From Beer to Eternity is Ministry’s final record, but the industrial metal band’s founder/frontman is not dead yet.
BY SELENA FRAGASSI
When Al Jourgensen dies, a portion of his ashes will be sent into space, the perfect final viewpoint where he can still look down upon the world and snicker and sneer at its pitfalls. It’s a parting gift from his late mentor Timothy Leary, which is shared in one of the more tame passages in his new memoir Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen. In 278 pages (co-written with MTV and Rolling Stone veteran Jon Wiederhorn), we learn how the “father of industrial metal” first came in to this world, three months early with a failing liver and hearing loss—and the numerous times he nearly exited it in a trifecta of overdoses.
But don’t fire up the rockets just yet. As vehemently declared on 2012’s Relapse album, Jourgensen is still proud to say, “I’m not dead yet.” Ministry, however, is a different story.
“Ministry is done,” the 55-year-old confirms during a Skype session from his 13th Planet compound in El Paso, Texas. “There will never be another album under that name.” Sure, he’s said it before, nearly every album of the last six years to be exact, but when it comes to the just released 13th record From Beer to Eternity, Jourgensen affirms, “I 100% guarantee it this time.”
The album is a fitting way to put a period mark on an illustrious 30-year journey that once began as a new wave project (Google “Cold Life”), invented the term industrial, ignited the ever-important Wax Trax! record label and countless side projects like Revolting Cocks and Lard, and birthed a character, who for better or worse, has always entertained us. More importantly, From Beer to Eternity (released earlier this month on the AFM label) is the last album featuring the late guitarist Mike Scaccia, largely credited with providing Ministry with its elemental metal backbone. He died onstage in a reunion show with his founding band Rigor Mortis literally days after the final Ministry recording sessions in late 2012. Without him, Jourgensen doesn’t see a reason to move on with the band.
“It would have been so easy for me to hire some L.A. gun to fill in for Mikey, there’s a million of them to choose from, but I think it’s proper to close the chapter instead of trying to promote his death and make money off it,” Jourgensen admits, saying that this last album is probably the best work the band has ever done.
Besides, there’s something else taking his attention these days: “I’m transitioning from industrial rocker to guerilla tactic author.”
It started when his wife, Angie, was sick of hearing his drunk stories on date nights. “We’d end up in these social functions like a dinner party or the symphony, some classy situation where I was totally out of my element. So I’d get drunk and by the end of the night, the whole party was standing around me listening to my debauched tales. Angie got sick of hearing it night after night. She’s like, ‘Just write a pamphlet and hand it out before you come in the room.’ Instead I wrote a book to hand out,” Jourgensen says, laughing in a way that is a clear warning to never challenge him to anything.
Although the offer to pen a biography had come upon his desk six times before, he refused until Weiderhorn approached him at the right time. The two spent several weeks together at Jourgensen’s sprawling Texas compound, which he rarely leaves for fear of getting into more trouble. And after reading some of the lurid tales in this book, you can see why. Amongst all the frat house recaps of OD’ing, fist fights and groupie love, there’s FBI raids, alien invasions, skinheads and stalkers and every “untold story of the E.R.” you could imagine. There’s also the raunchy stories of run-ins with familiar folk that makes you wish this was a picture book—the Trent Reznor hazing, Metallica having an ass sandwich handed to them and various kiss and tell commentary of a variety of paramours from Aimee Mann (sweet) to Sean Yseult (domestic) and that pity fuck for Courtney Love (looks like Davy Crockett down under).
With all the drugs Jourgensen’s done, you’d have to wonder just how much of it is really true. But he stands by all of it, and so does Wiederhorn and the publisher’s legal teams who called sources that verified witness accounts. You really can’t make up groupies “trying out” with a Great Dane, could you?
Jourgensen hasn’t read Lost Gospels himself, but he was so creatively inspired by the process that he decided to finish another book, this time on his own. Called Mind Fuck, it’s a fictional project 28 years in the making about a serial killer in Chicago, the city that the singer used to call home. “It’s about this killer that can’t get convicted because he doesn’t actually kill anyone, he just has the power of persuasion to talk people into killing themselves,” Jourgensen divulges, noting how much he has been studying up on the judicial system to make sure it’s authentic. (He’s currently in the process of finalizing the last chapters and writing the screenplay for release early next year, which will be followed by a spoken word tour and university lecture circuit.)
