Psalm Of The Sixth Man
If the set beginning like a skyscraper imploding for one thrash-metal measure didn’t signal the end of the good vibes at Lollapalooza 1992, then the mob of skinheads running down the hilltop lawn at Alpine Valley Music Theatre made it clear that there would be no alternative to Ministry’s new world order (“N.W.O.”). You would be ruled with Al Jourgensen‘s iron fist. Brazenly riffing in a gang of feral guitarists – including, prominently, Mike Scaccia of Rigor Mortis – Ministry’s founder/vocalist and then-Chicagoan was the festival’s brown acid on a stage now decorated with desecrated bones. As the menacing dance-chart act continued at a volume many magnitudes louder than the festival’s other, softer groups – even Soundgarden coming off Badmotorfinger – it started to feel as if our insides were strewn onstage, so thoroughly shaken we were on the lawn.
Ice Cube called Ministry “the loudest, craziest motherfuckers ever” in an interview with Rolling Stone during that year’s Lollapalooza tour. The rapper, also on the bill, told the magazine that performers were warned not to exceed 98 decibels. Ministry had clocked in at 140, he added. It’s a claim echoed in Jourgensen’s recently-published book with Jon Wiederhorn, Ministry: The Lost Gospels According To Al Jourgensen (Da Capo). According to the memoir, Ministry regularly played at approximately 125 decibels on the tour, and the band incurred a $20,000 fine per offense.
Psalm 69: The Way To Succeed And The Way To Suck Eggs (1992) is the $1.5 million soundtrack to the offensive alternative apocalypse. The platinum terror was Ministry’s first studio album to feature Scaccia, whose Rigor Mortis partially inspired Jourgensen to turn his main act into “more of a metal guitar band,” the leader writes in the book. Jourgensen played thrash riffs on The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste (1989) and used guitars “mostly for effect” on The Land Of Rape And Honey (1988), but it was Psalm 69 that officially smashed the band’s synthpop legacy. With Scaccia, Ministry had the strength to break it all down. Without Scaccia, Jourgensen no longer has the strength to keep Ministry together.
Scaccia died last Dec. 23 after collapsing while performing with Rigor Mortis in Fort Worth, Texas. Not a week before, the thrasher was holed up in Jourgensen’s home studio in El Paso, Texas, laying down guitar tracks that would posthumously form the backbone of From Beer To Eternity (due out Sept. 6 on AFM/13th Planet). No stranger to playing with bones, Jourgensen apparently retires Ministry with a caustic rattle recalling Psalm 69‘s most straight-ahead detonations. Guitarist Sin Quirin, drummer Aaron Rossi, bassist Tony Campos, and engineer Sammy D’Ambruoso also assist.
By cellphone from El Paso, Jourgensen stressed it’s the last one, sucker. “If Ministry gave a present to somebody, and they put it under the tree and had all the other albums, this album is the bow on top of the box,” he says before adding, “now leave me the fuck alone.”
Mosh: This is the legal department of Fox News calling. We’d like to talk to you about the song “Fairly Unbalanced” off the new Ministry album, From Beer To Eternity.
Al Jourgensen: No, no, no, no. [Parodying Apocalypse Now] I smell Illinois Entertainer. You know what that smells like to me? Smells like victory! You know that gasoline smell? That smell in the morning? It smells like victory. So hello, Illinois Entertainer and whatever else you said. Let’s talk turkey.
M: Let’s talk about the album and your book, Ministry: The Lost Gospels According To Al Jourgensen.
AJ: You know what I really want to talk about? I don’t care about this book, this album. The Chicago Blackhawks just won the Stanley Cup. I was really preferring to just talk puck on this interview, but if you really have to bring up these nuances, like the book and the album and stuff, I guess I’ll go along with it.
M: Despite guitar being sourced from Mike Scaccia’s rough tracks, did you put more effort into the album knowing it would be your last with the guitarist?
