These are from Wolverhampton, UK, shot for Kerrang! magazine, May 13th 2000 issue. There are a bunch more pictures (that will be up when I can find them), but, sadly, it was the last time I got to see them play and the last time I got to get hammered with Dimebag.
Archive for » February, 2010 «
These were shot in Kings Cross, London back when Rated R came out. I can’t remember the year, but if I can be arsed I’ll look it up. There’s a bunch more somewhere, I’ll add them if/when I find them.
It’s about half an hour before Airbourne are due to hit the Jagermiester stage at The Rockstar Mayhem Festival in San Bernardino, California, and 25 year old frontman Joel O’Keeffe has just stomped off in the opposite direction wielding a crowbar. He doesn’t look happy. Apparently some bright spark has decided to put padlocks on most of the backstage toilets, reserving them for more important bottoms than those of the opening bands. When Joel returns the padlocks are gone. It’s a small, but nonetheless important victory and one that unites us all, (hey, we all need to crap), but more so it’s an indication that here, if you’ll excuse the pun, is a man who takes shit from no one. It’s the first of many such battles throughout the day, another fuck you to petty rules and regulations.
“We’ve been bashing heads with a few of the rules,” smiles Joel mischievously.
Indeed, before they even get on stage the band are faced with a billboard full of bureaucracy about ‘responsible drinking’ which, from the makers of fucking Jagermiester, is frankly ludicrous. During an utterly glorious half hour set Airbourne break most of those rules and some that Jagermiester have yet to think of, Joel throwing beers out to the crowd, swigging liquor (rather bizarrely Jack Daniel’s in a Jager bottle) and then charging Angus Young style into the crowd while an unknown young lady wiggles her pink bits about on stage. In fairness it should be noted that up until today the band have been grudgingly respectful of Jagermiester’s wishes, but yesterday their monitors were turned off because they ran slightly over time, so all bets are off.
“We’re like “fuck it, we’re not gonna play by the rules anymore!” shrugs Joel. “They said you can’t throw alcohol into the crowd because there’s underage kids, but maybe they want a drink so I’ll throw it out there. And if you’re gonna fine us then take it out of the fucking fuck all you’re paying us. There’s a point where you have to stand up for who you are and we really stand up for rock n roll. It’s a war for a good time: you can’t smoke here, can’t drink there, can’t do this or that…it’s a war for freedom!”
To fully understand the band’s unflinching attitude, assuming you don’t already, it is perhaps easiest to look at their origins. Raised some three hours drive from Melbourne, Australia, in Warrnambool, a country town of about 32,000 people, whose main export, besides dairy products, seems to be Aussie rules football players, Airbourne were outsiders before they were even a band. Having discovered such gems as AC/DC and Rose Tattoo at the tender age of nine, via his uncle’s record collection, Joel picked up his first guitar at eleven. By the time Joel was fifteen, his younger brother Ryan (then eleven years old) had bought his first drum kit and the two began bashing away trying to emulate their heroes, much to the delight of their neighbours who constantly called the cops to complain about the noise. Unfortunately it wasn’t just the neighbours and the boys in blue who objected to these long-haired tearaways: at school they’d find themselves in
constant fights with Blink(ered) 182 favouring jocks, who although bigger and stronger, often found themselves on the losing end of a kicking.
“We’re little cunts,” laughs Joel, using the C word with impressive regularity, “and these are big fuckers, big footie blokes. But from that age we learned to stand up to them. At the end of the day, they’re fighting because they wanna pick on someone; we’re fighting because we fucking believe in it! They’d realize that half way through, when they’d knocked you down a couple of times and you keep getting back up. They’re not gonna win!”
Not that school held any particular fascination to these aspiring young rock stars.
“Cunts,” says the singer who could swear for his country, “are going to school these days, they go to uni for five years and then they can’t get a job! They’ve got a massive loan to pay off and the employment system’s fucked, so at 24 they’re got the biggest debt of their lives! There’s so many things against you and that’s where rock n roll comes in cos you can just let loose. Go to a rock n roll show and forget everything!”
Except, of course, that it’s not quite that simple. It wasn’t until 2003 that the brothers recruited bassist Justin Street and guitarist David Roads, solidifying their line up and they’d often get just one gig a month, first band on, playing to no one. Like AC/DC said, it’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock n roll!
