Video, among others.