So What?

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

When Ministry was christened in 1981, however, it was poles apart from what it became. With Sympathy, from 1983, is fairly typical synth pop, like Soft Cell with a lousier attitude, and things continued in a similar vein up through 1986's Twitch, the combo's first for the Sire imprint. Hence, few were expecting the grinding belligerence of 1988's The Land of Rape and Honey. With lethal guitars, distorted vocals and a rhythm track that seems to have been fired from an AK-47, "Stigmata," Rape's introductory cut, provided a blueprint that Trent Reznor and many others would refer to time and time again.

If anything, 1989's A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste was even wilder--so much so that Warner Bros., Sire's parent company, had no idea what to do with it. To make matters worse, the band ran over budget recording a follow-up. As Jourgensen tells it, "Jesus Built My Hotrod," put out as a single in 1991, was released in an attempt to recoup part of what was thought to be a doomed investment. Instead, it became Ministry's breakthrough number, pushing the album on which it appeared, Psalm 69, past the platinum mark and landing the group a coveted slot on the Lollapalooza Festival.

Pop stardom lasted until 1995's Filth Pig, which de-emphasized synthesizers in favor of unadulterated metal. Sales suffered, and so did Jourgensen, whose heroin habit was out of control. In 1995, Ministry's Texas headquarters were raided, and he was busted for drug possession. "Piss," a bitter song on Animositisomina, recounts the five-year probationary sentence he received for the transgression.

"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.

"It got to the point where literally I forgot what a toilet looked like, because I was just peeing into jars for probation officers," Jourgensen says. "The way things are set up is corrupt, dysfunctional and non-helpful. It has nothing to do with rehabilitation or making someone a functioning member of society. It has everything to do with lining pockets."

In the end, the law didn't force Jourgensen to divorce heroin; he did so for his own reasons. "I don't regret a day in my life, but I do have reservations about how long it took me to recognize that I was getting diminishing returns. Pretty soon, it's just like being a diabetic. You're not getting any benefits; you're just taking insulin to avoid getting sick. So you either have to stop or keep going and die or get arrested--because that's the future."

Hypodermic lust inspired 1999's Dark Side of the Spoon, whose cover photo of a morbidly obese naked woman wearing a dunce cap got it banned from Kmarts nationwide--one of Jourgensen's proudest achievements. "Bad Blood," from Spoon, earned a 2000 Grammy nomination in the heavy-metal category, but that didn't stop Warner Bros. from cutting the group loose about 10 minutes after it lost to Black Sabbath. Jourgensen, who'd known the end was near when he called Warner Bros. and was put on hold for 45 minutes while the Looney Tunes theme played ("That's all, folks!"), says he was relieved to be free. "God works in mysterious ways," he concludes.

So did director Stanley Kubrick, who chose Ministry to contribute to A.I., a film he intended to make following Eyes Wide Shut. After Kubrick died, Steven Spielberg volunteered to complete the project--an offer that resulted in a severely flawed movie that was infinitely goopier, no doubt, than it would have been under Kubrick's guidance. On the other hand, Spielberg deserves credit for keeping the commitment to Ministry, which performs a scorching version of "What About Us?" against the backdrop of a "flesh fair" at which crazed humans gather to watch robots being destroyed. Jourgensen isn't a fan of the movie, but he characterizes the filming as a positive experience. "We learned a lot, and by the end, Spielberg even kind of warmed up to us. We had him up there onstage with my cowboy hat on. We had a riot."

On the surface, touring behind Animositisomina would seem sure to be a lot less fun. After all, Ministry no longer has major-label support, and the odds that corporate radio will take a chance on songs like the cold-turkey anthem "Shove" are slimmer than Calista Flockhart. Still, Jourgensen is excited by the band's new material and looking forward to unleashing it live.

"The music business is cyclical, and sometimes within the cycle it's easy--and sometimes you really have to push a piano uphill," he says. "But we're pretty determined folk, and we're going to keep going on until it doesn't satisfy us anymore. And right now, nothing satisfies me more."

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