“It’s really tough,” nods Joel. “Australia’s like building a brick wall, you’ve just gotta do it brick by brick and it takes a long fucking time!’
From one gig a month Airbourne progressed to a two month residency at a little pub in Melbourne called the Duke Of Windsor and soon began to sell the place out. Brick by brick until they had, not so much a wall, but a huge fucking castle! After all, not everyone gets to open for The Rolling Stones and Iron Maiden let alone tour with both Motorhead and their idols Rose Tattoo!
“Oh mate, those guys will teach you a lesson when you’re in a band,” beams Joel. “They’re the bands that got us into playing and then you get on the same stage and it goes full circle and it blows you away! Then to meet them and find out that they’re nice, but they’re tough… Like, Angry Anderson’s 60 and he’s diving into the audience, giving it every last drop for every show! And Lemmy and the boys just slay them every night! It just teaches you that rock n roll is still real and it’s still alive. We were so excited to be there that on one of the first nights on the tour we kind of overstepped the mark.”
By this he means that, aside from Ryan throwing up in Motorhead’s dressing room, Joel managed to break part of the lighting rig before deciding that, rather than miss Ace Of Spades, he’d take a piss on the PA.
“We broke a whole bunch of shit,” he concludes ruefully. ”The next day we said sorry to the tour manager, like. “we’re in your house and last night we fucked up. We won’t fuck up again.” They took the bill away and said “cos you guys are cool we’re not gonna charge you for a bunch of broken shit…just don’t do it again!”
Clearly there are no hard feelings since they persuaded Lemmy to appear in their Runnin’ Wild video “for a bottle of Jack and a bag of chips” and have been confirmed, this very day, as support for Motorhead on their upcoming US tour, another place where it seems Airbourne have a lot of bricklaying to do. Low on the bill for this tour and with only eight people showing up for yesterday’s meet and greet, there is, nonetheless, an odd sense that we’re dealing with unknown superstars. Make no mistake, Airbourne are going to be massive, but today they get to wander about virtually unrecognized: when David Roads comes to watch Slipknot later in the night with the Hammer, no one bats an eyelid. And it’s pretty obvious that none of the security know who Joel is, refusing to let him into catering because he’s left his pass on the tour bus, despite the fact that he wouldn’t be backstage at all if he didn’t actually have a pass.
“I’m gonna go there anyway mate,” shrugs Joel leaving the bemused security (who are not allowed to leave their post) in his wake. Another petty rule ignored.
But while it’s truly refreshing to see a hard-drinking, hard-fighting band who walk the bad boy walk instead of just talking the talk, isn’t there a chance that they’ll get swallowed up by the major corporations just like everyone else? After all, this whole Rockstar Mayhem Tour (that’ll be Rockstar Energy Drink) is a gigantic billboard for everyone from Budwieser to Hot Topic, and Airbourne have already sold their songs to several video games,notably NASCAR 08 and 09.
“Yeah, there’s a lot of branding and shit like that,” sighs Joel, “but it gives us the chance to get out to a lot of people who wouldn’t necessarily know who we are. At the end of the day we play hard and they get that. And with the games, some people look at it as selling out and some look at it as buying in. Radio’s not what it was and games get out to kids: if they have a few beers at home and get on a game at home and wanna drive fast I think that’s cool.”
Fair enough. There is, after all, a world of difference between that and, say, Transplants selling a song to a shampoo commercial and making it effectively unlistenable ever after.
“Well there’s some things you just don’t do!” laughs Joel. “Parents hate kids who play games all the time, like “you should be doing your homework instead of playing games!” But there’s things that you don’t give in to like shampoo and all that shit! There’s a lot of people who try to push you to say yes, but we’ve learned that when you need to say no you stand up and say fucking no! We do who we are and we don’t ever lay down our guns! You’ve either gotta be true to it or you’re gonna get chewed up. Rock n roll’s always been about being fucking wild and not being part of the system. It’s not really against it, but it’s still “fuck you! Don’t tell me how to live!” Y’know, if I wanna drive at 150 and I’m not gonna kill anyone, then I’ll fucking drive at 150!’
