“I understand there are lifestyles which this court does not understand” – Judge William F. Ager Jr., on sentencing GG Allin in an assault case in 1989.
Kevin Michael Allin. GG Allin. One and the same person. Except…not really. Not at all. The former was, by all accounts, a well-mannered, humourous, respectful, relatively approachable individual. The latter was a self-destructive, self-mutilating, audience-fighting, shit-eating-and-flinging, smack-shooting, booze-guzzling, often-arrested-and-jailed sociopathic lunatic. It’s this negative side of Allin that has, for obvious reasons, garnered the most attention, both when he was alive and in the nearly quarter century since his death by overdose.
What tends to get lost in the shitflinging scuffle-shuffle is that Kevin Michael GG Allin was a human being just like everybody else (well, maybe not exactly like everybody else), was married, held down jobs for a few minutes here and there, had a child (not with his wife), and had a brother and mother who loved and cared about him. It’s this scum-legend-obscured human side of the man-and-maniac that award-winning Danish director Sami Saif has set out to document in The Allins. He wipes the shit off the retro canvas and paints a poignant portrait of GG’s family life, more specifically his still-grieving brother Merle and their long-suffering mother, Arleta Baird.
What also tends to get overlooked in the scatological GG legend is the man’s musical ability, which is a damned shame, as he was very talented. The man only made records for 14 years, from 1979-1993, but his discography is huge. He was, as he himself saw it, a man who lived ten years in the space of one, and that certainly shows through in his ultra-prolific output during that short career. He produced, to my mind, some of the best punk songs ever recorded, though his list of inspirational artists included artists as diverse as David Peel, The Ramones, Johnny Cash, Nancy Sinatra (!) and the Bay City Rollers (!!) amongst many others. He also produced some damned fine country and western songs, though as I don’t know much about that musical genre I won’t comment on how they’re viewed. I just know that I like them, is all.
He basically constantly produced music for fourteen years, urgently transcribing his life into song, knowing he was going to die young, and producing as much as he could in his short lifetime. I confess, I find him fascinating, where true crime meets low art. As he himself said, and Merle believed, that if he didn’t have his stage show to balance him out, he would have been a mass murderer. Coming from somebody who said he regarded the vermin John Wayne Gacy as a “father figure,” you’d have to say that him taking out his rage on the world in uncontrollable stage sadomasochism and madness was, oddly, a moral act. He basically never hurt anybody who didn’t want it, and that puts him in a far better moral and ethical position than a lot of politicians these days.
The father figure analogy becomes more interesting when you consider that Allin’s real father, Merle Sr., as explored in the film, was a strange religious fanatic who named his son Jesus Christ Allin at birth (GG’s mother changed it before he went to school) and whose mental, emotional, and physical abuse of his family clearly had a big hand in creating the deeply damaged, violent, self-and-others-loathing entity that his musician son later became. There was clearly a huge clusterfuck of daddy damage in that whole depressing dynamic. And the religious angle (Allin was raised Catholic, and apparently kept attending mass into the 1980s) is interesting, in that he clearly regarded his fans as his followers, saying “My body is the rock and roll temple. My flesh, my blood, my fluids, it’s like a communion to my people.”
What is certain, though, is that his deeply religious mother never viewed GG (and she was very clear in her mind that GG and Kevin were two separate entities) and his psychotic escapades like that. They were just a source of public pain and horror for her, and remain so until this day. It’s this side of the documentary I find most interesting and sad. I had always wondered what Arleta thought about her youngest son’s tragic, disgusting, musically excellent, and hilarious mess, and now we finally get to find out, a mere near-quarter-century after his death. And, without giving too much of the film (which recently screened on Danish TV), it’s truly heartbreaking. You can’t help but feel for the woman and what she has been through for decades, with vile stuff like GG fans pissing and shitting on his grave.
Kevin Michael Allin was a man whose self-destructive punk image ate him alive. But that doesn’t mean his story isn’t worth examining again, as it was in the excellent 1993 documentary Hated. This is a very different film from that one, and they’re both great in their own way. I’m sure somebody could easily enough do a doc about the effect his mother’s painting had on his own, in that he clearly got the talent he had in that from her. You could examine his psychological makeup, with his prison psychiatric report talking of alcohol dependency, mixed personality disorder, with borderline narcissist and masochist features, and lacking from ego identity. Or you could do a doc on all the different artists whose tunes he ripped off (sorry, paid homage to) and what this said about his musical talents and outlook.
Or maybe you could just sit fucking back, open a beer, stick on one of his great albums…and just enjoy the fucking excellent sound of artistic madness lawlessly flawlessly captured on record. I know which way I would go. After watching this excellent production again, that is.
“It’s nothing that you wanna talk about” – Arleta Baird.
Diabolique: OK. First of all, as I said, I loved your documentary, I thought it was great.
Saif: I’m so glad, because when you finish a film you’re always so nervous what people might think.
Diabolique: I was going to say, it’s a difficult subject to do a documentary about.
Diabolique: I know GG Allin’s work, I’ve been following it for years. You really nailed it. It’s a nice companion piece to Hated (the critically feted 1993 Todd Phillips documentary on Allin – Graham), you know?
Saif: I really liked Hated, it was so fun, and so fantastic. And Hated really nailed, you know, all the craziness, the feeling of riot and all that.
Diabolique: Yep. OK. I have my questions, we’re going to start then. How did you first hear about GG Allin, what did you think, and what was it that appealed to you about it, about him?
