Back from the dead
With an autobiography out and the final Ministry album imminent, frontman Al Jourgensen reflects on his mayhem-filled life and brushes with the supernatural
Making a telephone call to Al Jourgensen, frontman of the hell-raising industrial rock band Ministry, at his compound in El Paso, Texas, can be intimidating.
After all, this is a musician who hurled firecrackers at Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor just for fun ("This is what we did with the people we liked"), threw furniture off hotel balconies while it was on fire, had his compound raided by 32 members of the FBI, DEA, ATF and IRS (they didn't find anything), and let's not even get into what he did to the wheelchair-bound female midget with a colostomy bag.
That's just for starters.
But one can feel the charm, the charisma and even gain an idea of how much wine he's had to drink the moment the 54-year-old six-time Grammy nominee picks up the phone. "I'm glad you wanted to talk to me, the drunk a******," he says by way of a greeting. "And maybe you can get my book to Edward Snowden. That would be great!"
The book he's referring to is the new autobiography, The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen, which has been published ahead of next month's release of what Jourgensen says will be the final Ministry album, From Beer to Eternity. The book, co-written with music journalist Jon Wiederhorn, starts with Jourgensen literally dying and ends with him saying goodbye to his best friend and Ministry guitarist Mike Scaccia, who suffered a fatal heart attack while performing onstage. In between, the pages drip with stories so insane that they make Led Zeppelin's tales of rock'n'roll excess seem like child's play.
From the early 1980s, when he was singing over industrial dance music using a faux British accent, to the 2000s, when he was skewering the likes of the Bush family on his heavy metal releases, Jourgensen's US$1,000-a-day addiction to cocaine and heroin had him at death's door several times.
Or as he is quick to point out: "I was dead, dude. Let's call a spade a spade." He growls: "That last one was bad. The second one I was floating all around the room, knew where everyone was in the room. It gave me an understanding of the afterlife and what happens as a human being. The third time freaked me out. Cats are supposed to have nine lives. That was my third and I don't want to be a third of a cat. The fourth time is the charm for me, but I hope that doesn't happen for a while."
Although he survived the continuous mayhem he inflicted on himself and others for much of his life, Jourgensen is at least able to admit that they make for great party tales. His wife Angie, a former groupie who helped him kick the habit and became his saviour years later, thought otherwise. "She said, 'Why don't you write it down, hand it out and shut the f*** up'. She really pushed this book. It was actually pretty weird. It was difficult."
Jourgensen had known co-author Wiederhorn for 18 years, and over the course of several week-long sessions, the singer revealed everything, warts and all. "We sat there for a week, got s***-faced, hammered, drunk … and he just let the tape recorder roll," says Jourgensen.
What Wiederhorn learned by interviewing everyone from Jourgensen's stepfather to longtime bandmates was the story of a boy born to a single teenage mother in Cuba. When his grandfather, an engineer, got a position at a research facility in Wisconsin, Jourgensen moved to the US with his grandparents. Later, when his mother married a stock car driver, he joined them in Chicago. By all accounts, he loved sports and music until his teen years when he started experimenting with drugs.
From there, the drug use escalated, as did petty thefts, sexual experimentation, stints in jail and bizarre antics. "I was very hostile during every session with Wiederhorn," he says. "Why is this so important for people to find out? Who … cares what a Kardashian is doing today, or even the Osbournes? I'm a very private person and this is just something my wife told me to do as a homework project."
But you'll care if you're at all interested in first-hand encounters with a who's who of pop culture, as Jorgensen drops the names of everyone from Led Zeppelin lead singer Robert Plant to porn star Ron Jeremy. Jourgensen also hilariously skewers Madonna, claiming her body odour could clear a room.
But Jourgensen reserves kind words for LSD guru Timothy Leary, who became a father figure late in life. "I had a lot of problems with my stepdad and found someone I could really trust," says Jourgensen. "And when I say trust, I mean he would get a new chemical from California that wasn't registered or known, and let me inject it."
He was also fond of beat generation author William S. Burroughs, who he met and dropped acid with during the video shoot for Ministry's 1990s hit single Just One Fix. He told the author that methadone-addicted raccoons were easier to gun down. "He shot them and he loved me after that. He thought I was the smartest young man he'd ever met. That's how our relationship started."
Another long relationship Jourgensen claims to have had is with aliens. He calls them "the greys". He says three first visited him when he was five years old and left a green triangle on his neck. They reappeared when Angie was pregnant - and the baby disappeared, even though she didn't have a miscarriage. "I saw a tall grey with hair, she seemed female," he says nonchalantly. "I'm not afraid of them. I'm not hostile towards them. I wish they ran a record label. They should take over Hollywood. We'd have better movies."
During the past decade, Jourgensen hit rock bottom before bouncing back. Due to drug use, he lost a toe, most of his teeth and almost an arm, suffered kidney and liver failure, and became infected with every kind of hepatitis. Virtually suicidal in New York City, he returned to Angie and kicked heroin once and for all.
For legal reasons, in The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen, he couldn't name all the names and tell all the tales. "If I'm dead, they'll print it," he laughs. "All the stuff edited out here will go in the next book. You're worth more dead than alive!"
In the immediate future, he plans to invite Wiederhorn to finish a novel he's been working on for 28 years, about a serial killer who murders by thought alone. Plus there's a comic strip being launched in Britain titled Captains of Industry, in which Jourgensen's character has super powers.
There's also the final Ministry album From Beer to Eternity, a loud, bone-crushing FX-laden set of songs that contain Scaccia's final guitar recordings. Via Jourgensen's trademark processed vocals, the album also attacks topics such as the media and the state of the world.
Content to remain reclusive, drink and record at home, Jourgensen is also at peace with the mayhem he's caused to himself and those around him. "I read the book once and thought 'People do stupid stuff', but without it, I wouldn't be where I am today. Without death, I wouldn't be as spiritual today. So I don't regret anything, outside of Madonna. That lady stinks …"
From Beer to Eternity will be released on September 6