A genius in the flesh. Albeit a drunk genius! Sunset Marquis, Hollywood. Sept 26th 2009
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“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.