Saif: Well, when I grew up I started to listen to hip hop music and then I went into rock music, and that became also punk music. I wasn’t that crazy about the music from the beginning, but I mean GG, he was so loud out there, so everybody talked about him, “Did you see the film where he knocks his teeth out,” and stuff like that. I thought it was crazy, you know, at that time. I thought it was completely crazy and I didn’t understand really understand what the fuck was going on. Then later on, I started listen to, I think it was, Carnival of Excess. Man, I liked that. That was like something completely different. So then I said “Whoa, this guy can really make music, not just this craziness.” And I think he was very good at lyrics, you know. And then I saw Hated and I finished a documentary and I saw a small video of Arleta that Merle put out, some extra material on a DVD, and I was just astonished at this wonderful woman, she was very appealing to me. She seemed very strong and somehow very positive. And her son seemed so negative. And for me it was like, how in the hell can such a crazy person have a healthy mother? Because I thought this guy’s mother must have been dead for ages, and been some sort of drug addict.
Saif: So the main idea of making the film is because I like family stories. Because in family stories we can see ourselves, you know, because every family has a lot of problems. At least mine had, I lost part of my family. So the family construction appealed to me a lot, and I was very fascinated by the fact that GG Allin also had a mother, and how she felt about all this.
Diabolique. OK, so you’ve covered some of the stuff I was going to ask you.
Saif: What? (Laughs)
Diabolique: No, it’s fine, it’s good, it’ll all go in. I’m going to take just a quick step back. I saw that the Danish Film Institute got mentioned…
Diabolique: Did they give you any funding?
Saif: Yes, I mean, uh…isn’t it the same where you come from you have a national film institute that helps finance the film? You have that, right?
Diabolique: Yeah, there’s Creative Scotland.
Saif: Yeah, exactly. And that’s the same construction. So the film is financed primarily by the Danish Film Institute, and it’s a system where it’s public money, some of the money, and the producers also put in some money. So it’s like government-sponsored film production. And of course, then we have to spread the money in the industry at home here.
Diabolique: How did you manage to get them…(I laugh, as does Sami, seeing where this is going)…how the fuck did you manage to get them to give you money? “I want to make a film about this guy that eats shit and cuts himself up onstage…” “Ah yes! Have as much as you want!”
Saif: But that was not the story.
Saif: This was a family story about how a view a mother and a brother relating to their deceased brother and son that became a very talked-about guy in the music industry. So that was my approach from the beginning, like, the family story. And of course the commentary coming from Arleta, you know. And of course Merle, who’s living…so many years now he’s been keeping GG’s stuff. There was some preperation in Merle when we filmed, because he ended up putting GG in the Museum, and I think that meant something to him, because he’s not young anymore. So I think, Merle…he was forever playing in the Murder Junkies (GG’s band when he died, who are still around today: Merle and Donald ‘Dino’ Sachs are the two original members of the band left, on bass and drums respectively, with young singer Harold ‘PP Duvay’ and guitarist Benjamin ‘FC Murder’ Bunny completing the quartet – Graham), he would forever sell his brother’s stuff. And that’s because he wanted his brother to be out there, he wanted him to be out there. And I can totally understand that, because I also lost my brother, you know (Saif’s brother tragically committed suicide, a subject he explores in his award-winning 2001 documentary Family – Graham). It’s just very hard to think that they’re gone, so somehow you keep them alive inside, I think, because it’s such a big loss. I mean, Merle, he sold some of the stuff…the Museum (of Death in Los Angeles – it has a statue of GG in it – Graham) has the clothes that GG died in, he kept them in his basement for all these years wrapped in a bag, and it was like a mental thing for him to open that bag and put GG up there.
Diabolique: How did you get in contact with Merle and Arleta, because, you know, the mother part of the thing has fascinated me for many years as well, I always wondered what she thought. But how did you get in contact with her, and how did you get her to agree to do this?
Saif: For me it’s like…I share. I mean, my family background is pretty fucked up also. I grew up with an alcoholic mother and a lot of shit, my father went when I was a small kid (Saif was just going to search for him when his brother died, and their mother died shortly afterwards – Graham), and I lost my brother at an early age. I like these family stories, so it’s sacred to me, it’s very important to me that I can manage to take care of their stories. So it wasn’t easy, but I went over and I talked to Merle and he was guarding his mother in a way, and I talked with him and said “I don’t want to do Hated, I don’t want to do a film about the craziness, I want to do a film about your upbringing, your family story, the crazy father, and how Arleta felt about all this.” And he said “Okay, I’ll take you to meet her,” then I went there and I talked with her, and she was like “Okay, here comes another film crew wanting me to tell crazy stories about my son. I don’t want that, I don’t want to do that, that’s over.” Then I said to her Arleta, I want you to try to tell the story about, actually, how much you struggled when you were raising these kids, and also being a mother while her smallest son is like a hobo travelling around, talking to nobody in the USA, sleeping in parks, going to a club and saying “I want to play here in two hours.” I mean, that’s how he did it for many years, you know. And the club said alright, then he went to the local radio and said “I’m playing tonight in three hours, go to this club.” So, I wanted to know her emotions towards all this craziness.
Diabolique: I did a piece for the world’s top William S Burroughs website on his mother, because it fascinated me…
Saif: Did you meet his mother?
Diabolique: No, she died many years before. I’m more fascinated by the family life of William S Burroughs, because he had his son, William S Burroughs Jr, who died in his 30s, and he obviously got his writing talent from his mother. So I wrote an article about his mother, because the family dynamic fascinates me in those situations, like it does with you, y’know?
