Exclusive Interview: Ministry’s Al Jourgensen on His Memoir, Hockey, and Hanging with Republican Neighbors
Attention fans of metal and industrial music: everything you know about Al Jourgensen is probably wrong. For decades many have thought of Jourgensen as a dark, detached prince of industrial music who was only able to deal with the pain of life through drugs and alcohol. His new memoir Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen – an audacious, depressing and funny book that you should read immediately — does detail Jourgensen’s long struggle with heroin, multiple near death experiences and rise from quasi-pop songwriter to the visionary who wrote Filth Pig. It also reveals another side: Uncle Al is a likeable guy who loves stories, laughing and has an undying passion for his Chicago Blackhawks. Al isn’t just the guy shooting up in the studio: he’s a confrontational prankster who ran at Lars Ulrich and Metallica with deli meat shoved up his ass and chided Madonna for smelling like fish and shit.
Since Jourgensen has already answered every question possible about the classic Ministry albums and why he loathes With Sympathy, we thought it would be a better use of his time to chat about what takes up his energy now: his unbridled hockey fandom and political discussions with his right-leaning Texas neighbors. Ministry’s new album From Beer to Eternity is due in September; his memoir is available now from Da Capo Press.
I thought the book was pretty insightful.
Well, what insights did you get out of it?
The biggest one would be something about endurance and perpetual motion in the face of difficult circumstances and addiction.
You have to keep going, man. It’s hurry up living or hurry up dying. It’s a hard balance to do both, let me tell you.
Why did you decide to write the book?
My wife, Angie, got really sick and tired of me getting drunk at parties and telling all the stories to all these people. She told me to just put it in a book, hand it out at parties and then shut up and sit in the corner and drink vodka. I think it’s easier that way. Just put the stories down and hand them out and sit in the corner. I prefer that.
I thought it was interesting that the writer you worked with [Jon Wiederhorn of Revolver, Noisey, Noisecreep, etc.] was someone you didn’t even like initially. How did you decide to partner with him?
When he was at MTV I did like sixteen or eighteen interviews with him. The first didn’t go so well but over the years I began to trust him. We became friends. Those are the kind of relationships that last. We really didn’t like or trust each other at first but that was many, many years ago. We picked him for the book because I thought he’d be the most accurate and do his due diligence. We flew him out to EL Paso and I’d just get drunk with him, make him drunk with me for a week. I’d spill stories out and they were all on tape recorder. For the next four weeks, he’d call sources and make sure I wasn’t making up a bunch of crap. After that we’d do another week of drunken storytelling with Uncle Al. Oh my God I’m speaking in third person! This can’t be good [laughs]. I’m losing my mind. Then he’d do another four weeks of due diligence. Then the publishers and their lawyers did their due diligence. I’ve never done a book so it was a new process – all this fact checking stuff.
You dipped back into your childhood and your relationship with your grandmother who you were close with. Was it painful to revisit that stuff?
I wanted to throw up every day doing this book. I hadn’t revisited most of this shit in years. I tried to bury it. Look, the Emperor has no clothes anymore. You can see all my warts, all my flaws. Of course that’s difficult. That’s why I needed to get profusely drunk to get into some of that stuff. Was it cathartic? No. Was it therapeutic? No. Was it painful at times? Yes. Was it funny at times? Absolutely. Some of these stories are pretty funny. The way to look at this is a snapshot of 54 years in the life of a kid on this planet in an insignificant solar system in a vast universe. In other woods: this book is completely insignificant. In the scheme of things it’s no big deal. It’s like time lapse photography.
One thing I really latched on to is how much of a sports fanatic you are. You must be pleased with the way the season ended [for the Chicago Blackhawks].
Do you want to end the interview now and just talk about that? [laughs]. Please? I waited many, many years for that first [Stanley] Cup, and a second one is just a cherry on a sundae. I’m not as much of a sports fan as a hockey fan. My wife’s Dad played for the Montreal Canadiens. I married into hockey. I fly from Texas to Chicago all the time to see Hawks games. That’s my guilty pleasure – hockey. To get to know and befriend the owners – they are close friends – is extra rewarding. My blue collar Dad took me to my first game at six and we were in the nosebleed seats. That’s all we could afford. I worked my way down to the 200 level seats around The Land Of Rape and Honey. By Psalm 69 I was at the glass. After that I became friends with the owners. I live breathe and die hockey, music and politics. Other than that, I’m a boring guy.
My mother is a huge football fan and got turf from the old RFK Stadium at the last game. I don’t think she would ever forcibly remove herself from the hospital after a life-saving operation to watch a game.
[loud laughter] That was a little bit extreme. But my blood color is red, white and black. I’m probably the only person in the world who participates in the NHL Draft on the Hockey Channel. I watch that for more than two days and analyze it. My wife’s Dad loves me even though I look like a freak with piercings and tattoos because he knows I love hockey. I go to preseason games and talk with the Blackhawk ownership and their scouts about players. So, yeah, it’s a passion.
If you could have had an All-Star hockey career and never have cut a song would you make that bargain?
