30 Years Ago, GG Allin Cleared Austin’s Scuzziest Punk Venue in 24 Minutes
Witness accounts of the notorious shock rocker's antics and arrest at the Cavity Club
"It says he took a shit on the stage and started throwing it into the crowd/ But he was gone before the cops could come and shut him down ..."
– From "The Night G.G. Allin Came To Town" by Drive-By Truckers
Pocket FishRmen guitarist Cris Burns describes Feb. 18, 1992 – the night pervo-punk GG Allin played the Cavity Club, 615 Red River, current home of Swan Dive – as "the most surreal night" ever.
At the least, it's possibly history's sole instance of a publication, namely the Chronicle, running an arrest report as a live concert review. It began noting the rush fleeing out the Cavity's entrance, then the "nude ... white male onstage and defecating."
"[T]he crowd was running away from the stage gasping and covering their faces," the Austin Police Department report continued, ungrammatically. "I saw a [sic] arm holding a spray canister above the crowd's head and it appeared that a member of the crowd was spraying the Mace.
"... I advised dispatch via radio tht [sic] I needed additional units to dispurse [sic] the crowd. I noted a white male on the band stand [sic] was nude and staggering around the stage bleeding from the forehead."
A typical night for the shock-rocker born Jesus Christ Allin on August 29, 1956, in Lancaster, N.H. He and his band the Murder Junkies managed a nearly 25-minute performance. And unlike the Drive-By Truckers' country weeper account of Allin's 1991 Memphis gig, he didn't escape before APD officers shut it down.
"Y'know, I heard about GG over the years," Iggy Pop – who knew a thing or two about transgressive showmanship – drawled with a smirk 10 years later, in a conference room at Virgin Records' New York offices.
"Every now and again, I'd hear about these guys who wanted to out-Iggy Iggy," he continued. "First it was GG, then it was Jimmy Gestapo, then it was some other guy, then another. This guy pooped on the stage, that guy peed on the audience, on and on.
"But at the end of the day, where's the songs, man?" he grinned. "That's what I wanna know."
Allin actually wrote very good songs. He loved pop music – the garage-ier, the better. Rob Basso, guitarist with GG's first band of note, the Jabbers, says the bands that bonded them – other than the standard late-Seventies punk litany (Sex Pistols, Ramones, etc.) – included the Monkees, Paul Revere & the Raiders, the Seeds, and Flamin' Groovies. Allin's tight, melodic verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-end tunes were played in a raw, Detroit 1969 protopunk style that got looser and grimier over time. But a typical sing-along chorus might be, "Needle up my cock/ And I can't get fucked no more."
Brandon Burke, who attended Allin's Cavity gig with his IV Violent People/Gomez bandmates Ryan McDaniel and Chepo Pena, became a fan after picking up several early 45s at Waterloo Records.
"They're not too bad," he says. "I got hooked on those early singles, because they're very pop-punk, experimental. They've got some great hooks."
"To this day, I still sing some of those songs to myself," says Cavity Club co-founder Staryn Wagner of the 1988 cassette-only Allin retrospective Hated in the Nation. Wagner roped in former Ritz soundman Dave Herman and Squat Thrust's Jimmy Bradshaw in 1991 to transform weirdo cult-cum-commune-cum-public access TV show Zendik Farms' old location into a punk club. Jesus Christ Superfly leader Rick Carney, who volunteered to stabilize the club's booking, believes the Cavity was the opening shot in Red River becoming Austin's punk/alternative epicenter through the decade and into the 21st century.
"Anybody who played with him knew how talented he was," says Basso, who first became aware of then-drummer GG and his bassist brother Merle Allin via their mid-Seventies rock band, Malpractice.
Allin was also possibly an undiagnosed schizophrenic. I interviewed him for Flipside fanzine in 1987, a piece that triggered a years-long letters column debate. The man I interviewed was Kevin Michael Allin (as his mother renamed him). He was intelligent, well-read, friendly, and on top of business – if you wrote to him, he replied that day. GG was the guy onstage throwing shit at the audience, fighting the yahoos inevitably turning up, who disbelieved the prevailing stories. Basso quit the Jabbers once GG became the predominant personality offstage. Inevitably, his music's quality declined alongside the musicians', as GG submerged Kevin.
