Ministry: The Lost Gospels of Al Jourgensen by Al Jourgensen with Jon Weiderhorn (De Capo Books)
Unapologetic, no one’s hero, just as surprised as everyone else that he’s still alive, Ministry mastermind Al Jourgensen relates in mostly chronological order his upbringing, years of drug use, debauchery and time in a recording and touring band.
With little in the way of introspection, we learn Alain was born to a Cuban family that moved to Miami when he was a baby, then followed his grandfather up to the Mid West where he lived with his grandmother for his early years. His mother remarried and Al took the name Jourgensen. During his childhood Al stole cars for joyrides, including his stepfather’s, took drugs, became surprisingly good at baseball and eventually found himself (literally and figuratively) in a hospital for drug addicts where he lived for a year as a teen. He did the expected things like go to college but instead of studying he sold drugs and fucked around, met a girl, did stupid shit and generally made his own life miserable thanks to poor decisions and drug use.
Yet amazingly, Al ended up in the music program of the University of Illinois-Chicago where they had recently acquired electronic music equipment that would help shape Ministryl and industrial music in general. For a few years Al played in bands and developed his style, working with Wax Trax! Records and recording at Wax Trax Studios (no relation).
Somehow Al has created music as Ministry, Lard, Revolting Cocks, and more while at the mercy of a drug habit that would kill most everyone else years sooner. Somehow he has performed on stage to millions of people while under the influence.
Throughout Al’s Lost Gospels, the reader will be constantly amazed at the magnitude of loathing the man had for himself, such low self-worth, such a poor sense of his own good qualities. While living in Texas he lived in a haunted house, one formerly used by rich men and their mistresses. “I had a bunch of visitors, and that’s a bad idea when you’re a heavily armed drug addict. It’s especially stupid when you’re friends are people like Gibby Haynes, Phildo and Jello Biafra. One time I almost pulled a William Burroughs and shot Jello. He was being all anal and trying to tidy up the place, and he pissed me off, so I got really drunk and then got my .22 and started shooting at Jello’s feet, making him dance like in the John Wayne movies. He ran up to his room, locked the door, and put furniture up against the door. He stayed there for three days and wouldn’t come out until Curly, who was the estate manager of the place, convinced him that I had thrown all my guns in the pool.”
He put a lot of money into the places he lived in Texas. “There’s a whole wing of the courthouse that I paid for with fines and penalties.” “I accumulated so many speeding tickets that I basically bought off a small Texas town and gave them a $12,000 donation to clear my record so I didn’t have to go to court anymore.”
He lived with Timothy Leary for two years. While there, Al was a guinea pig for Leary’s drug concoctions. “Some people have asked me why I’m not angry at Tim for using me as a human guinea pig. Man, I could never be angry at Tim. I was a willing subject, and he was a good friend — a father figure, actually. I was this rock junkie, but he didn’t treat me like a degenerate. he was patient and understanding. We had long talks about everything: quantum mechanics, esoterics, philosophy, psychology, the occult, psychedelic science and the opening of the third eye, even pop culture.”
Between chapters of Al’s looking back, there are interviews by Jon Weiderhorn with Luc Van Acker (ex-Front 242) who sang on Revolting Cocks’ debut, Jello Biafra, Phildo Owens of Skatenigs and RevCo and Gibby Haynes who variously recall the often shared debauchery, musical creation and touring with Al, seeing past the self-induced misery to a loyal, humorous and hard-working man and good friend. His stepfather kindly sees Al’s childhood as more idyllic than it might have been, and can at least show pride for what his stepson has done and fought for: a (near) sober life. His soul brother Mikey Scaccia, longtime guitarist for Ministry was lucky enough to finally kick his own habits about the same time as Al, and the two worked together sober in the making of Relapse, Buck Satan’s & The 666 Shooters’ Bikers Welcome, Ladies Drink Free and the most recent Ministry album From Beer to Eternity. That he passed away playing on stage with his old band Rigor Mortis, in a good place in his life, was devastating to Jourgensen yet is bittersweet proof that fate is fickle.
Jourgensen’s savior is Angelina, who helped him clean up and now runs 13th Planet Records and manages Al’s endeavors. They’ve been happily married 11 years. It is no coincidence that her name means “Little Angel” for all the effort she has put towards healing her husband and supporting him over the years.
While at first a seemingly odd choice for an interview subject, one-time European tour manager Holger Brandes shows simple decency as he talks about being Al’s handler during the European leg of the C U LaTour. While dealing with moving the band to a better hotel than initially planned while in Germany, Brandes took offense at the hotel staff’s disrespectful view of Jourgensen. “This made me very angry, and after I got Al and Angie to their rook I had some serious words with the hotel manager. When I left the hotel and recalled the past twenty minutes, I realized why these hotel people made me so angry: this tour might have been stressful here and there. Al might be an unusual guy to deal with. He might look weird, he might be an alcoholic, he might polarize people, but for me he became a real friend, and his intelligence and humor and his warmth for the people around him deserved respect and appreciation.”
It is good to know that after all he’s been through and all he’s put himself through, Al’s got his own studio, record label and home, a stable life, good people around him and while still loathing the music industry as much as he loves making music, he’s still going strong. Al Jourgensen’s story is a testament to the strangeness and beauty of the universe as well as an example of the human condition. Al’s life is in no way a cautionary tale: he wishes this kind of life on no one. Al Jourgensen is as close as he’ll ever be to accepting himself in a positive way with Angie at his side doing what he does best.
(Review by Bret Miller)