I’ve been a GG Allin fan since the age of fourteen. But as I’ve gotten older my relationship with him and his music has had to change. I used to listen to him because I related to his savagery, to his anti-authoritarianism, his impulsiveness, his extreme individualism, and his unbridled contempt for ordinary life. To a lesser degree I lived it with him in my earlier years.
But as I got older I got wiser. Or should I say, in order to get older I had to get wiser. What resonated with me as a youth could not stay relevant forever. But despite growing up, we never lose the connection to our past, and music has a way of pulling on us with the nostalgia of what it used to mean.
This is not a problem for music of a more enduring character. Songs like Hey Jude or Benny and the Jets can be just as relevant later in life, and even take on new meaning as one matures. But as a kid, I had an extreme attitude and an unsustainable lifestyle, best represented by the music of gutter punk rock. As a responsible adult I’m left asking, what place does GG’s music have in my life?
As a young fan of GG’s I was sure that life would not continue past the age of 25. But it did. I’m reminded of Louis C.K.’s comedic observation about self-indulgent youths as they grow older. They don’t simply explode in a glorious supernova of excess at the age of thirty, leaving everyone saying “wow, he lived life exactly the way he wanted!” Instead they suffer into their later years wishing they’d made better decisions early on. They find themselves unhealthy, unhappy, without skill and alone.
By this time in life I have, despite the odds, a family, college degrees, responsibilities to my community, goals and aspirations, and the knowledge and experience to make a positive difference in the lives of others. I am fulfilled in my purpose and secure in the relationships I have cultivated. As an adult I ask myself, is there still room in my life for songs like “I Love Nothing” and “Gypsy Motherfucker?”
And yet I can’t exactly give it up, either. Even as an adult, GG’s music has expressed me for more years than it hasn’t. These are my roots, for better or worse. And as though with an old friend I ask myself: Do I have to let his music drag me down to where I was? Or is it possible that I can pull him up to where I am now?
This is the task at hand. To accomplish this, I’d like to review his music and life and attempt to salvage the good from the bad. I believe in the liberal principle of human flourishing: we all benefit by allowing a variety of human experiences to flourish and by letting each person express themselves as they may. By allowing people like GG to exist we benefit from our ability to learn from him. We can reflect on his experience and let it teach us what to do and what not to do.
GG Embodies Man’s Inner Fire
Most normal people would be horrified of GG. It is easy to write him off as a bad person with no redeeming qualities and his “art” as pure garbage. But there is good to be salvaged from his life of debauchery, self-indulgence, self destruction and excess.
GG displayed the courageous fearlessness and unstoppable energy that one can harness from their inner fire. Unfortunately, GG aimed this energy at himself and his audience in a destructive way. But what if he had used this intensity for good? Imagine if GG would have been a pro-social risk taker! With his level of intensity, he would have made a fearless test pilot, a tireless educator, or a focused businessman. He had the tools – a hammer and a saw; he simply chose to tear down rather than build up.
All of his traits – contempt for the ordinary, the attraction to risk, the drive to achieve at all costs, the disdain for the limits of one’s own body and safety – can be used for good. They are gifts, and GG was one of the few lucky people to have them all. Although GG displayed them in a destructive way, he displayed them nonetheless, making him a beacon of power to those who suffer from fear and self-doubt.
He demonstrated fearless resistance to what he felt to be oppression, and the courage to say and do the things he thought necessary to battle this oppression. Consider his mission statement: “I believe in testing all limits of life and law. Comfort and conformity are my two biggest enemies. Fear is nothing but stagnation.”
This could be an enormously powerful commitment to personal growth. But GG stomped on the gas and let go of the wheel. He embodied what happens when you let your fuel consume you. It will get what it wants at all costs, and when you get in the way, it will kill you too. It will work for you, but you must direct it and give it parameters before you set it free.
This level of intensity is necessary to achieve greatness. Only after you give yourself over to your inner fire will you be living life to the fullest – be it for good or evil. The lesson we learn from GG is to embrace your fire but channel it into productive avenues.
GG Allin Challenges Illegitimate Authority
GG Allin challenged authority more than almost any other performer. This is saying a lot in the punk scene. I loved this about him. I was always disappointed by “anarchists” and “anti-authoritarian” punk bands because they inevitably smuggled in a new authority through the back door. “Anarchists” are typically just socialists; “anti-authoritarians” usually just oppose the prevailing political regime and wish to establish their own. Not GG. He just wanted to do whatever he wanted whenever he wanted. It was so refreshing. There was consistency in it. In a way, it was honest.
As a kid I was riddled with personal problems. As such, the realm of politics was totally misplaced to me. I noticed that my friends were just as angry about their personal lives, but they channeled their rage into bogus political causes. I connected with GG for precisely this reason: Who cares about building systems and solving problems? Just do your own thing, let me do mine. This again was honesty to me.
