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The mind is a terrible thing to taste: the insane life of Ministry’s Al Jourgensen

Twenty five years ago this month, Ministry released The Land of Rape and Honey, one of FACT’s favorite albums of the 1980s.

The Land of Rape and Honey would become a touchstone for industrial metal, influence the likes of Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson, and act as a template for over two decades of Ministry’s catalog, including the band’s 1992 breakthrough Psalm 69: The Way to Succeed and the Way to Suck Eggs.

Yet no matter how influential its sound, Ministry’s greatest contribution to musical history will forever be Al Jourgensen, the band’s founder and only permanent member. In an era when the old breed of rockstars died out and the consumption of hard drugs gave way to conspicuous consumption, Jourgensen has (somehow) survived, hurling Molotov cocktails from the fringes of the mainstream with a cowboy hat on his head and (until recently) a needle in his arm.

Jourgensen finally double-tapped Ministry earlier this year, after the death of guitarist Mike Scaccia, but with the anniversary of The Land of Rape and Honey’s release, we thought it was a good a time as any to revisit some of the crazier episodes from Jourgensen’s biography. As with fellow electronic tweaker Richard D. James, separating fact from fiction is not always possible, and with stories like these, who would want to?

Wasting Warner Brothers’ money and recording with Gibby Haynes

Jourgensen told Songfacts that the $750,000 Warner Brothers gave the band to record what would become Psalm 69 promptly went “up our arms and … up our noses,” with little recorded material to show for it. All the band had completed was a speed-freaked, polyrhythmic thrasher with no vocals on it. Scrambling, Jourgensen brought Butthole Surfer and legendary rock casualty Gibby Haynes into the studio, who proved to be a “blithering idiot, talking shit, just screaming into a mike and falling off his chair.” It took Jourgensen two weeks to edit Haynes’ drunken gibberish into something usable, which Warner Brothers promptly released in an attempt to recoup some of their cash. The song, ‘Jesus Built My Hot Rod’, was a surprise hit (if not the 14-million-copies kind of hit that Jourgensen remembers), forcing Warner Brothers to “double down” on the band by giving them another $750,000 to finish the album.

Shooting heroin with William Burroughs and living with Timothy Leary

During Jourgensen’s drug-induced travels, he would befriend and collaborate with two counterculture icons, author William S. Burroughs and psychedelics-advocate Timothy Leary. Burroughs appears on B-side ‘Quick Fix’ and in the video for ‘Just One Fix’, and naturally, Jourgensen says he did heroin with the Beat Generation’s preeminent junkie:

“So then I’m sitting there, and he pulls out this like 1950s Pulp Fiction kind of tool belt with needles in it. Like old school, 1950s, huge needles. And he meticulously took that out, found a vein – I don’t know how you’d find a vein in a 70 year old guy, but he knew what he was doing. So we all shot up together and we’re all stoned on his couch in his living room. And I notice there was a letter on his desk in front of me that was from the White House. Okay? And I’m like, Bill, it’s not even opened. And I’m just like, ‘Are you going to open this?’ He goes, ‘Nahhh, it’s probably junk mail.’ … So I open it and there’s a letter from President Bill Clinton asking him to speak at the White House during some Naked Lunch excerpts or whatever. So I was like, ‘Man, this is big.’ And the only thing he said was, ‘Who’s president nowadays?’ He didn’t know. He didn’t even know Bill Clinton was president.”

Jourgensen lived with Leary for the two years before the LSD expert’s passing, and despite acting as Leary’s “human guinea pig,” Jourgensen describes Leary as a mentor who was “more of a father to me than my own.” Jourgensen would produce and perform on Leary’s 1996 “album” Beyond Life With Timothy Leary, which was released posthumously, appropriately enough.

Finding a fan in Stanley Kubrick and naming pornos with Steven Spielberg

While developing what would become Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence, legendary director Stanley Kubrick sought out Ministry to write music for and appear in the film. Although Jourgensen initially took the call from Kubrick’s office to be a prank, the two eventually connected. Jourgensen was floored that Kubrick was a fan of the band, who allegedly heard a Ministry album on the set of Eyes Wide Shut and appreciated Ministry’s sample of Full Metal Jacket on ‘Thieves’.