Saif: Why did you find that fascinating? Is it something about you, your own personal life?
Diabolique: Yeah, I get my writing talent from my mother. It seems to me that in your movie, and in The Video Diary of Ricardo Lopez (a tragic and depressing and disturbing film where Saif edited the 22+ hours of selfie video footage shot by the mentally ill stalker who tried to kill Bjork with a letter bomb, into a 75-minute edit to present a linear vision of the man’s progression into attempted murder and self-destruction – Graham), and in this, The Allins, I could see that you were exploring your own relationship with your brother.
Saif: I think that’s why I like these family stories, because, bottom line, I don’t understand how we survive. How did we survive all this, all this loss? I mean, that’s crazy. I mean, life doesn’t suck, the soul takes a lot of time, but life becomes something else. I think that when people…when I talk to really old people that are miserable or something, they say “Oh, I’m very tired.” And I think that that’s partly because they are old, but it’s because of the things they went through in life.
Diabolique: Yeah, good point, yeah.
Saif: But in that way Arleta is fucking amazing. But I think it’s also because she has her religion, you know. Arleta is a religious woman and we were admiring her, she is so strong, and in her mind there is no doubt she will meet her son and mother and father again when she dies, and that’s fucking beautiful. I wish I could believe in something.
Diabolique: I admit to you, I know the feeling, I really do. You try to pretend that you’re gonna meet somebody again, or that you can feel their presenece, but…no. You know, when I watched your movie, I had a couple of beers (Saif laughs), and the bit where she was talking about wanting to be with Kevin, be buried with Kevin, that made me cry, for my own reasons. It was just so sad, because you could feel the loss , and the pain, and all the shit she’s been through with her son, and people just think he’s this mad person. Then you think about them being abused by their mad father and all the stuff that happened there – he was obviously completely insane, that guy. They’re lucky he never killed them.
Saif: Totally. He was nuts, and that time a girl had to do what a mother said, and her mother said “You have to marry that guy.” That was those days, that was what girls had to do. I mean, crazy shit.
Diabolique: Her own family life wasn’t very happy, was it?
Saif: I think her mother was very tough, her father was very nice, and very gentle. Her mother was, like, very strict. Extremely strict and hard, no love, nothing. But her father was the opposite. He did not agree on how the mother was towards her and her sisters, but when she talked about her father it was just endless love. So she got all the hugs and love from her father, he was a very good father.
Diabolique: I’ve studied a lot about GG, I like a lot of his songs, a lot of them I don’t like. But I’ve read about…I know about his daughter Nico Ann Daneault (born to GG’s girlfriend at the time, Tracy Daneault, on 13/3/1986. Tracy and GG soon separated, and he was never a father to his daughter – Graham). Now, were you not able to get her in the film? Well, obviously you weren’t.
Saif: I mean, no. Like Arleta says, Nico has her own family now, she’s a mother, and because of GG and how everything was…and I can understand that. She has turned her back towards that side of the family. I mean, that’s normal, you know. I understand her mother saying “Okay, I have to protect my little girl from this crazy man, I don’t want my little girl to be annoyed at school by listening to kids say how her father is rubbing himself in his shit and all that.” I totally understand that. And so the distance was kept, and Arleta met her a couple of times but it’s not a close relationship. And I talked with her and she was very surprised that her father was known, I mean that guys came from Denmark making a film about her father. She said “But why?” And I said “Because your father’s records are in record stores, and he was a very important person to a lot of people.” But Nico would not be in the film and I totally understand that, and we related to that through Arleta saying that she really misses her, but because of Nico’s mother talking bad about Kevin she will not see her also.
Diabolique: It must be very painful and difficult for Nico to know that that’s her dad doing all these horrible things. It must be embarrassing and troubling. And I can understand why she’d want to cut that off, but it’s just sad that she doesn’t talk to Arleta.
Saif: Yes, sad, but then again stuff like that is really normal in families. From the beginning the children get protected and the mother takes care of them. And if the father accepts this, as GG totally did, then that’s fucking it. GG wasn’t a normal father, I don’t think he could have been like a father at that time, and I think it just escalated, he could never be a father for Nico. But when the drugs kicked in, I mean, he was in his own world, you know, just in his fucking own world, sometimes even Merle couldn’t tame him. I guess also the drugs had a lot to do with that. I mean…he took a lot of drugs!
Diabolique: He did, yeah. It’s a sad thing. It struck me when I was watching the documentary that both Arleta and Merle interchangeably said both “Kevin” and “GG,” but quite clearly there’s a demarcation line in their own heads: there’s Kevin, and then there’s this lunatic GG that Arleta despises, for obvious reasons. Do you think sometimes that they can’t quite tell them apart themselves? Is there a demarcation line that can be clearly drawn, or do they overlap?
Saif: No. I think Arleta totally has a very clear picture of who Kevin was, and I think she has a very clear picture of who GG was. Because for her it’s very clear that her son had this schizophrenic thing. But he could somehow be a person that created GG and because of that he was mean to her also.
Diabolique: It was interesting in your movie to see that, to know about the letters he would send her when he was wasted, and the drug counselor across the street explaining to her why she was getting these letters.
Saif: Must have been weird to get these letters as a mother from a son, painful, that’s really fucked up.
