SOME BOOKS NEED NO HYPE. All you have to do is get out of the way. For example, the new autobiography from the godfather of industrial music, Ministry front man Al Jourgensen.
Listen to this: he hazed Trent Reznor, fist-fought Henry Rollins and shocked Ron Jeremy. He shot smack with Bill Burroughs, stole dope from Courtney Love, served two years as Timothy Leary’s lab rat and smoked cocaine in a hospital bathroom with Gibby Haynes just after having his big toe cut off. . . he nearly lost his tattooed arm to a spider bite, died three times and lived to tell it all in the most over-the-top, full-on decadent, absolute gonzo rock & roll biography ever — Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen.
J.M. Blaine: The obvious question is this: How are you still alive?
Al Jourgensen: You know what? That’s probably the best question ever presented to me. (laughs) I’ve lost a lot of friends and mentors.… I don’t know. I don’t know how this happened. Basically because of my wife, Angie. She keeps me in check. I haven’t done drugs in eleven years, including pharmaceuticals with all their crazy side effects. I drink a little bit.
You’ve had multiple surgeries, countless car wrecks and bar fights and broken bones … if you don’t take any pharmaceuticals how do you deal with chronic pain issues?
Believe it or not, Jamie, I’ve become a hippie in my old age. I’ve gone homeopathic. They stick pins and needles in me and I take these foot baths that flush out the toxins and it must be working. I’m still alive and life’s good.
So what are you up to these days?
Shooting a video for a song called “PermaWar” from the new album out soon. You know how when you wrap a Christmas present, once you put the bow on it – it’s done?
We’re putting a bow on Ministry. Everything from the last thirty years. Some videos and a remix album. One last record. I’m tying up loose ends. It’s been that way since Mike Scaccia died last December. You know about that, huh?
I was sorry to hear it. I know you guys were real close.
He died two days after laying his final parts down. Left here in the most positive mood… Had a heart attack while playing a lead for his old band Rigor Mortis. When I die I’m going to have them drag me out to the SSL console, drape me over the board and take pictures. I wanna die in the studio. Mikey wanted to die on stage.
You write about preferring the studio to being on stage.
In the studio you are creating art. Playing live, you re-create art. It’s like doing lithographs. I know there is an art to being a live performer, but it just doesn’t interest me as much. I prefer the studio. Plus, live, there’s people throwing bottles at you and stuff.
It might surprise some people to know that in high school you were a ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynrd-loving rodeo hopeful.
I wanted to be a baseball player, but I tore up my knee. Then I wanted to be a rodeo rider. Reason being, those rodeo groupies were just insane! But this bull just kicked my ass and put me in the hospital for a long time. When I got out I figured I’d learn guitar and harmonica to meet girls. Music seemed to be the safest way to get laid. So I finally found something to do that made sense in my life.
While working on your first record you played Asteroids with Paul McCartney.
I kicked his Beatle ass in Asteroids! And he liked it! He was in the studio next door with Michael Jackson doing “Ebony and Ivory”. Sir Paul actually made time in his day to play Asteroids with me.
You gotta admit, that’s pretty cool.
It wasn’t the right Beatle, but yeah. I’m a Lennon fan and I told him that.
Oh yeah, I told Paul he was a douchebag, that Lennon was my guy and proceeded to kick his ass in Asteroids every single day. But you know, that taught me something. People like you if you are just being yourself. I wasn’t trying to be a groupie or kiss up or use them to get my agenda. I think Paul liked me.
(Author note: For full effect, cue up “Ebony and Ivory” back to back with “Revenge” while blasting some old school arcade Asteroids.)
Last month I interviewed Alan Hunter back to back with Al Yankovic and I was watching clips of vintage MTV. They played “Revenge” from your first LP. I know you hate that era, but I thought it was a great song.
Man, I was just doing what people were telling me to do. The With Sympathy album, the “Revenge” video. Clive Davis even had The Thompson Twins, who were selling a gazillion records at the time, to call me at home and say: “Please do what Clive says. He’ll make you rich.” Which I thought was really creepy. I didn’t like those people. So I stuck to music but went off on my own path.
Which worked well for you.
Thirty years later and somehow I haven’t had to get a day job yet. Couple a years ago I got my face tattooed. You’re not going to get a job at Best Buy with face tattoos, man. But I figured I was safe. I don’t have enough money to buy yachts and shit like Duran Duran but I’m doing all right. I’m fifty-five years old. I’ve got a beautiful house, beautiful recording studio, beautiful wife and animals. I’m happy with the way things turned out.
You lived with Timothy Leary for two years and call him a mentor. What’s the most important thing you learned from Dr. Tim?
I was Tim’s human guinea pig. Researchers would send him experimental drugs and he would test them on me and take notes. But the most important thing Tim taught me was that when people pay you just to be you — that’s when you’ve made it. You don’t have to do anything but be who you are. Winona Ryder’s dad bought Tim’s house and paid him a stipend. Just to be Tim. I’m working towards that now. Colleges are paying me to guest lecture, to just be Al. Tim taught me you have to make peace with yourself and be who you are.