No one, it seems, tells Airbourne what to do: not even each other! Waving a septic looking thumb about, Joel explains “Its healing up now, but when we played with Iron Maiden me and Ryan had a fight out the back and he almost bit my thumb off! We have a few scraps here and there, but we get along. We disagree about a few things but never about music. Thing is, when we’re fighting for something we’re a team and the aggression we have towards each other turns on whoever’s attacking us. We’re really narrow minded because all we wanna do is play rock n roll!”
But isn’t there a chance that Airbourne are about 20 years too late? Rock n roll’s rarely dangerous anymore and while Joel might put the pedal to the metal in his V8 Holden Commodore “Australian yobbo car”, people are so used to speed cameras and CCTV and smoking bans and ID cards that they simply might not get it.
“Well at some of our shows you see the switch that goes off in people’s heads,” argues Joel. “They’ve turned up from living in that homogenized environment and you see it go off. I mean, we promote breaking rules and just fucking living. If you’re playing a pub that says you can’t smoke then just fucking light up a cigarette! It’s not like some security guard is gonna stop 1000 people. People realize that once they’ve got the power of numbers then they can do what the fuck they want and that’s when they start jumping on stage and crowd surfing and doing what they wanna do. The music scene changed really dramatically in the early 90’s and everything started to get safer, but I think there’s bands coming around now who are more like ”you only get one life. Let’s go for it!”
You really do live it don’t you!
“Oh mate, it’s the only way to be!” grins Joel, before heading off into the night in search of wine, women and song. “You’re only given one chance at this and you’ve gotta make the most of it. You wanna shag as many women as you can, drink as much as you can, live as much of it as you can! You never know when the bus is gonna run off the road or something so treat every day like it’s your last.”
It’s dark enough in Marilyn Manson’s dressing room that your eyes take a moment to adjust, the AC gently whirring the room to a perfect temperature, like how you’d imagine a vintage wine cellar, the black drape across the door giving the impression that you’ve entered a fortune tellers tent at a circus. Manson nods his gigantic bodyguard away and offers a glass of Absinthe. No thanks: it makes me go a bit mental.
“Mental?” Manson raises an eyebrow as if intrigued, but hands over an already opened beer.
Given The God Of Fuck’s reputation, or at least his perceived reputation, taking an open beer from him could be risky, it could be laced with roofies, liquid acid, ground up human remains, who knows?… But fuck it, it’s been a long day and, despite ringing ears and sunburn, it’s about to take an unexpected turn. Manson, reportedly shellshocked after his recent treatment by the UK’s tabloids and steering clear of the press, is about to give Metal Hammer one of his most candid interviews, turning our allotted five minutes (the most any band is doing today) into almost an hour. We were only here to review the show.
But the notion of reviewing the second annual Mayhem Festival, at San Manuel Amphitheater in San Bernardino, California, in any traditional sense, is completely absurd anyway. By midday the temperatures are nudging over 100 degrees and, side-by-side, the Jagermiester and Hot Topic stages are situated so you have to look directly into the sun or get a mouthful of dust and stray elbows venturing into the pit for a better view. Sure, it’s a great day for rock at a historic venue (the site of the first Ozzfest back in ‘96, for starters) with a line up that includes (among others) Cannibal Corpse, God Forbid, Behemoth, Trivuim, Killswitch Engage, Slayer and, of course, Manson. But, make no mistake, this can be a hostile environment: there have been numerous gang beatings here in past years and today Nazi skinheads openly sport swastika tattoos, while overaggressive cops look for any excuse to fuck with people, keeping an unnecessarily keen eye on the
Nevada and California Hells Angels in attendance. Add to that the fact that “for your safety” no outside water, food or umbrellas are allowed, the recommended eight glasses of water per day costing $40, and the best you can do is watch a couple of bands back to back before finding some shade like the hundreds of kids crammed under the Union Ice Company truck trying to catch its drippings. It’s not too far from here that former UFC middleweight champion Evan Tanner died from heat exhaustion on a road trip last year and sooner or later someone will die here too if the policies don’t change. They’re probably blame Marilyn Manson.
