“I knew who he was. I knew what he did. I’d never been to one of his shows. I really wasn’t a fan,” Cohen said, when I asked how familiar he’d been with Allin at the time. “I wasn’t put off by it, but it was nothing that I’d want to see in person, unless there were safeguards.”
Cohen was a 22-year-old film school dropout who sort of, kind of knew what he was about to get himself into.
“To me, it was the opportunity of a lifetime staring me in the face. I had the time to do it—I was just finishing up college, which I had done not too well at. It was the end of April when this discussion happened. When Merle said they needed a roadie, I thought, ‘Why not?’ I knew this was a great opportunity, a unique opportunity, and I jumped at it. I knew it was going to be something different and special and strange.”
While on the road, he started taking notes. The result is I Was a Murder Junkie: The Last Days of GG Allin (Recess Records, 128 pages, $18.99). The book is less about GG, though, than it is about Cohen—a tour diary of what it’s like to be a fresh-faced kid roaring around the country with one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most notoriously feral (and fecal) icons. The idea to get a book out of the experience was already in his head before the band loaded up the van.
“Before I went on tour, I tried to presell it. Spin magazine was interested, but they turned me down, literally, the day before I left. After I got back, nobody seemed interested. It was just a little project I worked on by myself, thinking, ‘Someday I’m going to put this out as a book.’”
He eventually brought the manuscript to Recess Records—the California-based punk label that had released the Furious George albums. They decided to give publishing a shot, and accepted
It was a wise move on their part: Taking on I Was a Murder Junkie makes them the publisher of the first official book written about Allin. While there have been plenty of zines and websites and magazine articles—together with plenty of promises of books—this is the first real thing.
“There have been mentions of him in books,” Cohen said, “a paragraph here, a chapter there. But it’s the first book dedicated to him. A lot of people confuse me with Joe Coughlin. He’s the official biographer—he was working on it with GG while he was still alive. One of his challenges is that he’s trying to encapsulate GG’s entire life, from beginning to death, trying to contact every single person he knew and trying to cram every bit of information in there. Last I heard, a couple years ago, he was at 300-some pages. It seems like every year he says the book’s gonna come out, then it doesn’t. I never really felt a sense of competition with [Coughlin], because what he was doing was trying to get the whole man’s life. What I’m doing is literally just talking about his last tour. I threw in some biographical stuff, just in case some people weren’t familiar with the basic parts of his life.”
One of the first things I noticed while reading Cohen’s book was the distinct lack of rampant drug use. Now, I don’t talk about my own time with Allin much, figuring there are plenty of other people out there talking about their time with him—but the one thing I remember was his utter fearlessness when it came to ingesting unknown chemicals—and huge quantities of known chemicals. It was mayhem, those days, a blur of speed and heroin and pills and alcohol.
But in Cohen’s book, the only drug, apart from alcohol, GG consumes is a single bag of heroin—until the very end, of course, when he overdoses in a Lower East Side apartment. I asked if that was really all Allin took that last tour.
“Yeah,” he said. “I think that’s one of the ironies. I don’t know if he lost the taste for it from being in prison about 14 or 15 months. The only other drug he did, which I didn’t mention in the book, was some prescription Valium. I think he traded a jacket for it. We’d get in the van to drive somewhere and he’d just pop a Valium and sleep. I’m not sure if that counts as abuse, but it didn’t really have any effect, either way. But those were the only major drug instances. That might’ve been one of the things that contributed to his death—maybe his body just wasn’t ready to take all that on again, all at once.”
Cohen balked, however, when I suggested that perhaps—just perhaps—Allin was slowing down a little bit, there at the end. I’d seen him take beatings that no human should’ve been able to withstand—but the stories in this book seem kind of tame. Tame for GG, that is. He punches a few people, pulls some hair, starts a couple small fires, asks some girls to piss on him (at nearly every stop). But that’s about it.
“Sometimes when I speak to Merle, he talks about ‘the good shows,’ some of the really, really wild things that happened in the early days,” Cohen said. “But even with him maybe having slowed down at the old age of 36, there was still a feeling when he played of not knowing what was going to happen next. It was both thrilling and terrifying… It’s something I haven’t felt since I saw him last.”
Most of the book, though, takes place offstage—in the hotel rooms, the restaurants and the highways the Murder Junkies invaded in their rented minivan. And most of it is pretty quiet: mild brushes with confused lawmen, masochistic groupies and evil promoters. There’s some hotel room-trashing and backstage hijinks, but one of the things the book does is present a picture of Allin—albeit from a distance—as a human being, instead of the Tasmanian Devil he’s usually portrayed as. Here’s a GG who worships Johnny Cash, is kind to his friends and helps out the odd stranger.
Still, most of the book focuses on Cohen himself—a bright young kid who finds himself slowly transforming into, well, a Murder Junkie. And who discovers that you just can’t get a good bagel in Texas.
“The title, I Was a Murder Junkie, refers to me as much as it does GG, because the story deals with the both of us. But I figured, I have to sell it as myself and him… People have said, ‘Oh, no one wants to read about you, they want to read about GG,’ but how can I not mention myself? I always thought it was just as interesting, me this—I don’t want to say naive—but this kid, throwing myself in the middle of all this, for the first time in my life.”
I asked him if, with all the stories he tells, there was anything he chose to leave out. And, more importantly, was there anything that Recess thought was just too rough to print?
“There were minor stories that didn’t work with the flow—me and some stripper trying to get it on in San Francisco. Things that were too distracting from the story. [Apart from that] it’s basically all there. I’m sure people will read it and be disappointed. I neglected to mention when we went to a little nightclub in Los Angeles. Nothing exciting happened, really. There was one of those almost-fights where a bunch of people postured and nothing happened. Why put this almost-thing in there and get people’s hopes up, just to be brought down?”
I asked Cohen if he ran the book past Merle—the man who controls the GG Allin estate, charged with the mission of keeping GG’s memory alive.
“I gave my original treatment to Merle a long time ago, and he liked it. Merle has said to me repeatedly, ‘Christ, y’know, I bet there’s stuff in there that I don’t even remember.’ He trusts me. The biographical stuff I checked over with him.”
Which brought up a point I hesitated mentioning. It’s no big deal, really, but I did find one mistake in the book—the circumstances surrounding GG’s arrest and imprisonment in Michigan. The woman who brought assault charges against Allin wasn’t beaten at a show, but rather, according to her claim, held hostage and tortured for three days by Allin and some of his friends.
“I never knew that,” Cohen admitted. Then he countered, “There are a lot of people who ask me a lot of things about his past, or assume that I’m some kind of authority. I never claimed to be… People have contacted me on the Internet, saying, ‘Wow, you’re writing this book—did you know about this, this and this?’ Christ, I don’t know who all the original members of the Toilet Rockers were. I don’t know these things. I know what I experienced. I know what I talked about with him.”
I Was a Murder Junkie: The Last Days of GG Allin (including a CD) is available at Tower and other local outlets.