Diabolique: It’s really…in the movie where she said “I know some things that he did, but I don’t want to know other things,” you can understand that as well because. I do my own research for writing and stuff, and at one point I kind of wanted to contact Nico. And she was on Facebook, I never contacted her, and then she took herself off Facebook. Because I’m thinking, she must have had some crazy GG fans, you know, she didn’t want to be contacted by these fucking idiots, the ones who are the extreme fans, the lunatic fans, the scary ones, you know?
Saif: Yeah, I know. So she’s not on Facebook now?
Diabolique. No, she was, she looked very normal, she had her kids. I was curious because, as you said, the family side is interesting. And I kind of wanted to write to her and explain what her father meant to me, and to other people, but I never did. It probably wouldn’t do any good. But it was interesting just to see her, because she looks a bit like her father facially.
Saif: Yeah, she does. I think for me that she said she didn’t want to be in it, and I said “That’s fucking cool.” I would never make a film with anybody who did not want to be in it, trying to do stupid stuff like standing outside her house or something, that would be so stupid of me.
Diabolique: She’s been through enough pain already because of the subject matter, and she will for the rest of her life.
Saif: That’s what I mean, the girl deserves peace, because her father was a fucking lunatic, man, for many years. When she was born, it just escalated from that point.
Diabolique: In your film, you have Merle’s house. He was going to sell everything off, and then he was selling the house. Is that the house he sold off?
Saif: Yeah, he moved closer to LA now. Merle moves a lot, but that house he had together with Annie Teale, and then he messed that up (Merle cheats on his girlfriend of several years and we see the fallout in the film – Graham) so now he has a new place. The house was too big for one person.
Diabolique: It looked like a museum, his house, like a museum to his brother.
Diabolique: He never really got over his brother dying, because they were so close.
Saif: I don’t think so.
Diabolique: That’s sad. Have you ever read America’s Favorite Son? It was the book that was started by Joe Coughlin (a Boston music writer who died in 2013 – Graham), but GG took it away from him.
Diabolique: That’s an interesting book. It, ummm…what it was, you know, at the end of Hated, there’s Joe Coughlin, and it shows you footage from the funeral, and he’s talking about “It must have been a lonely place that he lived in.” That’s a quote from the book from Joe Coughlin. He’s now dead. Coughlin was compiling the book, then I read that…it’s one of these kind of sketchy things, like GG wasn’t pleased with the progress that was being made on the book. So he took over and finished it, and it came out as, I think it was a 114-page limited edition book. But people like Rob Basso have really disputed a lot of the facts, saying it’s bullshit. See that was what I was going to ask you, because in that book there’s some really disgusting things that you don’t even want to…was there anything that you didn’t want to talk about in the movie, or maybe Merle didn’t want to talk about? Was there anything that was taboo, off-limits?
Saif: No, absolutely not. I think what was very important to me was to stay true to Arleta’s story. Because there are so many stories, and when I started out and talked to Merle, he said “That’s bullshit, that’s a lie.” People invent stories all the time about GG, and he even invented stories to promote himself, to be even badder than he was. So I stick with Arleta, because I also wanted it to be true from Arleta’s point of view.
Diabolique: It’s her movie, basically, finally telling her side of the story. I mean, you’ve got stories like how she was raped in front of her kids and that. I was living in Chicago from July 2005 to March 2016. The last year I had there was a horrible year, and one of my main albums that I listened to was Bloodshed & Brutality For All (GG’s last album, and an incredibly angry and incendiary and horrifying work. It’s also a fucking great guitar album, courtesy of Bill Weber’s slick kicking wristflick licks – Graham) But the song on it where he sings “It’s midnight/it feels right/to kill my father tonight/it’s midnight/it feels right/to rape my mother tonight,” that lyric made perfect sense after I saw your documentary. It’s a horrible lyric, but he’s obviously actually recalling things from his own life, as opposed to just trying to be offensive, y’know?
Saif: Yeah. And that’s what I mean, that’s very complicated because some of his lyrics are just invented, but suddenly he gives away some hints as to why he escaped this fucking world, right? In the film it was very important just to have Arleta’s words on what happened, then the audience can put two and two together. She took the kids away, the fucked-up father went up there and took Kevin back to the cabin (the Allin family lived in a log cabin with no running water or electricity – Graham) and…what the fuck happened, man? This is a guy talking about digging graves for them, I mean…aaahhh! It’s some crazy stuff.
Diabolique: I read it a couple of years ago, and he’s talking about GG saying “The first things I remember are the beatings and the brandings (I checked this after the interview, and was wrong. This horrifying and depressing quote, not recalled entirely correctly, is actually from a 1993 interview with GG, in Nuthing Sacred: “My very first memories on this planet are beatings, burning, being held at gunpoint, kidnapped” – Graham) and you’re thinking, fucking Hell! That environment was only very briefly touched upon in Hated, but I think the main driving problem with GG was his father, and what happened to them in their childhood.
Saif: I think so.
Diabolique: It’s sad.
Saif: But then again, Merle does not have these memories of being beat up. So you know…I don’t know! Merle says that the mother protected them from all the craziness, so I don’t know if that’s true or not. I mean, Merle’s not a liar, he tells the truth. I went to him, Merle’s telling the truth. He is.
Diabolique: I believe you. You have that piece of footage where that poor woman is talking about being raped in front of the children, it was really…it was a good piece of footage to get in a documentary, but it was also…horrifying, because you could see Merle saying “And something else happened, didn’t it?” and they obviously didn’t really want to speak about it, but you got them to speak about it.