I live in Nashville so tell me about getting Buck Owens’ blessing before he died.
Oh man… that was tough, I gotta say. People know I’ve got a lot of love for Buck Owens. Always have. They would say I was his evil twin – Buck Satan. I’ve got a side band – Buck Satan and the 666 Shooters. Buck’s assistant, his son was a huge Ministry fan so he connected us and we were getting ready to work together, but you know, Buck was a very devout Christian, and he was not down with all the Satan and 666 stuff.
I can imagine not.
Until – I told him that the name Buck Satan was to defy Satan. To buck… Satan. Understand?
I think so.
So then Buck was like, “Okay, alright, I’ll work with you. You sound cool and Dwight says good things.”
Yeah, Yoakam. I really had to peddle my ass off to get Buck Owens to see I wasn’t a Satanist, that I was defying Satan. Of course then he was dead a week later.
I seem to have that luck. I was supposed to work with Jerry Lee Lewis on a remake of “What Made Milwaukee Famous”?
One of the greatest country & western songs of all time.
Yeah, you know it! Man, he was on the way and had a heart attack. Couldn’t do it.
Tell me about your own near-death experiences.
Not near death – death! I’ve been dead three times. The second time I died, I really had the epiphany then. By the third time, I was done with dying. I didn’t want to die anymore. Three is enough. Fourth time’ll be the last.
Your wife, Angie, says you’re a very spiritual person. What does that mean?
Well, she’s got me spiritual too. I go to church with her now. She mainly goes for the lesson and I go for the band. I really love the band at this church. They are all over my new record. I have the church choir on there too.
I’m sorry, hang on a second. Let me get this right. Al Jourgensen from Ministry goes to church on Sunday morning?
Yeah. I love going to church. The band is awesome. It’s like a free eleven o’clock Sunday morning show! I mean, I give five or ten bucks in the basket but it’s worth it.
Um…not really what I was expecting today, Brother.
You know what? They teach us to act in a nice fashion and to be charitable. But I’m already there, dude. They’re preaching to the converted. I’m not an asshole, okay? I really enjoy the message of the church.
So what’s, like, your favorite church song?
They mix it up! Every week I’ve got a new one. They’ve got this kid and I’ll tell you, I don’t need some big message about spirituality when I see this ten-year old with a Hendrix afro playing Hendrix riffs in the church band. I’m just blown away.
My mind is pretty blown right now too.
Truth is, most of the time I leave my wife in the pew and go back and help mix sound. Al Jourgensen mixing sound for the Sunday morning church production. Spiritual epitaphs and such. All the sudden the name “Ministry” makes sense.
What’s your favorite ZZ Top era–Tres Hombres or Eliminator?
Come on man, that’s not a question, right? Tres Hombres. In fact, I like the first two albums even better than that. Billy Gibbons and I are good buddies. Billy’s a Republican and I’m obviously not, and yet we get along. So why can’t Congress? Billy and I don’t talk about social issues. But we will argue about infrastructure FDR-style versus free market. I think unless the Republic Party changes they’ll go the way of the Whigs. There’s too much spite, hate and stupidity. But Billy and I can disagree and still be friends and there’s a lesson to be learned in that.
Good people can disagree.
Of course. I’m a leftie but I own guns. I don’t hug trees. But it’s all about common sense. I’m not so special, neither are you. I believe the people, in general, have common sense. But it seems the lawmakers have nothing but an agenda. And that agenda always involves cash. What do you know about Tesla vs. Edison?
I’m a Tesla guy.
Exactly! Tesla could have changed the history of our civilization. I’m not just some crazy drunk, drugged-up rock musician. I’ve always wanted to teach.
Towards the end of the book you talk about how you wished you had gotten your master’s degree and taught English Lit or Political Science.
Not English Lit, history. I was a history major. I wanted to get into the pre-history history. Before the Mesopotamians. I’m talking 250,000 B.C. Not Homo Erectus. Like alien intervention and societies that had renewable energy. I wanted to teach those things but there was a very limited market in 1976. People are more open to it now. I know Political Science because I keep up with it every day.
Certainly not from CNN or Fox. I’ve got a soft spot for MSNBC. But mostly places like BBC or Huffington and Salon. I love Joan Walsh.
What do you hope that readers will take from your book?
Listen, I could go in wanderlust and hope that people would see we could make a society that works… but I’m not that stupid. They’re looking for all the groupie and drug stories, but I can hope there’s a few that might get the message.
Seems like you’re heading down the path of your mentors.
Bingo. You are exactly right. I’m from the beat generation. My body is a splinter and it’s time for me to start using my mind. So that’s where I’m heading – in the footsteps of Burroughs and Leary and Bukowski, those kind of guys. Exactly.