Anyone with even a passing familiarity of former Chicagoan Al Jourgensen’s prolific output with Ministry over the last three decades is forgiven for being a bit skeptical about claims that the band’s current jaunt, dubbed the “C U LaTour,” is his last.
Not only that, but the singer and songwriter who pioneered the industrial thrash sound also insists that he’s wrapping up the final recordings from the most notable of his many side projects — the Revolting Cocks, Lard and Pailhead — and he’s confining himself to a future of merely producing other artists at his studio near El Paso, Texas.
“It’s the end of all of it,” Jourgensen insists. “I just think it’s perfect timing with the Bush administration hopefully going away. I’m turning 50 in October, Bush is leaving and it just seemed that synchronicity was at work where you have a half-century milestone, you’ve been through a couple of Bushes and a Reagan and Clinton’s [scandals] and everything and you just finally figure, ‘That’s about it!’
“On top of that, Jim, I’m seriously busier and happier than I’ve ever been in my life because of the label [13th Planet Records] and the studio I own and the bands that I work with and the kids. I think I told you before, I always wanted to be a teacher or professor, and in a sense, it’s almost like School of Rock, because the kids I get on my label or the kids that I’m giving Revolting Cocks to or the kids that come and record at my studio also get an education of what not to do in a career and who not to listen to. So that’s kind of fulfilling in a sense — it kind of fills my little professor/groupie fantasy.
“On top of that, I get to be in the studio, which is where I want to be,” Jourgensen concludes. “Listen, being 50 years old and being on a tour bus and trying to figure out what truck stop to crap in is not my idea of glamour!”
Well, in terms of plainspoken humor, at least, this is still the Alien we’ve come to know and love.
Born in Havana to Cuban parents just before the revolution, the artist was raised in Chicago by his immigrant mother and Norwegian stepfather, whose last name he adopted. After attending the University of Colorado, he first made his mark on the music scene in a fairly lame synth-pop band called Special Affect before starting Ministry in 1981. The new band continued in the flowery dance-pop vein on its first few singles for the local Wax Trax! label and its debut album “With Sympathy” for Arista Records, but by the time it signed to Sire in 1986, the sound was becoming more aggressive.
The start of Jourgensen’s collaboration with Paul Barker yielded the first classic in Ministry’s discography, “The Land of Rape and Honey” (1988), which introduced the industrial-metal assault that carried it through the alternative era, influencing artists such as Nine Inch Nails, Tool and Marilyn Manson. But Ministry’s commercial success was always sabotaged by Jourgensen’s self-destructive behavior, including barely concealed addictions to heroin and cocaine, which prompted a police raid on the Texas ranch that became the group’s home in the early ’90s. Jourgensen was sentenced to five year’s probation.
“My proudest accomplishment was kicking dope,” Jourgensen says without a moment’s hesitation when asked about the biggest accomplishment of his career. “I’m serious, because without that, there wouldn’t be much to reminisce on — it’s hard to reminisce six feet under. I literally woke up one morning and said, ‘Either I should kill myself today or I should do something about this, because this in-between [stuff] is no good.’ So I think honestly it’s not a musical accomplishment I’m proudest of, because I think there are many of those still to be made by me in one form or another.”
“Still to be made…?” Wait a minute, didn’t Jourgensen just say he was retiring?
“Well, you know, last year, I did seven albums in one year! I did ‘Last Sucker’ [the 2007 album that is allegedly Ministry’s last original release] and the ‘Cover Up’ record [the band’s new covers disc]. Then the new Revolting Cocks record is already done, and I’m telling you, Jim, it’s the best record I’ve ever done in 30 years! Plus, I produced the next Kong record and the False Icons record and Watchers, and I did a soundtrack for a movie that is coming out next September called ‘Wicked Lake’ about four lesbian vampires.
“So yeah, I’m not going away totally. But from now on, I just produce; I really don’t see myself writing much of anything for a while, and if I do, it would be concentrated on finishing up chapters on things like Lard and Pailhead, which I’ve already talked to Ian MacKaye and Jello Biafra about, and they are all for it. In that capacity, I think I might write, but with different singers. As far as all the other bands, with Revolting Cocks, I gave it away to three guys — Josh Bradford and keyboard player Clayton [Worbeck] and our guitar player in Ministry right now, Sin [Quirin] — and that’s the new breed of Cocks, and I made them sign a contract with the label saying that they have to give it away to three other knuckleheads in five years. So it’s going to be Revolting Cocks in perpetuity, kind of like the industrial Menudo, if you will!”
Is that it? What about his long-rumored solo album?
“I don’t rule it out… I do want to do my Buck Satan record that I’ve been yammering about for 20 years, and to me, that’s almost like a solo record. If I came out with full-on 1950s and 1960s old-school country, that’s about as naked as you can get. We’ll see what the scheduling is like in all of that. But pretty much, I’m happy behind a consol barking out orders and mentoring kids. That’s my dream job.”