Highlights from the two stages include The Black Dahlia Murder who whip up a tornado of sound and demand to see us “banging our sweaty assed heads!”, Cannibal Corpse, who offer such revolting classics as ‘I Cum Blood’, and Trivium, who rather foolishly suggest that American crowds can be louder than Europeans (they’re not!). Despite Bullet For My Valentine frontman Matt Tuck “struggling with the heat”, the UK’s only representatives on the tour open the main stage with a slick performance of their heavier songs, followed by Killswitch Engage who don’t, mostly because guitarist Adam D seems to think he’s in Motley Crue and keeps demanding to see girls tits. Thankfully we can sneak away for a quick chat with Slayer who consider this a hometown gig even though it’s in a different county, and were one of the bands here on that first Ozzfest.
“This place changes names every year and then people come to town and they don’t know where the fuck to go!” laughs guitarist Kerry King. “It used to be brutal for other bands. If you were in front of Slayer they’d throw shit at you until you left. It’s still every bit as crazy. I expect chaos out here today! There’s a lot of cops out there though: this is the first signing I’ve done where I’ve had cops with me and I’m like ‘wow, this is kind of weird!’ But then when it’s LA and Slayer there’s definitely shenanigans!”
For the record, King thinks it’s “kind of cool” that Slayer were banned from playing LA for nearly a decade after a riot at the Hollywood Palladium in 1988.
So Slayer do tonight what Slayer do best: ‘War Ensemble’, ‘Dead Skin Mask’, ‘God Hates Us All’, flames, pentagrams, a new song called ‘Psychopathy’ that’ll rip out your spleen and slap you around the head with it… You know the score. Unrelenting and brilliant.
By comparison Manson struggles early in the set, with the opener ‘We’re From America’ actually getting booed, but the crowd warms to the hits, ‘Disposable Teens’, ‘Sweet Dreams’, ‘Irresponsible Hate Anthem’ and finally ‘The Beautiful People’. It’s not their best show, but by no means their worst, a triumph of sorts over the kind of audience who will shout for ‘Slayer’ 20 minutes after they’ve just been on.
Manson’s had time to cool off after his show, half an hour, maybe more while the Hammer sits in a brightly lit production office answering questions from the aforementioned bodyguard: “Have you interviewed Manson before? Who for? When?” All this for five minutes? You’re kidding! Not that Manson isn’t a household name: he was in Bowling For Columbine, obviously, he’s sold a lot of records, he’s even been on Family Guy and the Graham Norton Show. Your mum knows who he is. Hell, even the president knows who he is! That dude that you love to hate. But still, five minutes, come on…
But now here we are with an apparently clean slate, free range and a beer, and caught slightly off guard. And Manson wants to talk. Thankfully a recent interview with UFC fighter Dan Hardy, for Hammer’s Defenders Of The Faith, provides the first question. He wondered how much of Brian Warner was left, or had Marilyn Manson taken over completely? Manson speaks slowly, every word considered.
“I think I’ve started to understand, in the midst of essentially having an identity crisis over the past year or two, not knowing or understanding who I’m supposed to be, that there’s a part of me that has to go on stage and be in front of strangers, sharing my most intimate thoughts and there’s part of me that does the same thing, but with people I know. So it’s not two different people, it’s more trying to come to terms with exposing your deepest secrets in front of people you don’t know and in front of people you do know. For me sometimes it’s easier to do it in front of people I don’t know, which is kind of fucked.”
Manson goes on to discuss the semantics of nihilism, basically giving an answer that takes up the five minutes. On cue the bodyguard appears, but Manson simply says “talking” and the giant vanishes.
We move on to other subjects, easy conversation about goth music, artists, Sarah Palin… Manson voted for the first time in last years election.
“I wanted to be able to say I was there when they voted the black guy in!”
At least Obama’s got a good excuse if it all goes wrong, just blame Marilyn Manson. Apparently there was another school shooting a few months ago in some godforsaken American town, a 15 year old called Justin Doucet.
“Of course I started getting blamed for every school shooting,” says Manson, “but at this point I feel pissed (off) if I don’t. I want credit where credit is due if I’m gonna get crucified and have FBI surveillance, get concerts canceled and go bankrupt for things like Columbine. Recently there was a circumstance where there was a kid who said “hail Marilyn Manson!” and shot his teacher. That would be a circumstance where it would be more legitimate to point the finger at me, but it wasn’t pointed as hard as Columbine where it wasn’t (legitimate).”
