Ministry's Al Jorgensen on Mike Scaccia, the Grays and Why He Wrote A (Terrifying) Memoir
Don't spend too many late-night hours reading longtime Ministry leader Al Jourgensen's memoir. It's a dark, dark nightmare. Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen is harrowing tale of drugs, sex and, of course, rock 'n' roll, inspired by the artist who influenced a generation of musical pioneers like Nine Inch Nails to take metal to the next level.
But the writing process was anything but therapeutic. "It was grueling and made me almost throw up every day," Uncle Al says. "This was not fun. This was not a glamour project. I've lost some good friends -- Mikey, William S. Burroughs, Tim Leary -- and did some fucked-up shit that I'm now realizing was fucked-up shit."
For those of you who never heard of Uncle Al: For three decades he and his band Ministry have been bringing their message to the masses with masterpieces like The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste (1989), Psalm 69: The Way to Succeed and the Way to Suck Eggs (1992) and Rio Grande Blood (2006). (Filth Pig was my personal favorite, but it's a dark, dark album that takes a certain mindset to appreciate.) Twelve studio albums have garnered several Grammy nominations, critical acclaim/confusion and exposed a whole generation to metal.
Ministry's 13th studio album From Beer to Eternity will be released in September.
In the Lost Gospels, Uncle Al along with his co-writer Jon Wiederhorn take us back to the streets of the Havana in the 1950s when Fidel Castro was taking homes from the rich, then to the Cuban communities of Miami in the early '60s where Uncle Al first entered this world and, finally, to the skyline of Chicago in the late '60s where Al witnessed the power of the Rolling Stones. "They had this raw, primal energy I had never seen before, even in sports," he explains early in the memoir, "and they were way more transgressive and dangerous than Elvis or the Beatles."
In the early '90s, Bush I was sending his army of Patriot Missiles across a Middle Eastern desert, ATF agents were surrounding a Waco cult's compound and LSD was flowing like wine from Timothy Leary's broken bottle, and Uncle Al was drinking it from a jagged glass and pioneering and perfecting his new sound of industrial metal. "If you remember the '90s, you weren't there," he says. And yet somehow Uncle Al manages not only to remember that decadent decade but also provide some in-depth accounts of shoving vegetables in places I'd rather not imagine, stealing Courtney Love's heroin and playing mind games with little gray aliens in his bedroom.
"If you're into UFOs and extraterrestrials, you know the Grays are these little fuckers from another planet who come down to earth every once in a while to check it out. They've been keeping an eye on me from an early age. I didn't get the name 'Alien Jourgensen' for nothing."
Remembering other drug-induced antics would have been a challenge for many recovering addicts to accomplish. "I just got drunk and spoke into a microphone," says Uncle Al. "Two drunken weeks and three or four sober phone calls [with Wiederhorn] later I got a book." His wife and manager Angie was the catalyst behind his trip down memory lane. "She was tired of hearing me tell the same stories at the same parties. She goes, 'Just put it down in a book.'"
The cover of Ministry's upcoming sing-along Christmas album.
As I was reading the book, I kept thinking, "I don't even want that visual in my mind, man." I had to take several smoke breaks from the horror of Jourgensen's past, and I don't even smoke. Page after decadent page made me feel like a priest in a confessional booth as Uncle Al relayed some of his most horrid sins, not to mention the laundry list of drugs that he consumed while creating each of his albums. "Look, some of this stuff was pretty brutal for me," he says. "Some of the things people find really funny in the book were actually horrendous."
Timothy Leary, William S. Burroughs, Steven Spielberg, Johnny Depp, Aimee Mann and Sean Yseult, former bassist of White Zombie, all make an appearance in Uncle Al's memoir, not to mention the clear spiders, an angry Buck, the ghosts, a giant tarantula, the wolf crickets and a blind, rabid armadillo that "would run really fast and haphazard."
As more and more celebrities appear within the pages, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon morphs into something dark and twisted -- Six Degrees of Uncle Al Jourgensen: Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor working as a roadie, Tool experiencing a LSD cocktail and Limp Bizkit singer Fred Durst harnessing his "Ministry" by releasing his "inner child" while wearing Uncle Al's cowboy hat. "It's like 99 percent truthful and 1 percent unsueable," Uncle Al says and laughs. "Did I read the book afterwards and say, 'I should have done some things better?' Sure. But what happened ... happened."
Yet it's not all horror and mayhem in Uncle Al's memoir. There's also sadness, especially when he relates the tragedy of El Duce, whose harrowing train challenge reads like a movie script, and Mike Scaccia, whom the memoir is dedicated to. In fact, Uncle Al has been spending the last year on another dedication to "Mikey": preparing the release of Ministry's last album From Beer to Eternity, which features Scaccia's last studio-recorded appearance. "Dude, it's really good," Uncle Al says. "I'm telling you: his best stuff."
Eighteen rough tracks were recorded on December 19, and three days later Mikey was dead after he suffered a heart attack on stage at the Rail Club in Fort Worth. "We have never, in the history of Ministry, ever had a tracking session like that before," Uncle Al says. "Everything went so smoothly. It was surreal. Mikey was so on fire and inspired. He really pushed us to a new level."
"Punch in the Face," "Hail to his Majesty" and "Change of Luck" (a song about Scaccia's death) are laden with thrash-punk riffs, booming bass and grinding metal. But it was the toughest record for Uncle Al to make. He went to the funeral in Dallas, then spent the next several months recording. Uncle Al says it was tough "listening to him and thinking about him," but "Mikey's Middle Finger" is Mikey's "final salute" to the world. "It's special, a present with a bow."
Although Mikey was able to die doing what he loves -- playing the guitar on stage -- Uncle Al says someone will have to drag his corpse to the mixing board. But we hope that scenario happens far into the future. "God keeps me around because I amuse him with my stupid, dumbass antics," says Uncle Al.
We can only pray that he's right.
Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen is available at local bookstores and online. From Beer to Eternity (13th Planet Records) will be available on September 9.