To this day I am anti-authoritarian in the true sense: I believe that all authority is illegitimate. No one has the right to coerce you, and you are never obligated to obey another. The only just use of force is in protection of person and property. All other claims to authority are illegitimate. I still rock “Fuck Authority” with the same confidence I did 20 years ago.
Of course, as a political philosopher I distinguish between anarchy and chaos. GG was an anarchist and an advocate for chaos; I’m just a boring anarchist who believes that complex social order can still exist without recourse to a fraudulent concept of political authority. As such, I’m with GG about halfway on this issue – but I love his enthusiasm.
The Willingness to go all the Way
As a kid I needed outlet for my feelings of extreme alienation. And I didn’t need a little of it. I needed all of it – the hardest of the hardcore. And GG Allin was to punk music what crack is to cocaine.
I didn’t want an anti-hero who said one thing and did another. I didn’t want a rock star who painted his face and said things for shock value and then went home to his mansion. I wanted a person who believed it. And GG was certainly that. He lived it to the end.
As has been said about him, there was no plan B for GG. It’s not as though he would play punk rock until it became inconvenient and then fall back on his computer science degree. GG wasn’t planning for retirement. He was in it to the end, and his career was a one-way ticket.
Despite the destructive angle, he immersed himself in his profession. He dedicated himself to his craft. It is rare to encounter this kind of dedication in anyone. I often consider this in my own projects: I’m not staying up for days at a time, I’m not risking death in support of my opinion, I’m not even sure what I want to do that badly. GG’s mission serves as a reminder to commit – “for when you seriously seek death, you then accelerate life.”
GG demonstrated the logical progression of narcissistic nihilism. He was a living testament to his own philosophy: If there is nothing to care about, then do whatever makes you feel good. And if life is short, pack it in as fast as you can. Live fast; die.
Every aspect of GG’s life was selfish, and he was completely miserable. But he was consistent in his hatred and selfishness and applied it universally. He was truly alone as a consequence of his own lifestyle, and he accepted this as the natural consequence of his philosophy. Like the Zen saying goes, you are not punished for your anger; you are punished by your anger.”
GG was the opposite of the self-denying sage who forgoes instant gratification in the name of a greater Self. He portrayed a man consumed by sin. His life was, to quote Thomas Hobbes, “nasty, poor, brutish, and short.” He showed that the pursuit of instant gratification and pleasure enslaves one to the passions and their vices. Far from displaying freedom, GG displayed the prison of his own vices. But he did so knowing it and owning it all the way down.
I am reminded of Sir Walter Scott’s famous poem describing the fate of the selfish:
The wretch, concentered all in self,
Living shall forfeit fair renown, and doubly dying shall go down,
To the vile dust from whence he sprung, unwept, unhonored, and unsung.
It’s not that GG’s behaviors are bad in an absolute moral sense, although they may be; it’s that they lead to unhappiness. Instant gratification is ultimately unfulfilling; no amount of it will fill the void. As such the pursuit of it is pointless. Freedom and liberation come from renunciation and self-denial; they come from self mastery, not indulgence.
But GG shines as an example of consistently applied hatred and selfishness. It was him versus the world. And he stuck to it despite the misery it brought him, and he accepted the costs. He is a perfect example of what a person can expect to gain from this type of lifestyle. He followed his own thinking to its ultimate conclusion. You’ve gotta respect the consistency.
But GG had part of it right. He was an extreme renunciate of possessions, acceptance and success. He correctly challenged the notion that happiness comes from possessions and achievements – especially those prized by society. But where he failed was in believing that a life of consumption and excess would offer something better than possessions and wealth. Neither offer ultimate happiness.
He had the strength to rebuke the “narrow-minded, hypocritical puppets of society,” and to unabashedly follow his own path. In a way, he did not live in the world even when he was here.
He was known for burning his possessions on stage when he felt like he had too much, and always kept only what would fit in a bag. He borrowed equipment to play on because he didn’t even own his own. He hated the feeling of being tied down to things. This is perhaps his most redeeming quality, and something we could all stand to learn from.
He lived truly naked in the world, a true vagabond. Anytime I worry about this or that, I can always remind myself that life is short and that things don’t matter.
I’m not going to say that GG was a good guy, or a role model, or even a good example of anything other than what not to do. But we can learn from him, and we can see in him qualities worthy of praise under the right circumstances. He’s infamous for some qualities, but famous for others.
Should I continue to listen to him on a daily basis? Probably not. But can I still rock “Shoot, Knife, Strangle, Beat and Crucify” after a hard day at the office? Absolutely.
Thanks GG for keeping it real for the rest of us so we don’t have to; we owe you one for that.