Saif: Yes. Yes. I don’t know, Merle said he didn’t hear anything, he said he doesn’t have the memories of that weekend. So she must have done a really good job of protecting them.
Diabolique: Yeah, either that or he’s just blocked the memories out.
Saif: Exactly. Exactly. And that happens also, and I can understand it, a small child totally blocking that stuff out. You have to to survive. But (chuckling) I didn’t take Merle and psychoanalyse him, if I asked him about that he would probably say “Fuck you!”
Diabolique: I’ll tell you something funny. I have talked to Merle on and off on Facebook. And one night he had done some emojis, and it was GG taking a shit and that, and I said “They’re crap,” so he (chuckling) banned me on Facebook, cos I said the fucking emoji of GG taking a shit was crap!
Diabolique: So he’s got a thin skin in some ways. But I met him…I went to a Murder Junkies gig a couple of years ago in Chicago. And I got my photograph with Merle. But I’ll tell you a funny story. Dino, you know, he’s drumming away naked, and at the end of the gig he gets the hot young woman to shove the lubed drumsticks up his arse, right?
Saif: (Laughs) It’s amazing…and it’s always a hot woman!
Diabolique: Fuck yeah! I’ve got photographs of that as well, I might stick it into the interview as well. I thought fuck, I wanted to meet Merle and Dino, for fucking forever, decades, so I goes up and I says to him “Dino, is there any chance I could get a photograph taken with you?” But after the show, when he was clothed, y’know? “It’s just all in good fun, man, all in good fun!” he said. “Well I know that, I never said it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think it was in good fun.” So I’ve got the photograph, and for some reason, I’ve seen him doing this in other fan photographs, he stands and he points at the ceiling. “Thank you very much, Dino, great stuff,” and I walked away. My hand brushed my jacket and I felt…fucking lube on my jacket! (We both laugh loudly) I thought, I’ll either burn the jacket or I’ll fucking frame it! Eventually I just ended up washing it. I just published a novel a few months ago, Soundproof Future Scotland, GG is in there in a cameo, sort of. This is something that has actually been an inspiration to me for fucking…nearly 30 years. Which is why the minute I heard about your documentary I was like “Fucking right man, I’ve got to get a hold of this!” Anyway, in your film, you see Merle at GG’s graveside, and he fucking lamps a guy with a guitar cos the guy spat on GG’s grave. And obviously he’s against it, “I’ll go and piss on your mother’s grave.” I’ve read that it was in GG’s will that he wanted people to go and piss and shit on his grave? Is that right or is that wrong? Any idea?
Saif: I don’t know. I guess that Merle…you mean that GG wrote in his will? I never heard about that. I don’t think that GG made a will. I don’t think he made a will but I don’t know, but why in the Hell should he make a will?
Diabolique: I was going to say he wouldn’t have too much, but obviously there’s still stuff that Merle must have kept over the years, he’s got all that stuff and he’s got his shrine to GG, there’s a lot of clothes and guitars…
Saif: I don’t know about that story, I don’t know. Myself, personally, I think that GG did not expect to die so young. Nobody expects to die. I mean, he was a drug addict, he died of an overdose, he made a helluva show at The Gas Station (GG’s final gig before he died – Graham), he was totally high and fucked up, shit happens. I don’t think that he relied on going home and dying that young. But if he made a will, of course he could have made in that will, “I want people could shit and piss on my grave.” He probably could have been that honest with it.
Diabolique: I don’t know if it’s true or not, right. Over years I have looked at GG pages on Facebook…on one page I look at there’s people who clearly knew GG. On one page there’s Bill Weber, the guitarist, he’s posting there, Michael O’Donnell, GG’s drummer, and there’s another guy posting his stories, Len Colby. (Nobody on that page believed the will story, when I asked them – Graham) Some of the fans seem to know different things, but once again…the man is…I regard him as a 20th century icon-
Diabolique: -Without bullshit, the man is a fucking icon! He’s like a symbol of freedom, but also being enslaved to yourself as well. There’s a fucking paradox there.
Saif: I think a lot of punk bands, rock bands have the same kind of…I mean, somehow, it’s also the Ramones story. The Ramones also got absorbed by drugs somehow. I think the Ramones story is also a very sad story.GG took it all to the end, he meant it very seriously. He also had these sexual abnormalities. I don’t know if these abnormalities today are normal, but having people piss on him and shit on him and all that. But he liked stuff like that. So in one way he was maybe more special than some of the other rockers, I dunno. He’s part of punk history, totally, and I think that somehow he was the last one. He died when grunge took over, and what happened from there was that grunge somehow became normal. I mean GG…
Diabolique: He hated grunge.
Saif: Yeah, sure! It’s true that rock and roll is basically meant to be scary, that’s the power of rock and roll and metal. And I think when grunge came, something happened, suddenly…you know…the early Iron Maiden…when you see Iron Maiden now, it’s like seeing the Stones or something, it’s just a show, a programmed show, where’s the danger, where’s the meaning of the lyrics? So somehow I see him as the end of an era that started with The Stooges, and even earlier started with CBGB’s and all this. And also Elvis! I mean it started with Elvis…what he did was totally provocative, and people called Elvis the Antichrist! So yeah, the story of rock and roll.