Yeah, right, sure, Al. Congrats on the farewell tour. But you’ll have to forgive us if we don’t believe we’re really saying goodbye to Al Jourgensen anytime soon.
HIGH POINTS IN MINISTRY’S CAREER
After more than 12 albums and countless tours, Ministry is allegedly saying farewell. Here is a look at some high points in the band’s career.
1981: Al (sometimes Alien or Alain) Jourgensen, the one consistent in every incarnation of the group, forms the band with drummer Stephen George. It will release four 12-inch singles for Wax Trax! Records through 1984.
1983: Ministry issues its debut album, “With Sympathy,” on Arista Records. It sounds almost nothing like the band of the last 25 years, and Jourgensen now refers to it as “an abortion of an album.”
1986: Jourgensen signs to Sire and records “Twitch” almost entirely on his own.
1988: Having linked up with bassist Paul Barker, his ideal foil, Jourgensen introduces the new, soon to be trademark Ministry sound on “The Land of Rape and Honey,” eventually certified gold with sales of 500,000. The band also includes drummer Bill Rieflin, now a member of R.E.M.
1991: Ministry goes mainstream during “the year punk broke” with help from Butthole Surfer Gibby Haynes on the single “Jesus Built My Hotrod.” Another hit follows with “N.W.O.,” protesting the first Gulf war.
1992: The metal-edged album “Psalm 69: The Way to Succeed and the Way to Suck Eggs” sells more than a million copies. The band performs on the strongest lineup of the original Lollapalooza tour, often stealing the show from headliners the Red Hot Chili Peppers and upstarts Pearl Jam by prompting fans to tear up the arenas’ grass fields and hurl them at the stage. It is accompanied by a troupe of metal-clad go-go dancers who become part of the tour after a chance meeting in Cleveland.
1995: The band’s momentum having been slowed by Jourgensen’s drug problems, things get even worse when police raid his ranch in Texas. He is sentenced to five year’s probation for possession, and the release of Ministry’s next album, “Filth Pig,” is delayed until 1996. It is a commercial disappointment.
1999: The group releases its final album for Sire, “Dark Side of the Spoon,” dedicated to former guitarist William Tucker, who committed suicide. The group also appears in the Steven Spielberg film “AI: Artificial Intelligence.”
2001: Recovering from a poisonous spider bite, Jourgensen makes the decision to clean up. The group begins recording for the indies, first on Sanctuary, then on Jourgensen’s own 13th Planet Records.
2003: Barker leaves the band, ending Jourgensen’s longest and most fruitful collaboration.
2008: Having recovered with an uncompromising and rewarding trio of albums — “Houses of the Mole” (2004), “Rio Grande Blood” (2006) and “The Last Sucker” (2007) — Ministry concludes its alleged farewell tour.
THE MINISTRY/BLACK HAWKS CONNECTION
Given his lifestyle and dark, decadent image, Al Jourgensen has never exactly seemed like the sporting type. But he is in fact a major Blackhawks fan, and Ministry recently released the single “Keys to the City” to serve as the hockey team’s new anthem.
“That was a gift to the Wirtz family, who I have known for going on 20 years, and who helped me out when I was really down,” Jourgensen says. “I know everyone hated ‘Dollar Bill’ Wirtz and ‘Oh, the big evil Bill!’ and all of that, but that family has always been good to me. There was a point where I was completely down and out — I had lost everything to addiction and had to go to rehab — and they helped me when no one else would. They believed in me.
“Me and Paul Raven, who recently passed away, wrote the song during the ‘Last Sucker’ sessions, and I was like, ‘It sounds like a hockey song! Let’s put it on the shelf!’ Then Angie, my wife, when it was her birthday, she wanted to go shopping in Chicago, so we went up there on a birthday trip. She also wanted to see some Hawks games — she’s a huge hockey fan, and I’m a huge hockey fan —I got the song done, saw the Wirtzes and handed it to them: ‘Here, this is a present!’ They played it for the players and the players went nuts, so they thought to adopt it as an official game song.
“They asked, ‘Well, what is it going to take to do this?’ And I was like, ‘Nothing, it’s yours!’ Any money that is made from that all goes to Blackhawks charities. We don’t make a cent off it, and I don’t want to make a cent off of it. They hooked me up, and one good turn deserves another. Right now, they have had 50,000 downloads of it already, and there was 20,000 in the first two days. All of that money goes to Blackhawks charities, and it was really nice for me to do something for them.”
Ministry, Meshuggah and Hemlock
8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday; 5:30 p.m. Sunday
House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn (312) 923-2000
(312) 923-2000; www.hob.com/venues/clubvenues/chicago/