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The Milwaukee Journal — “Artistic License? Jury Set to Decide” — Jim Stingl (Aug 18, 1991)

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Artistic License? Jury Set to Decide

Trial to Determine if Singer’s Act is a Crime

By JIM STINGL
of The Journal staff

A rock ‘n’ roll singer defecates of stage during a performance and throws feces into the audience.

Is it art? Or a crime?

A jury will ponder that question beginning Monday when Kevin Michael Allin, better known as GG Allin, goes on trial in Milwaukee County Circuit Court for disorderly conduct.

More than two years after Allin did his deed in the smoky darkness of the now defunct Odd Rock Cafe, it will be put to 12 citizens to decide whether the lead singer for the also defunct Toilet Rockers was guilty of abusive and indecent conduct and provoking a disturbance.

Judge John J. DiMotto will preside over the trial in room 623 of the courthouse.

A criminal complaint against Allin, 34, of Ann Arbor, Mich., said that on Feb. 28, 1989, he not only threw you-know-what into the crowd, but also exposed himself repeatedly on stage and dragged a female fan on stage and jumped on her.

Most of the 50 people who had paid to get into the Odd Rock, 2010 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., immediately headed to their cars. and police arrived and arrested Allin.

With murder trial stacking and backing up in courtrooms here, Allin’s case is hardly causing the earth under MacArthur Square to shake. But it should provide a few days of interesting testimony touching on art, obscenity, First Amendment rights and a phenomenon known as scatology.

In a pretrial motion to dismiss the charge against Allin, defense attorney Peter Goldberg argues that Allin’s behaviour follows in tradition of other avant-garde artists who have incorporated human excrement into their work, which is known as scatology. Shakespeare, for example, and Greek satirist Artistophanes and Samuel Beckett.

If the judge lets him, Goldberg plans to call at least one expert on what’s considered art in the underground world of music, film, theater and painting.

“We feel that he’s a serious performer, and there’s serious artistic values to what he does,” Goldberg said of Allin’s work.

“In a democracy, people don’t have to like what they hear or like what they see,” Goldberg said. “People, by and large, do not want to see the flag burned, but the Supreme Court recently said it’s protected expressive conduct because it has a message to convey.”

But Asst. Dist. Atty. Michael Steinhafel argued during a motions hearing last week that the same protection would not extend to someone who ignited a flag and then threw it at someone.

“If this is art,” Steinhafal argued, “can Mr. Allin go rent a corner of the Art Museum and fling feces at people as they go by?”

“We’re not saying the First Amendment is not unlimited, and this clearly crosses the line,” Steinhafal said.

A videotape of Allin’s performance, including all the highlights cited in the complaint, is expected to be shown to the jury.

Goldberg has taken the position that is’s a waste of valuable court time to try an allegedly disorderly rocker, and that doing so could have a chilling effect on other daring performers thinking of coming to Milwaukee.

“The state should have a lot more important things to be focusing on,” he said.

If Allin is found guilty the most a judge could throw at him is 90 days in jail and a $1,000 dollar fine.

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