When Spielberg took over on the film after Kubrick’s death, Jourgensen did not make a great first impression. Likening meeting Spielberg to “meeting the Queen,” Jourgensen joked to the director that he thought A.I. stood for “Anal Intruder,” and that the film was to be porn. Spielberg was not amused, but Jourgensen eventually smoothed things over. “So every day [after that] he’d come up and he’d name a new porn title,” Jourgensen says. “And then he finally started wearing my cowboy hat and started jamming with us on stage.”

Making enemies throughout the industry

There doesn’t seem to be anyone in the music business about which Jourgensen doesn’t have a story. A brief run-down (mostly via Jourgensen’s autobiography): he stole drugs from Courtney Love, beat up R. Kelly for “freaking out” his daughter and urinating on a piano in his studio, attacked Metallica with a literal ass-load of vegetables, told Madonna she smelled like shit, suggested Trent Reznor and Morrissey should play Russian Roulette together, served as the inspiration for ‘Til Tuesday’s ‘Voices Carry’, dated White Zombie bassist Sean Yseult and nearly drove their car off a cliff, and convinced Fred Durst to record vocals while wearing nothing except for a cowboy hat — and received $10,000 for his advice.

Blowing up a tour bus and heckling Beyonce

Jourgensen’s been responsible for more escapades in his life than the average human being, we know that, but even he reckons these two moments were a bit, well, special. The first was an episode recounted in his recent autobiography The Lost Gospels where he managed to blow up the Ministry tour bus. He’d scored a huge firework (from a “toothless guy who smelled of urine” no less) and became restless, marveling at the fact that it looked like a “giant phallic pipe bomb.” Jourgensen lit the thing, and started playing hot potato with the rest of the band, which at the time included Gibby Haynes. Of course when the firework did explode, it took the tour bus with it, and Jourgensen recalled exclaiming, “Man, this is cool. Look at all the colors and smoke. The bus is on fire!”

More recently, Jourgensen was convinced by his wife Angie to actually attend a Grammy Awards ceremony (he’d been nominated six different times), but he wasn’t there for long. Within an hour he was kicked out for screaming abuse at Beyonce and Rascal Flats, something that probably made sense to him at the time. His excuse? “I didn’t know who these people were I just heckled them because they sucked.”

For extra-terrestrial encounters, lost appendages, and comic books, use your keyboard’s arrow keys or hit the prev / next arrows on your screen to turn pages (page 1/2)

The mind is a terrible thing to taste: the insane life of Ministry’s Al Jourgensen

Political commentary and a natural mathematic aptitude

Jourgensen has never kept his political leanings a secret – his catalogue over the years has been pretty scathing of the two separate Bush administrations (House of Molé was a thinly veiled reference to Dubya) and he even attempted to get half a million young voters registered by setting up voter registration booths (manned by Jourgensen himself) at Ministry shows.

His views were laid out quite succinctly in a fantastic 1993 article from RIP Magazine, where he used their regular column Idol Chatter as a platform to air his views on the state of the nation. Here are some choice snippets:

“American society is the stupidest as a whole, it’s the absolute stupidest society in the known world, without a doubt.”

“Bush was the head of the CIA, running coke for all those years, and the people don’t really care.”

“Dan Quayle? There’s gotta be someone running the wires and puppet shit that makes his mouth move.”

“Out environment has been destroyed. The apocalypse is here!”

He didn’t just use his brain cells for ruminating on the broken state of US politics however, according to his ex wife Patty, Jourgensen is also “a math whiz.”

“He could multiply numbers in his head faster than I could punch them into a calculator – BIG numbers. We were friends with Timothy Leary who was part of the academic and scientific community. Al used to be able to sit with Tim’s theoretical physicist friends and discuss mathematical equations like he did that for a living.”

Supernatural assault and extra-terrestrial encounters

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that a person who refers to himself as Alien P. Jourgensen actually believes that little green (or indeed gray) men are hovering around our solar system spying on us and going about their galactic business. Let’s put aside the fact that Jourgensen released an EP called Alien Christmas for a moment – he actually claims that he knows aliens actually exist: “I’ve had a few run-ins with them, Angie can vouch for me.” When asked by the Washington Times about the last time he saw an alien, he explained that he’d had a close encounter “a little Gray” eight years prior:

“I’ve seen the Nordics, I’ve seen the Grays, but apparently there’s 52 different kinds of alien species fighting for our space up in the sky every night. I’ve only seen two of them, two species. And the two species I saw, I was not afraid of or felt threatened in any way. They’re just kinda curious about what the f**k is going on down here.”