How come they always look at the record collection and not the bookshelf? Guaranteed half of these people have a copy of the Bible!
“Well the Bible,” says Manson, who tore one up on stage tonight, still a brave move in these parts, “is the first an foremost educator and learning device and the origin of merchandise, the crucifix. But if you take it as literature, reality or however you want to take it, it’s not the book that people should be standing behind to accuse others of being a source of violence by creating entertainment, because that’s all it’s filled with! If I get in a position of arguing anything with Christians, and I went to Christian school so I know the Bible like the back of my hand, which looks pretty rough from blood packs, self-mutilation and fun, I tell them that there is nothing more violent than the Bible. If they made it into a real movie and not something with Charlton Heston then it would be something I’d watch.”
Somehow we get to the subject of the late and very great Hunter S Thompson, who, it transpires, Manson met through their mutual friend Johnny Depp (and yes, that is very cool!).
“Hunter was someone I was very close to and most recently one of the people I’ve known who died and he was fully hated by the powers that be,” says Manson. “I had a weird relationship with Hunter where he’d call me on a nightly basis, well, night, morning, whatever, for three years. I don’t know if it’s because I was the only one who kept the same hours as him, but he’d call me at five in the morning like, “hey Manson! Shit-eyes!” He called me Shit-eyes, which is one of the funniest things ever!” I get a call from Johnny, maybe six or seven years ago, at four in the morning: “Manson, you’ve gotta come down to the Viper Room! Hunter wants to meet you!” So I go down and he went into his whole thing with firearms and narcotics, as would be expected, nothing less than super dramatic in the best way, but not trying, and we automatically bonded. Later along the line he told his friends, and it became well known, that I was the only
person he was afraid of because I could stand toe to toe with him!”
Strangely enough, gigantic bodyguard notwithstanding, Manson can seem a little intimidating and unapproachable, a role he perhaps enjoys. A few years ago, when he toured the UK with Disturbed as support, he took it to the extremes of forbidding people to make eye contact with him so that everyone had to look away while he passed.
“Oh I was taking the piss!” he chuckles, and you wonder if he ever belly laughs. “It was partly because I’d heard in high school that Prince won’t let people look him in the eye so I’m just gonna say you can’t look at me! The other part of it was ‘Blue Velvet’ “don’t you fucking look at me!” But it was 100 per cent taking the piss!”
Isn’t it weird having that power?
“I just like to see what I can get away with!” Manson shrugs. “When else are you gonna do it? I’ve been in different places in my life and the bad times, which I’d consider to be a year and a half ago, before finishing this record, I bordered on being a person who has nothing to lose and that’s a dangerous person. There’s a lyric on my record ‘Leave A Scar’, “I’m well aware I’m a danger to myself, be aware I’m a danger to others”. Everyone was so concerned, but if you’re so concerned then you’re not doing anything about it. You’re content with living off the proceeds of my insanity! But then, no one can tell you how to fix yourself if you’re fucked up no matter what they do and I never wanted to be the guy that was in AA. I went to an AA meeting once and I got asked for an autograph and I’m like “this is not anonymous! This is stupid!” But as far as being dangerous or unapproachable or scary, I think on this last
record I was able to capture my personality a little bit better than I have before because the songs appear in the order that I sang them, which I’ve never done before. The first song is very much murder/suicide and that’s where I was. I was in a relationship where it became a theatrical thing for my ex-girlfriend. It was like “I wanna kill myself” and I said “okay” and got enough narcotics and a fucking gun and said “we’re gonna do this but I’m gonna kill you first because I don’t trust you!” I stopped myself from doing it because I laughed at the situation. I looked at it and I realised it was ridiculous! It’s like in True Romance when she’s beating the guy up, going “you look ridiculous!” I’d not written anything up until then and the next morning I wrote that song.”
What do you feel about all the tabloid press you’ve had recently?