Diabolique: See that’s the thing. For all the horrible things he did, GG Allin’s always going to be the most extreme punk there’s ever been, nobody can ever beat that. Nobody would ever want to, you know? I regard GG Allin, he’s like a true…I don’t want to sound like a prick about this, right, but it’s something that I’ve thought about a lot, and I love, I fucking love a lot of his music…a lot of it’s shit, literally and figuratively, but…I think he’s like a true American folk artist, he’s an outsider, there’s a melancholy to the man’s music, on, like, Troubled Troubadour, stuff like that, the acoustic country and western stuff, that has never really been talked about. His music is overshadowed by the fucking image, and that’s the problem.
Saif: Of course it is. When you do what he did, people would say “Okay, he’s a fucking lunatic,” and not listen to the music. I think many people did not consider him as a serious musician. And also, in the industry when you see people talk about him, they don’t really talk about the music. I think Beck maybe is the only one that I am aware of that talked about GG Allin as an inspirational, serious songwriter, with tough lyrics.
Diabolique: He covered GG.
Saif: And he compared him with Johnny Cash, the burning soul, the fucked-up childhood and all this, getting that out, in many ways somehow.
Diabolique: That’s the thing that really annoys me, right. To me, the best two GG albums I’ve heard are his first one and his last one. I love them for their guitar, they’re vastly different fucking beasts because he wasn’t GG at the start, and then he just went off the rails…
Saif: The first album was amazing…
Diabolique: The fucking guitar is just amazing. And then at the end it’s just this constant rage against everybody and everything and himself. It’s a difficult fucking album to take, but some of the songs…all through his career…they’re fucking great songs, he was a really good fucking musician!
Saif: Of course, but he will never be accepted for that!
Diabolique: No, he won’t, which is the unfortunate thing, because that image will never…to me, he’s like Hunter S Thompson, y’know?
Diabolique: They both made career choices to be extreme, extreme American elements, y’know, with guns and whiskey and drugs and fucking chaos. And their image just overtook them personally and they eventually just crashed and burned.
Saif: Thompson will always be out on the side, like Bukowski, they will always be out on the side. Many people look at them as non-serious writers.
Diabolique: Nope. Thompson was a capital-W Writer. He wrote, man, he fucking knew what he was doing. And GG…you hear just GG, Rowdy Beer Drinkin’ Night, and he’s just kicking the shit out of it with a fucking acoustic (Saif laughs at my enthusiasm and air guitar strumming on Skype) guitar…I mean you’ve got to consider…I fucking love that song! The man’s in jail, he’s fucking recording songs down…a phone! That’s a true fucking artist for you, right, that man had to make music!
Saif: (Still laughing) He needs to make the music!
Diabolique: Exactly. And that’s why it’s sad that he will never truly be recognised for it. But people who can put aside the image – it’s very difficult to do, but it’s…if you listen to these songs, there’s so many damned fucking good songs there. I like Bored to Death where he’s doing his kind of Mick Jagger impersonation. How did you choose the songs that you were going to put in the movie, and what are your favourite GG songs?
Saif: The songs that we put in the movie, we tried to use the songs that had good qualities. We chose songs that we thought were very good, and very catchy, and he made many songs that were very harmonic. We chose songs that were good, songs we liked. And also, we tooks songs that…because it’s a movie about a family the songs that we chose were also better suited that story, you know, than some of the very noisy songs. We used the noisy songs, Jabbers, when he’s fucked up. And of course then we used that opening song, Snakeman’s Dance, in Snakeman he’s making himself like a myth, like a secret man you cannot reach, he’s got a lot of secrets. So it was very pertinent to open with that number. My favourite number is the number that we play at the end, when Arleta’s finally accepting, that she’s at the 20th anniversary, I think that’s my favourite, it’s called, ummm…what the fuck is it called, it’s one of the early ones, that’s one of my favourites, it’s called, ummm…we used a lot of his songs because there’s so much energy in them, but my favourite, my all-time favourite, is…
Diabolique: It’s not Sucking on Your Pussy on a Friday Night? (We both laugh)
Saif: That’s great, right?
Diabolique: It’s the fact that he plays his mother that song, that’s the fucked up thing…
Saif: That song was written by PP (Duvay) and Duane (Rollick), they bought some beers and wrote that. Merle’s very happy with his band now, because they’re delivering great lyrics and great fun now. Yes…the song’s I am talking about…this is it…it’s a live recording. It’s called No Rules and it’s one of the early ones, 1983, it’s a single with four numbers on it.
Diabolique: Okay, I can put that in the interview.
Saif: And I think at that point in his career he was blasting, and I think that then he went into some drug shit and made some bad albums, then he returned with a lot of power when he made his biggest songs. I mean Bite it You Scum and Die When You Die.
Diabolique: We’re talking about GG being recognised for his music or whatever, you had the footage of (burps) Arleta talking to Rob Basso. How did you get him to be in it, and did he know Arleta from the early days?
Saif: Yeah, he did know her, because he was one of the kids hanging around when they were kids. So she knows him and he lives nearby, so sometimes she sees him and he’s stopped by before. He’s like one of the kids around Kevin, and she likes him because he’s a good guy, he’s a soft and gentle man. And as a gentleman he has sometimes visited her.
Diabolique: He knew a different GG, he knew Kevin, really…
Diabolique: …and I suppose her knowing him from back then is also a link for her back to pre-GG Kevin.
Saif: Yes it is, of course. I think many of the families in these days had to work a lot, so the kids spent a lot of time together. Sometimes they went to some other house where the parent was home and hang out there. I think that was the time back then, that the kids would hang round each others’ houses.
Diabolique: They call them ‘latchkey kids’ because they basically have to let themselves in and out.