In a New York second, man. I don’t like what I do. I liked being a hockey player but I was the worst goalie ever. Some of the best managers in sports either never played the sport or were horrible at it. If you are horrible you can see how to make things better. You can see what the great players do that differentiates them from you. Man, if anyone ever wanted to give me a job scouting for a team? Well, I wouldn’t work for anyone but the Blackhawks. But I’d love to be a general manager or a scout rather than this rock thing.
Have you given the Blackhawks any Ministry songs?
They use my songs at every game. Before they won their first championship in ages a few years ago, halfway through the season I wrote a song called “Keys To The City.” They played it all the games. They played it at the parade recently. They always use Ministry stuff between face-offs and during fights. There’s a song on the new album called “Punch In The Face” that they will use in fights during the next season. It seems to work well together – Ministry and hockey.
That must be an incredibly cool feeling. Not only have you moved to better seats but the team you love most uses your music for inspiration.
It’s totally fulfilling. That’s the best it’s going to get for me, especially in hockey, because I sucked as a player. They also use my music at the Duck Pond at Anaheim — like “N.W.O.” Hockey isn’t just brutal. It’s finesse and skill. You can make so many correlations with hockey and the book you just read.
Your music requires skill and passion but ugliness.
Brute force, yes. It’s necessary.
After decades of having your records reviewed what is it like to see your book reviewed in highfalutin places?
I’m just starting to get used to book interviews. Like I mentioned, I did this book because my wife was sick of hearing from me. I didn’t expect the reaction I’m getting. I figured four or five people would like it and I’ve been going for weeks. It’s doing well on Amazon. I didn’t know it would happen and that’s not the reason I did it.
Another thing that comes through in the book is how much you love Chicago and how formative the city has been to your life. Why do you continue to stay in Texas?
I’ve thought about going home. We’re probably going to get a condo or something there. These little bones can’t take those winters anymore. I’ve been in Texas for 15 years now. So I’ve hit the point where you aren’t called scumbag Yankee anymore. I’m accustomed to the culture, the weather, the people and the system. It’s cool to live behind enemy lines in conservative Texas with a bunch of gun’ toting, Jack Daniels drinkin’ anti-abortion crazy people. I could be in Chicago and get free beers anywhere I want. I’m the unofficial underground mayor. But I enjoy being here. Not only that I have the land and the space for my own studio and compound. I couldn’t do it in Chicago proper. And those winters, dude, fuck that. It would be as bad as saying I miss Buffalo.
Do you ever interact with people in Texas from a completely different political perspective?
Where I live in in El Paso is like the Beverly Hills/Bel Air area. All my neighbors are Republican –every single one of them. In the last election I convinced three to vote for Obama. I like discussing politics with them and hearing perspectives I wouldn’t get in Chicago or anywhere else. I may not agree with them, and they don’t agree with me, but we have a civil discourse. It works out great. I’ve converted a few.
Where did you find common ground with those neighbors?
Here’s a great Republican talking point in Texas with the middle of the night abortion bill Rick Perry signed. The Republicans are pro-life but pro-war. Second, they shut down Planned Parenthood and abortion clinics and that affects minorities most. At the same time they want to cut off food stamps and assistance. So, they want to force people to have babies but not be able to do anything with them. Where will these people go? What will they do? Even my neighbors can see that paradox, the dichotomy; they don’t want abortions, and they also don’t want food stamps. Do they want something like World War Z? They understand that hypocrisy. On economic issues we differ. They want to pay lower taxes. Then I say if we pay less in taxes we’ll have degraded infrastructure. That’s where we kind of differ. My neighbors aren’t wearing overalls and straw hats and shooting guns at possums. These people are very refined and intellectual and they understand the hypocrisy of the platform.
I think I have a little more faith in democracy knowing Uncle Al is having a dialogue with his Republican neighbors.
[loud laughter] Will it help you sleep at night? That’s awesome, man. You rule.
Well, we are so polarized, even people on the left.
It’s as much of a problem in San Francisco as it is in Lubbock Texas. You don’t have an alternate view to consider and then make up your own mind. Insular societies can only go nowhere.
From Beer To Eternity is coming early this fall. Whenever you have a new record people bring up old interviews where you said you are going to retire. Are you willing to stop that?
No! I had a reason for saying I was going to retire after The Last Sucker. I was bleeding out of every orifice for yeas and it wasn’t worth it. I didn’t think I was going to live much longer. I never wanted to go out with the 27 club with Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain. I never wanted to go that way. I had to stop. Mike Scaccia had his second back surgery then and the pharma companies got him on pain pills. I was absolutely recalcitrant in my position; there wasn’t going to be another Ministry record. Mike was the one who said you have to do a new record.
For this record I won’t be touring; I’ll being doing a college lecture tour. Mike got what he wanted done before he died [in December 2012] so I spent the next few months trying to make him proud. I look at the record coming out this way. I didn’t want to do it and Mikey forced my hand. If you like the record, give me all the credit. If you hate the record, blame Mikey! [laughs]
What are you going to lecture about?
It boils down to three things. One is political science. Two is prehistory/history and ancient alien crap and what went down. Third is how to sustain a business in an industry that’s completely devoid of money and that has sunk itself. It’s very difficult to make any standard of living as a musician. They’ve boiled it down to a hobby. They want people to be a bunch of worker ants and consumers. But what is there left to consume?
I hope the students get credit.
They’ll probably flunk immediately after I’m done with them or drop out of school.