AJ: Mikey died two days after he finished all of his guitar parts on this record, and then I had to go back for the next three, four months and listen to him every day and mix him, and, at first, it was really difficult. Then it became like, “No, dammit, I’m going to make this the best album [on which Scaccia performed].” You know, Mikey will be smiling wherever he is at right now, and that was my chore. So it was a very difficult and special album to do in the context of having a death in the middle of the record, especially the death of your best friend and little brother for many years.
M: Are you playing some guitar on the record?
AJ: I play guitar on every record. I play mandolin, banjo, guitar, keyboards. Basically, if you’re a baseball team, I’m like the best utility infielder you’ve ever had, O.K.? I got my specialists. I got my home run hitter at first. I got my defensive shortstop and all that. And on an everyday basis, they plug in the utility player, and I’ll come in with guitar, vocals, whatever. And then mix it and edit it, and that’s what I do. I’m like – what do they call it in basketball? – the sixth man of the year.
M: So do you replace Scaccia, in the future?
AJ: No, no, no, no. First of all, there is no future. This is gone without Mikey. There is no other. I mean, Sin Quirin is just an amazing friend and guitar player, but me and Mikey shared a special bond through a lot of good years and a lot of lean years, and we always stuck together. I still miss him to this day, except that he comes by every so often and haunts my house and just gives me shit, and I love it. He’s still kind of floating around, I figure. But he’s in a good place, man, and he died doing what he wanted to do. He died onstage [with Rigor Mortis] in the middle of a guitar lead smiling and then keeled over with a heart attack. It wasn’t a drug overdose. In the book, he even says, “I want to die on the stage.” I’m sure the guy’s perfectly happy.
M: After The Last Sucker in 2007, we didn’t expect another Ministry record, but From Beer To Eternity is the second proper studio album in Ministry’s afterlife. This one even features guitars by a dead man.
AJ: After The Last Sucker, I said, “I can’t do another one,” and the only reason for that was physicality. I physically couldn’t do another record. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I was bleeding and bleeding and bleeding. Had no energy. Losing weight. Blood would come out of me every day, and I didn’t know what was wrong. I’d never heard of ulcers. I thought that was for, like, some old lady who was worried about her electric bill or something. I had no idea that I had that many [13, including one perforated ulcer, which, according to the book, required a complete blood transfusion] and that I was bleeding that much. So it wasn’t like I wanted to quit Ministry. It was just like, really, there was no choice. I couldn’t do it anymore. I was not healthy. And so I said: “This isn’t worth it. Maybe I could get a job at Best Buy or something, where I don’t bleed as much. Or Wal-Mart or something.” Turned out doctors found out what it was and I had to die one more time, and then they got me back on my feet.
M: You write in your book that Timothy Leary arranged in his will for an ounce of your ashes to be buried in space. Will your ashes make pulverizing new Ministry records?
AJ: No . . . no new Ministry records [after From Beer To Eternity]. That’s not to say I’m not going to do another record. I may do another record with people I’m interested in or have a good musical relationship with, but it won’t be called Ministry. This is definitely – not probably – definitely the last Ministry record. This is it. This is what you got. This is what you want. This is what you get. Fifteen, 25, 30 years later, whatever: This is what we did. Now it’s time to do other stuff . . . soundtracks, comic books, there are other people I want to work with. I talked to Lil Wayne. We’ve been talking about doing something together. I mean, there may be some fun stuff in the future, but it just will not be Ministry, that’s all. This is the end of that.
M: You told Metalsucks there won’t be a From Beer To Eternity tour. You’ll instead be on the road lecturing college students: Use condoms; don’t share needles; methadone doesn’t work?
AJ: That’s true. We are not touring on From Beer To Eternity, even though I think it’s probably one of the best [Ministry studio] albums . . . if not the best. But, regardless, without Mikey, it would just seem kind of weird and cheap. I know I’ve done tours without Mikey because of his health problems. He had back surgery, so Tommy Victor from Prong took over, and we did The Last Sucker and that worked out flawlessly. And Tommy Victor’s great and all that, but . . . I just think it’s cheap if we start devouring [Scaccia’s] carcass. I’m not having, like, Mike Scaccia conventions in El Paso and selling his guitars that he gave me or anything like that.