Saif: Yeah, yeah, in and out of the other homes, tonight they’d be there, then tomorrow somewhere else…
Diabolique: I’m curious…you had a few fans in the documentary, right? When you talk to the fans, what do you think…this is a really broad question…but what do you think he meant to his fans? Cos in a strange way there’s almost like a cult of GG. Cos there’s a lot of religious imagery in his songs as well, he’s going “I am the highest power,” “I am God Jesus Satan rolled into one…” – that was Charles Manson that came from – but it was like a cult, to a degree. But also with Christian…he was Catholic, wasn’t he, Arleta’s Catholic, or just a Christian?
Diabolique: Yeah, so, that might have been a part of it…there’s always a lot of Catholic artists that really rebel against their upbringing. I’m not going to lead you, but tell me some impressions of his fans, or your impressions of his fans in general, some interesting things that you might have learned from them.
Saif: Fan culture? I’m totally a Motorhead fan. With fan culture, you find a band, you find a musician, and then you stick with them, and you somehow feel that you are releated to those people and you have the same opinions and you relate to what they stand for, stuff like that. That’s fan culture. That’s the same with any kind of…I mean, Justin Beiber…what’s the difference between Justin Beiber fans and GG Allin hardcore fans? Is there a difference?
Diabolique: Heroin and booze. (We both laugh)
Saif: Fan culture is fan culture, you know! I’m spending a lot of money on Motorhead merchandise and drumskins and stuff like that, because I love rock music, but I think somehow that Lemmy managed to nail it all in one character, named Lemmy Kilmister. And he totally accepted what anybody did within the culture because it was rock and roll. Fan culture is fan culture, and I totally understand all kinds of fans because I love that culture, people saying “Oh, GG is the best, GG is this, that,” I totally can relate to that.
Diabolique: He means a lot to a lot of people.
Saif: Yeah! And at the end of the day, it’s just love! You go to a Murder Junkies concert today and people share the memories of GG and all this, there’s so much love in the fucking room. People are pogoing, drinking beers, but it’s a very, very good place to be. People take care of each other, people hug each other, people having a good time in that subculture. That’s wonderful, That’s what it is to be a fan, you have a subculture, and you meet people with whom you have the same love, stuff like that.
Diabolique: Did you ever meet Lemmy?
Saif: No, I wish I did. I went to a Lemmy concert…it was so ridiculous, I only went to one Motorhead concert in my fucking life! It was a very small room, and Lemmy was drunk, and the room was way too small. He played three numbers and said (in funny, poor English accent) “IS IT LOUD ENOUGH FOR YOU?” And people said, of course, “NO!” and then they turned it up way too fucking high. Then Lemmy said “SHOW ME SOME TITS!” and all the girls showed their tits. Then the sound was at max, so the entire room just went like 50 feet back, and some of us just had to leave the room because we didn’t have earplugs and the music was so fucking loud! And Lemmy was in a bad mood!
Diabolique: How many times have you screened the film, and how has it been received so far?
Saif: The film has been screened with live audiences twice now in Copenhagen, we had a packed screening, a lot of people for such a small film. What really took us by surprise…we edited for a long time…was how much people were laughing. People were laughing a lot in the film, and also I think that the fans were really enjoying it. Some of the fans stood up and headbanged to some of the music and stuff like that. So basically I’m just surprised at that, because it’s a soft movie. I was afraid that many of the fans would think the movie was very soft, that it’s Arleta’s story, but I have had very good reactions. And you’re just so very glad of that, you have these huge punks, looking really scary, coming over to you and saying (in sad, teary voice) “Oh, I really liked it so much, I was so touched by this, and I never thought about his mother like this.” So it was a very good screening.
Diabolique: That’s great, you must be gratified by that reaction. How long did it take to make the movie?
Saif: We edited for a long time, and uh…I think the first contact I took to Merle was in 2013. Then I started another film, and that came in front, people started investing in that film. But it took some time getting the finance ready for this documentary, because we had to travel a lot. So it was difficult to get the proper money up front to travel so much. So that took some time, and I think we had six weeks where we shot in America. We followed the band for three days, but a lot of time was also just being together with Arleta, you know.
Diabolique: I really liked the cinematography in the movie, I liked the way that you juxtaposed the beautiful trees and the mist and the madness of GG.
Saif: (Chuckling) Yeah, yeah.
Diabolique: It was a really nice touch. It really is a beautiful looking film.
Saif: That sounds great, I will tell the cinematographer that. But Arleta loves nature, and nature is her setting.
Diabolique: What did she and Merle think of the movie?
Saif: Arleta did not see the movie yet. Merle did see the movie, and he explained to his mother about the film. Arleta did not see it yet, and she thinks “It’s okay, I don’t need to see it, I remember what we talked about.” I think what was important to Arleta was that she trusted me, and that she depended on it being a film that showed the side of Kevin that was her little boy.
Diabolique: Well even the title of the film, The Allins, it’s a family, you’ve thought about the title, you’re not gonna call it Crazy Fucking Punk Bastard or something. It’s The Allins, and it shows that they’re a family, and it shows what they’ve been through, and it showed some of GG’s…I was going to say formative, maybe deformative influences. It really was a genuinely good film. The minute I saw the trailer – it was a friend of mine, John Szpunar, who writes books about horror films, who sent it to me – I though fucking Hell, I just knew I had to see it because I wanted to know what his mother would have to say. And she finally got the chance to tell her own story.