“First of all,” says Manson, still too dark to make him out clearly, “the whole arrival in London was a clusterfuck because I was waiting to see my girlfriend Stoya and she got detained at customs because of me; she was bringing my wardrobe and it was considered firearms because there was bullets in the outfit. Then all the tabloids said I went to the Metal Hammer awards and left, but I never even got there! I got to the point where I couldn’t believe they were just going to straight out lie and say things that didn’t exist. Of course I’d want to go to something that was honouring me, but I couldn’t go and they said that I went and walked away, then wanted to fight somebody! I remember when tabloids were tabloids and confined to grocery stores, but the internet changed that and the UK, unfortunately, is the the epicenter of that. But then I remembered that at no point did I ever want people to say good things about me, but I also never
wanted the people who believe in what I do, and that’s not limited to fans, I don’t want them to see something based on a circumstance that I need super powers to control. I simply put on my website ‘death to all lying journalists’.”
Doesn’t that affect every interview? How can you trust someone you’re talking to?
“Well you’re not very inconspicuous!” smiles Manson. “And if you’re gonna say something then simply stand behind what you say. A lot of writers hide behind anonymity or say things recklessly and of course they know the hassle of suing and libel, but what they don’t know is it’s very easy to find where you live and buy a baseball bat! Freedom of speech doesn’t come with a dental plan! The thing about the British press is they think they’re very clever and I find them to be very amateur. But that doesn’t really matter because there’s nothing you can say or do to me in the press that’s worse than what’s already happened.”
There is a lull, ears still ringing and the whirr of the air conditioner.
“Okay it’s time for me to have sex,” says Manson abruptly.
There’s no sign of any roofies kicking in so it’s probably time for us to go. Unless, of course, Marilyn’s got any good drugs. Ever the gracious host, he waves his giant away one last time and closes the door.
“Drink!” yells Ministry founder and frontman Al Jourgensen, pointing across the dressing room of the House Of Blues, Los Angeles, at a particularly well stocked fridge. There are a few hours to go before the last of three glorious shows at the venue, on the bands’ final tour, and Al, not particularly holding court, but still the dominant presence in the room, is considering the benefits of throwing up and starting again. With a large glass of red wine seemingly welded to one hand and a cigarette permanently burning in the other he’d have given Johnny Depp a run for his money as Captain Jack Sparrow. He also brings to mind such legendary hell-raisers as Richard Harris and Oliver Reed, with maybe a dash of Richard E Grant in Withnail And I, a dying breed of reprobates and lovable rogues, always with a story to tell. It’s easy to imagine Jourgensen as a cantankerous old bastard too, but tonight he’s on fine form relating how presidential
candidate Barack Obama recently sent him a bunch of unsightly blue campaign shirts.
“What the hell am I gonna do with blue shirts?” he snorts derisively, clad from head to toe in black.
Obama’s third in command on the presidential campaign, it transpires, worked closely with Jourgensen on punkvoter.com in 2004 and again 2006 on the Rio Grande Blood tour signing kids up to get off their arses and vote. When asked if he’ll be backing Obama his response is reminiscent of the South Park episode where they have to choose between a vaginal douche or a shit sandwich.
“Yeah, I guess…” he shrugs. “As soon as Rush Limbaugh called him an undercover sleeper cell Muslim terrorist I’m like, “okay, I’m voting for this guy cos this is cool!” If there’s anything this country needs it’s an undercover sleeper cell Muslim terrorist to be our president because that would settle the rest of the world’s ass down and they wouldn’t want to bomb us anymore! But they’re all fucking owned! Whether they’re owned now or later, they’re owned by the military industrial complex. That’s the nature of politics.”
For the record, ‘Uncle’ Al’s original choice was Dennis Kucinich because “he had the hottest fucking wife of all of them and he’s a little troll so I’m figuring he must have an 18 inch cock or something that’s really special about him.” Kucinich quickly dropped out because, according to Al, “nobody votes for people who are packing pipe cos they’re intimidated.” Though more likely it was because Kucinich was the most liberal, anti-war candidate and also claimed to have seen a UFO.