If you’re having a hard time picturing the Psalm 69 singer snuggled up with his laptop in a corner armchair at Starbucks or donning a cardigan and walking across campus, you’ve got him all wrong. Jourgensen never wanted to be a rock star. “I always wanted to be a teacher,” he admits. It was when Wax Trax! caught on to his ‘bedroom accident’ “Every Day is Halloween” that everything changed. “I realized rock music paid a hell of a lot more money than teaching, and I had to pay the bills so I kept at it.”
In a way, all those years of decrying Bush politics, criticizing warmongering and charging up the 99% were his askew attempt at imparting knowledge to throngs of disaffected youth: “Sure, did I try to put some messages in my lyrics and music that people can relate to? Yes, and I guess that was in a sense teaching.”
Jourgensen has always been interested in learning, most notably about politics and societal issues, even from the age of 10 when he’d pass up Saturday morning cartoons for the newspaper. He was born in the hotbed of Cuba after all and grew up watching his middle-class family try to make do in America when they emigrated to the Midwest in the ‘60s, his mother a single teen mom who met and quickly married Jourgensen’s stepfather, a man who once dreamed of being a NASCAR driver but gave it up to find real work to support his family.
According to his book, little Al had a stable upbringing filled with Little League and guitar lessons, but by the dawning of his teenage years, he was stealing cars, doing drugs and getting kicked out of school. His parents tried mental institutions, electroshock therapy and a Chicago-area group home for troubled youth called Maryville—but little worked to curb his addictions. The setup was just the beginning of a long and treacherous road that would lead him astray for much of his life as a musician.
Music began innocently enough for Jourgensen. One of his first loves, a fledgling art student named Shannon, asked him to produce some tracks for her installation projects and got him a job in the music department of the Art Institute of Chicago where he tinkered and experimented with electronic instruments for the first time. As Jourgensen’s connections grew, though, and along with it the record contracts, the insane payouts and the demands for more production, he faltered and turned to more and more substances to cope.
“All that music caused me was pain, depression and addiction,” he laments in his book. It got so bad that one day, Jourgensen woke up and was resolute in killing himself. Not wanting to leave the world alone, he made one last phone call—to a former groupie whose number was crumpled up on a piece of paper in his wallet. That phone call literally saved his life. On the other line was Angelina, his now wife, who helped him kick his habits and the “snake pit” of record labels when they met 11 years ago.
Thanks to her, life has calmed for Jourgensen since. Now most days are spent with his dogs Lemmy and Ozzy (whose lives are profiled on their own Facebook page), watching his beloved Chicago Blackhawks games and, together with Angie, running the operation that is 13th Planet Records.
“She’s my Sharon Osbourne. Without Sharon, Ozzy is a complete mess; without Angie, I’m a complete mess,” Jourgensen says, calling her his guardian angel. “If not for her, I would seriously be in a trailer park in New Mexico, one of those guys with fingernails six inches long, unkempt and unbathed… I’m much more prone to the Unabomber image than having to deal with this world and these people.”
As he sits in front of me on a computer screen, it’s clear that Jourgensen’s current “image” is just as big an eff you to society as the Unabomber’s was, with a baker’s dozen facial piercings outlining his eyebrows, nose and mouth and an enlarged, winged tattoo covering his forehead—all of which were personal trophies after getting sober the last time. On the day of our conversation, however, the former leather jacket/black bandana/motorcycle glove-wearing rocker looks like he maybe just got back from the Caribbean with matted dreadlocks pinned under a tri-color Rasta beanie. This, too, is a new transition for Jourgensen—his latest addictions being THC and hardcore Jamaican dub music.
“It’s the only thing that really interests me in music now,” he says. The electronic reggaeton that was first introduced to him in London years ago when he was working with producer Adrian Sherwood. “It’s coming back to haunt me.”
Otherwise, he says, “there’s very few interesting bands these days. It all sounds like elevator music to me.” Jourgensen genuinely feels for new artists who have to enter the industry’s hamster wheel. “There’s no payoff to being creative. To get ahead now, you have to out-twerk each other.”
For Jourgensen, music’s always been cutthroat—in his book, he alleges countless stolen profits and a life insurance policy taken out on him by a former bandmate—and he’s seen too many people literally killed by the demands and the lifestyle of the business, from Dimebag Darrell to River Phoenix and his own bandmates Paul Raven and Scaccia. “You start to feel like Spinal Tap after awhile,” he says. “I think this shit is jinxed and I don’t want to kill anymore people,” including himself.
Jourgensen believes there must be some reason he is still kicking after all this time anyway. Perhaps it will be revealed in some new book or album or maybe he will finally get to teach and change the world. There’s plenty of time to get lost in space later.