"I don't think it was two Jekyll-and-Hyde extremes," demurs Allin's aide de camp Len Colby. He believes the personality shift operated on a "sliding scale."
"If it was just me [Allin was dealing with], he'd be super nice. Then if it was me and Merle, he wouldn't be quite as nice. To me, the larger the group got and the more it became people he didn't know well, and the kinda drooling, knuckle-dragging, worshipful GG fans? The more he became the GG persona."
Through 1989, collect phone calls I received from Allin increasingly featured talk of plans to die onstage on Halloween, taking the entire audience with him. That performance never happened, following his arrest for "assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder," following what Merle Allin described as "a weekend of rough sex" in Ann Arbor, Mich. GG plea-bargained down to felonious assault, ultimately serving time from Christmas Day 1989 to March 26, 1991. The collect calls continued from prison, outlining his plans to build a "real underground rock 'n' roll army" under his command. Much of this can be found in his cultish and self-aggrandizing 1991 mission statement, The GG Allin Manifesto.
Once free, he toured with the Murder Junkies – a band custom-assembled by brother Merle on bass, with drummer Donald "Dino Sex" Sachs and guitarist Bill Weber – violating probation. Colby's T-shirt company printed the tour merch, leading to road managing and eventually booking the tours. Early Eighties Maximum Rocknroll ads boasted Allin's then-$100 guarantee. Damages to clubs frequently obliterated that several times over. Colby instituted contracts, netting $500 per night.
"The maximum we ever charged was $5," says Wagner, who'd met Allin two years before, when a roommate repaired his tour vehicle in the midst of a trek with a speed metal backing band who did not know his songs. (Another roommate taught the band Hated in the Nation as the vehicle was fixed.) "And we never paid guarantees." Carney says Allin's Cavity deal was "half the door, bring your own mic, and good luck!" He adds that, since he had to sign Colby's contract, he did not show up on gig night: "There was no way I was going to be GG's cellmate if things went south!"
For weeks, rumors spread organically that Allin was coming, alongside flyers revealing no venue. Wagner says they spent weeks prepping the club, ensuring there was nothing either performer nor audience could hurl that was shatterable and possibly harmful. He also moved his pickup truck out of the back of the club, leaving a surely necessary, clear escape path to the alley.
"I told the venues 'no potential projectiles,'" says Colby. "No pool cues/balls, no framed artwork, chairs, glasses, bottles, etc. That was stipulated in the contracts that got faxed back and forth."
Meatheads around town chuckled, "Hey, GG Allin's playing – let's go beat him up!" Many apparently disbelieved the widely circulated stories about his performances. "I thought maybe it was performance art," says local drummer Lisa Cameron. Her then-band Three Day Stubble opened the Murder Junkies' Houston show the night before. Houston PD vice squad officers visited Allin earlier, emphasizing a zero-tolerance policy toward his shenanigans. He played a full-if-subdued set, canned chili pulled from his bikini underwear replacing the poop.
Burke says tear-gas body odor preceded Allin's Cavity entrance that afternoon. He recalls having a conversation that revealed Allin's wide-ranging knowledge of art, history, and rock & roll. Burns says all were scared the briefcase Allin plopped on the front foyer's bar was wired to explode, with all the rumors of his mass suicide plans. Magnificats singer Mary Welch was in the dressing room as Vampire Bondage Club opened. She says he held court in the long black trench coat and bikini underwear he'd perform in, his tiny member hanging out. She left, unimpressed with either the penile display or the seemingly contrived shock value statements he made to his rapt audience.
Between set-opener "Bite It You Scum" and the climactic "Expose Yourself to Kids," the Murder Junkies managed a taut, controlled 24 minutes, 51 seconds of the powerful Stooges/Dead Boys-style punk & roll they did best. The singer entered, losing the flasher coat within the first few bars, the bikini panties disposed of before the second tune. With his shaved head and goatee, Allin's stomping around and graceless gyrations resembled what Burke calls a demonic version of "the CGI dancing baby from Ally McBeal." The first dump hit the stage before the fourth number. The crowd, pushed up against the stage, backed away. Not before Allin ground his micropenis into some poor punter's face.