The dressing room fills a little, a constant ebb and flow, as old friends drop by to say hi, even a former tour manager who ‘survived’ the Dark Side Of The Spoon Tour, Ministry’s bleakest hour after the suicide of guitarist William Tucker. There is, of course, a glaring hole in tonights company with the untimely death last October of bassist Paul Raven, but in keeping with the mans’ spirit there is no moping about, no tears, and no sense that mentioning his name is taboo. The occasional toast is drunk in his memory, but when Fear Factory’s Burton C Bell, who is providing guest vocals on this tour, let’s loose a rather foul trouser cough and refers to it as a “Raven-ism” it’s as if the old bugger will show up any second and join the party. This tour is about celebration rather than mourning, a wake not only for Raven but for the band.
“I’m on a dream tour right now!” confides Burton later. “I mean, when I saw Ministry in 1989 on The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste tour I was like “I wanna be up there with those guys. And here I am 19 years later. It’s unreal!”
Indeed. Tonights show is no less spectacular than the previous two, though at least the chicken wire fence they play behind, a nod to the aforementioned ‘89 tour, doesn’t fall into the crowd this evening, something that Al seems to find particularly amusing. It’s also refreshing to see that this isn’t some wallowing ‘greatest hits’ nostalgia trip, the bulk of the set-list being taken from their last two albums.
“Well, it’s stuff within the four or five years because I think it’s relevant,” nods Al. “We do an encore that satisfies some of the nostalgia people but not all of them, I’d be a fucking jukebox if I did! And that’s why I don’t wanna tour anymore because that’s what people would want. But even those songs I’ve got Burton singing instead of me so we’ve made them new and updated them. Some people are pissed about that and some people respect me for it, but basically I don’t really give a fuck what they think. This makes it fun for us.”
It helps that both ‘Rio Grande Blood’ and ‘The Last Sucker’ rank easily among Ministry’s finest albums.
“Thanks,” grins Al, with a glimmer of metal teeth. “I agree. And at least we have that so we’re not just throwing out a bunch of fucking trite. I mean, who cares what a new Aerosmith record sounds like? Fortunately we don’t have that problem. The bulk of the set is off the last three albums and this Bush presidency and I think it’s some of the best stuff I’ve ever done.”
Ah yes, there’s something about their old nemesis that gets Ministry fired up to make their best music and Al is aware that their output under the Clinton administration wasn’t quite so great.
“Yeah, when Clinton was in what am I gonna sing about? Him getting a blow job? Hell, I want a blow job! So what am I gonna be angry about?”
As it does on the nights when Al doesn’t make a hasty post-show exit, the dressing room fills up once more. There’s Wayne Static (who did guest vocals in LA on ‘So What’), Roy Mayorga from Stone Sour celebrating his birthday, Burton and Dino Cazares sharing a beer or two for the first time in however long, vague recollections of talking to Ogre from Skinny Puppy, another toast to Raven… The party would undoubtedly be bigger if the House Of Blues backstage bar didn’t have such a ridiculous dress code that it excludes most of the band, but then Al would probably leave…or get thrown out. He prefers a small gathering and doesn’t deal well with pretentious celebrity backslapping. Hell, just ask him about when Ministry were nominated for Best Metal Performance at the Grammys for ‘Lieslieslies’
“Me, Raven and Tommy (Victor-guitar) went to the awards and I’ve never been to another one,” he cackles. “We wound up getting drunk and heckling everything that moved. They threatened to throw me out, then they cut me off of liquor and they wouldn’t let me smoke so I got real mad and stormed off. If I didn’t walk out I was gonna get thrown out! Tommy didn’t even want to sit by me anymore because it got to the point with heckling where you could here me louder than the bands. We were pretty close to the stage and I was just screaming “this is bullshit! I can’t get a fucking drink! Fuck you!”
A couple of days later we hook up with the band again in Las Vegas because, frankly, only a complete moron wouldn’t try to see as many of these final shows as possible, one last chance to wave a fond farewell to the freak circus. Despite being know as Sin City, Vegas has a strict curfew that means anyone under 18 and not accompanied by an adult will be swiftly arrested if they’re out after 10pm (midnight at weekends). This also means that all ages shows kick off at a ludicrously early hour, but Al is well prepared, halfway through a bottle of red wine (possibly not his first) long before the main support band Meshuggah have even hit the stage. Aside from cigarettes it’s pretty much his only vice these days since, almost six years ago, kicking a monstrous addiction to almost every drug known to mankind.
