So What?

Ministry isn't on a major label anymore, but Al Jourgensen still loves his job

In some respects, Ministry's Al Jourgensen has mellowed. For instance, he says he's no longer helping his friendly neighborhood heroin dealer keep up with his Hummer payments. "It's been over 11 months now since I've had anything," he says. "I'm very proud and very clean."

From a creative standpoint, however, Jourgensen certainly won't be mistaken for Olivia Newton-John anytime soon. Animositisomina, the name of Ministry's new CD on the Sanctuary imprint, features most of the word "animosity" spelled forward and backward--and as the term implies, the disc contains at least double the daily government requirement of rancor and ill will. "The only world I know is drowning in rage," Jourgensen bellows on the title cut, which kicks off the proceedings, and little that follows contradicts this declaration. The album is among the loudest and most aggressive Ministry has ever issued, and it makes the offerings of many far younger hard-rock acts seem timid by comparison.

Jourgensen, of course, is a nü-metal hero, as evidenced by an incident that took place last October 9, Big Al's birthday. According to an account in Kerrang!, Korn, one of the more popular outfits to demonstrate the Ministry influence, provided Jourgensen with a limousine ride to its concert that night at New Jersey's Meadowlands. Upon disembarking, Jourgensen came upon Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst, who he promptly assaulted--something Britney Spears probably should have considered. Not that Durst took offense. Before the evening was out, he had recruited Jourgensen to contribute to the next Limp Bizkit opus along with members of Korn, Helmet and Weezer, whose assistance is no doubt intended to add credibility to a project desperately in need of same.

"The music business is cyclical, and sometimes within the cycle it's easy--and sometimes you really have to push a piano uphill," Ministry's Al Jourgensen, right, says.
"The music business is cyclical, and sometimes within the cycle it's easy--and sometimes you really have to push a piano uphill," Ministry's Al Jourgensen, right, says.

His participation in such a dubious enterprise aside, Jourgensen is no apologist for the latest generation of metal groups. He acknowledges the generally low quality of the current crop--but he also pins much of the blame for this situation on the system intended to promote the music. "Mediocrity is rewarded, because to take a chance at anything goes against a bean counter's thinking. Why should bands take a chance just to be rebuked and turned down and told that you'll never work in this town again? Do you know how many times we've heard that?"

Plenty: Ministry has been written off more frequently than operating losses at Enron. Nonetheless, this year marks the 20th since the collective made its first full-lengths for Arista Records, launching an unexpectedly enduring career that continues today with a lineup anchored by Jourgensen and longtime collaborator Paul Barker. They're assisted by guitarist Louis Svitek, drummer Rey Washam and keyboardist Angelina Lukacin, whom Jourgensen married last September at Elvis Presley's Graceland mansion.

Asked if he thought Ministry would still be around two decades down the line, Jourgensen laughs. "The only surprise is that we were able to do it while we were completely inebriated. We had our own label, we had 10 bands, we were producing other bands, we were touring, we had videos. And now I'm like, 'I vaguely remember some of that...'"

Fortunately, Jourgensen's recall of his formative years is considerably better. He was born in Havana, Cuba, and raised in Chicago by a family affluent enough to afford a second home in Breckenridge. When he was 9 years old or so, he began accompanying the clan on skiing vacations, and several years later, he says, "My parents got tired of the rat race in Chicago and moved to Frisco."

This transition was a rocky one for Jourgensen. "It was a freaky thing going from a concrete jungle to, you know, nature. But it was a real big part of my growing up. If I'd stayed in Chicago, I probably would have wound up in jail or something."

Instead, he spent the hours after school piloting a truck for his father, who owned a Montgomery Ward department store. The job wound up supplementing his musical education in unanticipated ways. "At the time, I was listening to a lot of Brit rock and Kraut rock--Hawkwind and Pink Floyd and Can," he says. "Then I started getting a lot more into the country aspect. I'd be driving over Hoosier Pass to Alma, delivering washers and dryers, and the only radio stations I could get were ones that played country. And I'm not talking about achy-breaky, licky-dicky shit. I mean old country--stuff I don't think I would have been exposed to in Chicago.

"It wasn't my choice to listen to that," he goes on, "but I finally started getting used to it. I'd be like, 'Well, I guess this ain't so hick. It's pretty cool.' I understood the subtleties of it, and it kinda stuck with me."

Beyond Jourgensen's trademark cowboy hat, the tangible impact of these C&W sessions on Ministry's sound is tough to quantify. Simpler to peg is the impact on him of a 1977 gig by the Ramones at Ebbets Field, a long-defunct Denver venue. "It was definitely a life-changing moment," he notes. "It was the difference between listening to music and feeling the music. I felt like I'd been punched in the fucking ribs after that show. I'd never seen anyone plow through a set like that, and to this day, that's the one thing we borrow from the Ramones. Ministry doesn't fuck around and talk to the audience and do the rock babble-dribble. We just go about our business and nail these songs: one, two, three, bam, bam, bam!"

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