M: Did you kick heroin?
AJ: This coming September 6th is 11 years, and I’ve never relapsed. Never wanted to. And that includes cocaine, that includes everything. I don’t even do prescription drugs. I don’t even do cholesterol [lowering medication]. I don’t even do aspirin, dude. I’m completely, for 11 years, like drug-free. I still have my bout with the bottle, you know. I still drink a little bit, but everything else is gone. Mikey died of natural causes. [Bassist] Paul Raven [was] another person who died in my band. Shit, I’m becoming Spinal Tap. Everyone [associated with] my band dies: William Burroughs, Timothy Leary, Mike Scaccia, Paul Raven. Paul just decided to go out and do a night of coke in Paris, and the next day he had to play a show. [His death] wasn’t directly related to the coke, but . . . when you’re in your mid-50s and you’re trying to do something that you should do in your 20s, that’s probably not going to work out well in your favor.
ROCK OF PAGES: “This is the decade for the Final Bloody Mutilation,” writes criminal scum-punk GG Allin in his 1991 dot-matrix mission statement, reproduced in the new 208-page hardcover My Prison Walls (Aggronautix). “Time to get rock ‘n’ roll out of the hands of the masses and back to the people who will not accept comfort or conformity at any cost. Then I will commit suicide onstage and the blood of rock ‘n’ roll will become the poison of the universe forever.”
My Prison Walls, published in agreement with GG’s brother, Merle Allin of The Murder Junkies, collects the alternately sad, nostalgic, repugnant, and, perhaps most shocking, business-minded letters GG mailed to family and friends (including Jeff Clayton of Antiseen and Peoria native Bloody F. Mess) while behind bars from 1989 to 1991. Portraits of the singer by convicted killers John Wayne Gacy, Richard Ramirez, Henry Lee Lucas, and Danny Rolling accompany handwritten correspondence in sensationalist color. It’s a coffee table book unwittingly composed by a man determined to survive only long enough. To the imprisoned GG, survival meant stamps, smokes, books, self-promotion, masturbation, and maintaining his vision to poison the well.
“Ready to get back to my mission as soon as I am released . . . I’ll be back with a fucking vengeance,” he writes Mess. “I’ve got a band, a record deal, and I’ll waste no fucking time.” To Mom: “One day we will all be able to be together again.” To Merle: “Did two interviews last week with German publications. There is going to be a big buzz. I’ve also got a connection in Japan . . . Great things await us.” To Sharon Rose, his friend in Oak Lawn: “Just write to [the parole board] and tell them that I lived with you for over a year and that you never had a problem. Lie if you have to.”
The book reproduces a flyer by Nick Bougas for a GG Allin suicide show planned for the Halloween following the vocalist’s release, but GG died in June 1993 after accidentally overdosing on heroin. The untamed animal’s legacy lives on in the work of Swedish black metal pack Watain, whose flexi-disc cover of GG Allin & The Murder Junkies’ “Fuck Off, We Murder” in the September issue of Decibel magazine invokes a convincing bloodlust. Meanwhile, former GG collaborator Mess fronts The Bloody Mess Rock Circus, whose new Mountain Rock stays glued to punk’s rollicking side, which GG eschewed but didn’t exactly discourage. To Mess: “Move on into unsettled dangers before you can grow and become totally self-sufficient. Depending on anyone will only weaken yourself.”
MOSH-WORTHY . . . LIVE: Hoax (Club Rectum, 9/15); Slauter Xstroyes (Brauerhouse, 9/21); Carcass, Macabre (Reggie’s, 9/23); Helloween (Mojoes, 9/30); Katatonia (Bottom Lounge, 10/2).
MOSH-WORTHY: Carcass Surgical Steel (Nuclear Blast); Gorguts Colored Sands (Season Of Mist); Diamond Plate Pulse (Century Media/Earache); Satyricon Satyricon (Nuclear Blast); Grave Morbid Ascent EP (Century Media).