I make the occasional reference to GG Allin in my posts, mainly as a joke. I’ll be up front- I hated that dude. He was an embarrassment to punk rock and his fans are mostly idiots. I’m just throwing that out there in the interest of full disclosure. I’ve never been comfortable with him or his what he represented.
GG Allin was born Jesus Christ Allin. That’s a red flag if I ever saw one. The dude probably never had a chance. Wikipedia says he was raised in a log cabin in the woods and he became GG because his younger brother Merle couldn’t pronounce Jesus. He was raised by a hyper-religious abusive father who thought his son Jesus would the Messiah. Basically your textbook how to raise a serial killer upbringing.
His mother eventually left his nutty father, changed his name to Kevin Michael and took her children to Vermont. He started playing music in high school.
His first band prominent band was The Jabbers:
It’s not a bad song. I’ve heard several bands cover this song- it’s become a punk standard. I sang along because I like the song.
By 1993 he had become this man
His show had become basically a carnival geek- performing naked and defecating and vomiting on stage. Assaulting audience members. He’d made repeated claims that he would kill himself on stage on Halloween but managed to be in jail every Halloween and unable to make good on his promise.
GG claimed to the ultimate embodiment of what punk stood for, which, in a certain sense, he was. If punk rock means I can swing my fist without regard to where your nose begins, then he was the greatest.
Of course not every agreed with that. That’s the problem with freedom- ultimate freedom means survival of the fittest and/or most willing to be an asshole.
I am, however, a fan of Bikini Kill. If I had to draw dividing lines in 90s punk, there were the GG Allin idiots, the Bikini Kill fans and there was everyone who didn’t care for either band.
Bikini Kill was from Washington and they were explicitly a feminist punk band when such a thing basically didn’t exist yet. Up until Riot Grrrl here were actually very few women in punk rock, and most of them got burned out and quit early.
A brief rundown of some of the bigger names:
Joan Jett- already a rock star, started doing punk rock in the late 70s before becoming an arena rock singer in the early 80s. Would later produce Bikini Kill’s album.
Poly Styrene of X Ray Spex- put out one punk album. Quit to go solo, left punk rock
Patti Smith- all but ignored by early 90s punk teenagers
Siouxsie Sioux- goth singer.
Wendy O Williams- survived by being more fearless than most male punk rockers, eventually moved on to heavy metal
Exene Cervenka- was basically the only woman punk singer still holding it down in the late 80s.
The problem for women who might have wanted to be in punk rock was that except for Exene, they all moved on. There was no one to look up to. The Riot Grrrl movement changed all that, and Bikini Kill was the biggest and best band.
But they weren’t without their detractors, obviously. Punk rock didn’t have a lot of women for several reasons. One was that punk rock shows often looked like this-
I imagine most women would be intimidated by that sort of concert. I know I would be. I’ve been in the occasional mosh pit and every time I was just watching a show minding my own business, being pushed around by the crowd and then suddenly I notice there is no one in front of me, or behind me, and there’s some big crazy dudes running around swinging their arms around. My thoughts are something like- How the fuck did I get here? How do I get out? Oh crap I didn’t ask for this. Then I’d run in a circle until I saw a break in the crowd and I’d dive back in, hoping I wouldn’t get pushed back in to the pit.
So one of Riot Grrrl’s goals was creating a safe space for women at shows. That means less fun for those big dudes swinging their arms around. Some prominent bands started asking people not to mosh. There were also demands that women not be mistreated or groped at shows. Give that message to groups of teenage boys and it won’t always be well received. Bikini Kill allegedly had to deal with a lot of violence directed at them. I don’t know, I never saw them live.
But again, I liked them a lot. I heard their first record on a mixtape. Kathleen had a great, versatile voice. She could be angry and fierce one moment and then cute and funny the next.
As could their songs
Not everyone in punk rock believes in equality and certainly didn’t in the late 80s. GG Allin’s songs about raping women were maybe the worst of that era, but there were plenty of other bands with similar themes. There was Angry Samoans gay-bashing song Homosexual, there was neo-nazi band Skrewdriver. There was the Mentors’ “rape rock”. I’m sure plenty of people were listening to this kind of music ironically. Or because they were taboo. And some dudes probably were genuine fans. You can see how they’d not be all that concerned about making women comfortable at shows.
So that was where things were in the early 90s- two competing visions- those who wanted a space to express themselves freely and safely, and those who wanted a space to do whatever they felt like without regards to others.
I wish I had a good example of some fights that went down, but really the scene I was a part of was too small to really devolve into too many factions. There was the basic understanding that Bikini Kill was mostly for girls and that GG was mostly for gross dudes. GG claimed millions of followers but there’s really only so many people who want to attend shows where they might get poop thrown at them. When he died in 1993 is wasn’t suicide and it wasn’t even Halloween. It was a simple heroin overdose at a party. That must have taken some of the wind out of the sails of his followers.
In the end Bikini Kill and the idea of not being an asshole all the time won. I’m sure there are still plenty of dudes making life difficult for women at shows, but there are more women playing punk rock than ever. And probably most of the boneheads who would have been GG fans decided to listen to Marilyn Manson or Limp Bizkit instead. In a way GG did is a favor by showing that the idea of just doing whatever you feel like all the time is a dead end.