During a midset dirge, someone stage dove, wrestling with Allin before removal by security. The performer jumped offstage, tussling with two more audience members and chasing others out the front entrance. Then he exercised more "crowd control."
"I had a friend named Courtney who had a broken ankle," says Cameron. "She was standing next to the door, which was pretty close to the stage. It was pretty packed, and we stood at the back. And GG Allin went over to the side where Courtney was and pushed her down. He took her crutch and started swinging it back and forth like an axe, moving steadily toward the back of the room."
"He hit Ryan [McDaniel]," says Chepo Pena. Burke – filming from an alcove and narrowly evading a huge blob of shit seconds before – says he attempted to clean out the gash in his bandmate's forehead in the Cavity's notoriously filthy bathrooms as the crowd ran to the rear exit.
"He just mowed everybody out, and there was this big pileup in the back," says Cameron.
Back onstage, Allin called for "Be My Fuckin' Whore," rubbing the mic in his shit-slimed butt crack before smashing it into his forehead. Then the mace came out. APD entered as the crowd ran out the front, Weber walked offstage with guitar cases and Allin pulled his trench coat back on.
"It was a very foggy evening," recalls Burns, outside the Cavity now. "There's this haze over everything, and there's police cars lined all up and down Red River. The police beacons were spinning in the fog.
"This one punk rock guy was running up to all the cop cars, and he was peeing on the handles! An ambulance rolls up the street, and the show is over by this point. The EMTs and the cops take GG out and put him into the ambulance, like it was his private limo or something. And he rolls off.
"It was very cinematic," he grins.
As Allin was taken to Brackenridge Hospital to tend to his self-inflicted injuries, a concertgoer named James Michael Harper informed the arresting officer he wished to press assault charges.
"Harper stated he ws [sic] in the crowd when the band member that was nude threw feces at him striking him n [sic] the head," reads the arrest report.
"Allen [sic] was found to have a warrant for his arrest to revoke probation out of Flint, Mich.," it continues. "After Allen [sic] received treatment for his injury's [sic] I transported Allin to central booking which he was booked in on the warrant."
"We were expecting him to be released but found out Michigan had declared him in violation of his probation," says Colby. "It was probably the publicity from his arrest in Orlando that got him in trouble. It was covered by the local Fox affiliate [ed. note: the reporter – a young Shepard Smith!] and seems to have been picked up by other media. There were reporters waiting for GG when we got to the venue in Atlanta.
"So the Cavity Club bust was the end of the tour," he sighs. "There were a few more shows booked. I think the next was the Outhouse in Lawrence, Kansas. I don't remember the others."
Back at the Cavity, Jimmy Bradshaw got after the club interior with bleach, rubber gloves and a mop. After all, the club's principles lived there. Allin's soiled bikini briefs were hung on the wall, with a price tag of $50. Allin periodically called Carney collect from the Michigan prison, wanting to return.
"I told him he was always welcome," he says. "And it would always be the same deal – half the door, and bring your own mic."
When the Murder Junkies returned to Austin May 18, 1993, after finishing Alin's sentence, the Cavity was gone. The show was booked at a short-lived venue called the 5th Street Warehouse, downstairs from the recently opened Sweatbox Studios. While a rowdy show, it was nowhere near the Feb. 18, 1992, blowout. Allin apparently remembered his original touring game plan: Play the show, drop the mic on the last note, get into the van, and get out of town before the cops show up. He had no such luck at his final show over two months later at the Gas Station in Manhattan, stopped after two songs by the NYPD. Allin was found dead the following morning – June 28, 1993 – of a heroin overdose.
The Cavity show was one of the rare times GG Allin & the Murder Junkies played a full set, complete with 100-proof blood-and-flying-feces showmanship. It's one of those legendary gigs you cannot believe everyone claiming to have been there actually attended. Those who did have it burned into their cerebral cortexes forever.
"It was the craziest, most punk rock show I've ever been to in my life," concludes Burns.