Saif: I said to Arleta that Kevin does a lot of bad things in the film, she doesn’t like to see that. She accepted that these things would be in the film, because you have to have both GG and Kevin in the film, to describe what happened to her and how she experienced it.
Diabolique: I liked that you got her artwork, because GG used to do some artwork as well. I dunno if you’ve seen it, his book of prison letters, I’ve still got it back in America, My Prison Walls, and it’s got some of his artwork in it.
Saif: Yes, yes.
Diabolique: It’s a fucking great book, and the artwork is so angry, but the letters are quite funny as well, so it seems like he might have got a little bit of that artistic talent from his mother.
Saif: I think so, and she also liked to sing, when they were kids, she sang a lot to them and stuff like that. Her spirit is also like an artist or something, she cracks jokes, she’s someone who embraces life.
Diabolique: Talking about wanting to shoot the fans in the ass (in the trailer – Graham) when they go to the grave: “You just watch me!” (Laughing) I have a few more questions for you. I could not watch Family (Sami had sent me an online screener link to it, which had to be viewed through a Danish VPN – Graham), unfortunately, my VPN does not have a Denmark setting, and I tried to download two other fucking VPNs, and one of them-
Saif: (Chuckling) That’s good!
Diabolique: -I got a virus warning, so I just thought fuck this. I’d still like to see the documentary, and I will eventually.
Saif: You’ll have to buy it!
Diabolique: I know, I know, I’ve (chuckling) bought DVDs before, sir!
Saif: You can stream it also, it’s very cheap, it’s like 2.95 or something.
Diabolique: I’ll do that, I want to see it. You did that documentary Tommy (about Danish singer/songwriter Tommy Seebach, who climbed the musical heights before plumbing the depths through alcoholism – Graham), and it’s about that kind of kitsch music and Eurovision song contest. But also it’s about the guy being an alcoholic. I’ve never seen it, I’ve just read about it. Do you find it interesting to talk about people like that, who may be artistic but who have personal problems like that that may spill over into their artistic life? And how do you see this film fitting into your own personal sphere of movies that you’ve made?
Saif: Well, first of all, I like music. But I think when you have people from working class backgrounds that become big stars and get embraced by the audience…and then, because they have the background they have, they don’t fit in the business, like selling yourself. So they’re still working class. They embrace all the joy you get at the beginning, but somehow you try to say “Hey, I’m just a normal person here, I’m just me,” and there’s a big pressure to be like that. Basically, I like the family stories, I like music, and I like to remind us all that life also has a lot of struggle. And I think famous people can feel this, and show these thoughts in a strong way. We look up to them, then suddenly we see ourselves, and they become a real person. I mean, I really love the Elton John movie his boyfriend made, or maybe he was even married to him, his documentary. I love that, did you see that?
Diabolique: Is that the new one?
Saif: It’s old.
Diabolique: No, I never saw it. I’d watch it, but I never saw it.
Saif: It’s so beautiful, man, because Elton John has so many issues, he’s afraid, and angry, and has angst…and it just gets real close to a really great musician, and it’s like…he’s so small, he becomes so small and fragile. I just love to see those kind of stories.
Diabolique: I watch documentaries here and there, but there’s just so much stuff coming out that you can’t really keep up.
Saif: Yep. These days it’s crazy. I mean, everything has just exploded with the internet, right? I love the family stories. Every family has problems, there’s always some shit going on. And I think it’s good to tell these stories, to remind each other that we’re just human and it’s okay, it’s okay, you know, to have problems.
Diabolique: People are ashamed to talk about things like that.
Saif: But we shouldn’t be!
Diabolique: What do you think an audience who don’t know anything about GG Allin take away from your documentary, and what would you ideally want them to take away?
Saif: I hope they relate to the family story, I hope they relate to the mother’s shame, combined with her love for her child. And I hope they relate to coping with reality, how things are in the family, and getting over the point where you are ashamed, but you start to accept that “This is my life and I’m proud of it somehow, y’know.”
Diabolique: What do you ultimately think GG’s legacy will be? Any views on that?
Saif: His legacy. Like when…in a hundred years, now, or…when? A hundred years?
Diabolique: A good point. Call it (chuckling) 50, cut it in half.
Saif: I think in 50 years, he will be look at as very important in the chapter called punk music. I think punk music will not exist in 50 years. Maybe that’s lame to say, but punk is absolutely not what it was. Back then, punk bands were huge. Today you don’t have huge punk bands, you have very small punk bands, I mean real punk. It’s like a niche, a very, very small thing. But I think he’ll be pretty big in the chapter of punk music, because you have a direct line from The Stooges to GG Allin.
Diabolique: That’s true, that’s absolutely correct, yeah.
Saif: The Stooges started out with a riot, and somehow GG Allin ended the riot by going to the extreme. Because I truly think that what Nirvana did, I like Nirvana also, but they absorbed the punk into something new, and they did it really well, and it was very black, and very destructive, and Kurt Cobain went out like a fucking punk. So I think that the punk, with the grunge and the transition from Nirvana to Pearl Jam and all that, I think it ended there. So I think GG will be remembered as the last punk, or the end of the punk era. The Stooges also took it very seriously, but they had no development. I think that because he died this young, and maybe at his…destructive top, that he will be a pretty serious chapter in the story of punk music. I mean, he will never be as big as The Ramones and stuff like that, but he will be related to as the lifestyle. I mean, you can’t talk to any punks about of the great punk bands without somehow remembering GG Allin.