Of course, it doesn’t stop at aliens; Jourgensen also has a healthy belief in all things supernatural, and has had a number of run-ins with ghosts. The Lost Gospels contains a story about when he was dating singer Aimee Mann in the mid-1980s. Jourgensen was living in an old apartment in Boston which he claims was haunted – not just the apartment but “Boston in general.” Apparently the place was “haunted as shit because some lady threw herself down the elevator shaft there in the ’40s,” and she “hated other women.” After sex, Jourgensen explains the couple would “be basking in the afterglow and all these books and bottles would go flying off the shelf and smash into the wall.” Now that’s a story.

Reworking the theme song of NCIS just to piss people off

Never one to be pigeonholed, Al Jourgensen has long maintained an interest in music far beyond what he was necessarily known for, which has been known to confuse people on occasion. When he was contacted by a music supervisor for major US TV show NCIS, and was asked to provide a rework of the theme song, he asked specifically what the supervisor wanted. “We just want you to be you Al” was the cop-out reply, and when Jourgensen handed over a “heavy, dubby song” he was greeted with the response “This is horrific!”

Jourgensen decided that what the supervisor really wanted was a rehash of Ministry’s Land of Rape and Honey single ‘Stigmata’, so wrote ‘Stigmata Part 2’ as a joke. “It was the same song with one slight chord variation. Instead of holding and bending the third chord in the main riff, I played it in two strums. I added the same kind of beat and electronic percussion behind it. And I sent him that to piss him off.” Of course, the supervisor loved it (“he was practically cumming in his pants”), and the track made it to the official NCIS soundtrack intact.

Losing blood and losing appendages

Since kicking his heroin habit, Jourgensen had opened up about the effects of his addiction. Along with several almost-fatal overdoses and a battle with Hepatitis C, Jourgensen had a gangrenous toe amputated (due to an infected needle wound) and nearly lost his arm to a spider bite that occurred while “sleeping on some heroin dealer’s couch.”

While those close calls weren’t enough to make him quit, a shocking 2010 incident did the trick. Jourgensen says that he had more than a dozen bleeding ulcers on his GI tract, and that he lost 65% of his blood after one ulcer burst. How close was it to being Jourgensen’s final story? “I flat-lined and they brought me back.”

Looking to the future with comic books and collaborations

Even Al Jourgensen himself never expected to last this long, which might explain why he’s found it hard to take it easy in recent years. While Ministry might be coming to an end (for real this time, apparently), Jourgensen announced this year that he’d be collaborating with rapper Lil Wayne, of all people. What shouldn’t be surprising is that the duo’s chance meeting somewhat predictably involved alcohol. Jourgensen didn’t know who the hell Weezy was at first (“It was this black guy who was pissed off at his cell phone service”) but after breakfast, which “included a lot of vodka and Jack Daniels and shit like that” they talked for a while and Jourgensen concluded that he was “a cool dude.” In regards to the proposed collaboration, Jourgensen has said, cryptically “I don’t know what the hell’s gonna happen with that one.”

Aside from music, Jourgensen is on the road to finishing his first novel, thankfully entitled Persuasion, rather than Mind Fuck, as it was originally titled. Said to detail a serial killer who “goes around to dive bars and talks downtrodden people into killing themselves by the power of persuasion,” the book has been in the works for an epic 28 years, and Jourgensen is attempting to write its screenplay simultaneously. This isn’t all; Jourgensen has also teamed up with British artist Sam Shearon (who worked on the recent KISS comics) to create the comic book series Ministry: The Devil’s Chord – The Chronicles of Alien F. Jourgensen. Each issue will be based on a different Ministry album, and will follow a protagonist who discovered that his super powers are triggered by playing music. He also has to fight aliens, deal with government corruption and get to the bottom of conspiracy theories – what else?

For exploding tour buses, industry enemy lists, and naming pornos with Steven Spielberg, use your keyboard’s arrow keys or hit the prev / next arrows on your screen to turn pages (page 2/2)

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