“I have no interest in it,” he says flatly. “I saw a friend of mine the other day who’s the singer in a band I won’t name, but he was cracked out of his mind and I looked at that and went “oh my God! I was there!” That’s not where I wanna be. And I know that if I have one hit then it’s over! I was on methadone for 18 years so all my teeth are reconstructed and I set off metal detectors because I’ve got all this shit in my mouth. Eighteen thousand bucks worth of crap for teeth because I did methadone, heroin and crack for 18 years.’”
Al answers every question, on any subject, with equal candour and honesty. The internet, for instance, “instead of being used as a home shopping club, should be used for putting music out, getting real radical shit out and being a fucking anarchist.” When asked if he feels at risk of being fucked with by the authorities (again) for being so openly subversive he simply shrugs.
“I don’t give a shit and I don’t think about it. They already did that when we put out Houses Of The Mole. We got audited by the IRS twice and they’re not even allowed to do that!”
Fortunately Al’s wife Angie, a woman whose eyes seem to shine with kindness, is a business major and had already made double sure that everything was in order.
“After that, what are they gonna come after us for?” sneers Al. “The first amendment rights? Freedom of speech? I don’t think so because then I become a martyr case. But we got our shit in order, they fucked with us and lost.”
It would be easy to say that Al doesn’t suffer fools gladly, but somehow you feel that he does, so long as they’re creative or at least entertaining fools. He’ll also gladly tolerate other people’s quirks and eccentricities in the name of art, particularly given his own. Hell, this is a man who, in a musical career spanning over 25 years, has collaborated with some of the quirkiest, most eccentric minds on the planet, from Jello Biafra and William Burroughs to acid guru Timothy Leary.
“They’re just like you and me,” reasons Al. “Burroughs is a freak and of course I was intimidated because I’d read all his books in high school and college. Leary not so much: he was another Libra, he liked to drink and dabble, so that was easy. I met Biafra so early and I realized he was a freak right away. But I’ve really just stepped in some good shit along the way and I’ve met some really cool people who also thought I was cool and tolerated me. Leary let me live in his house for two years so it’s all good. You get to the point where you realize that pretty much everyone’s coming from the same place. People are people. I fucking hate to quote Depche Mode, but you understand what I’m saying.”
Presumably you did acid with Leary?
“Oh fuck! Every day!” hoots Al fondly. “He’d give me new drugs that had been invented from legal corporations that they sent to Doctor Timothy Leary and I was his guinea pig for two years. I was shooting up liquid acid in certain amounts, checking out 3cc versus 5cc versus 7cc, and he’d make notes about me while I wigged out! That was my life for two years. I still do acid. I don’t smoke pot because I get all paranoid, but acid makes me free. I love it!”
But we digress… It’s easy to get sidetracked in conversation with Jourgensen, particularly when he’s so affable and entertaining. But with stage time drawing close and Meshuggah deafening everyone whenever the door is opened, it’s time to leave the man alone and let him say goodbye to another city, another venue full of people whose lives he has changed forever. There’s a twinge of melancholy that Raven couldn’t be here.
“That was another factor in the whole thing,” agrees Al. “I know I’d already announced it before, but that pretty much cemented it…”
He trails off momentarily, trying to light the wrong end of his cigarette.
“…yeah…Bush leaving, Raven dying and I’m turning 50 at the end of the tour… hey I’m trying to do a fucking interview can you keep the fucking door closed!”
Time for us to fuck off. Any final words Al?
“My work as an activist is not done, but my work as an artist, shaking my fist in the air is done. We’ve got other bands on our label, let them shake their fists and that way I don’t have to be on some botox touring circuit, shouting about the horribleness of the world. The thing is, I don’t live with yachts and supermodels and shit. We have a nice little place in El Paso, we help other bands and we have a recording studio and I have a quick exit to Mexico in case everything blows up here. I certainly don’t need the adulation because it’s a big pain in the ass. I’d like nothing more than to stay home with my dogs and go to my little biker bar four blocks away from my house. And I taught my dog how to drive me home from the bar, he steers and and I work the pedals, it works great!”
Knowing Al he’s telling the truth.