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Cover Story: Ministry • Age of Disinformation + March 14 Aragon Ballroom Photo Gallery

| February 29, 2024

My apologies, Dear Readers. And I’m not joking here. I really believed that — after an adventurous, always enlightening, occasionally drug-blurred four-decade career in rock journalism that kicked off in the Midwest fresh out of high school back in halcyon 1977 — I had nothing left to offer, no moving words left to conjure, no opinion on music, in general. It would all carry on quite adequately without me. So, in the immortal words of the Great Leonard Cohen in his prescient farewell album “You Want It Darker,” I was leaving the table; I was out of the game. So I simply shut down my Gmail account and disappeared overnight, placating myself with the plateau that America, possibly humanity itself, seemed to have reached via our last presidential election. Surely, we were all heading in the right climate-change-conscious direction since time was of the most urgent essence, right?

I was wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong. Every species-saving lesson we should have learned was quickly forgotten, often simply because some disbeliever shouted it down as untrue with a bigger, louder bullhorn. As if just repeating a sketchy conspiracy theory over and over could make it magically come true. I was moved to take action. I had to somehow get involved in writing again, to jump back into this disinformation-spattered fray and remind folks of exactly what’s at stake in this Annis Horribilis, the Year of Our Lord 2024, as in the potential fate of extinction-bound humanity itself. But I couldn’t find the proper doorway for re-entry, so I tabled the idea for a few tense, glued-to-the-daily-TV-news months.

Then I heard the hard-hitting new Ministry album; it’s sixteenth. And not only was HOPIUMFORTHEMASSES  bracing musically, shaking its industrial-strength, metal-gloved fist at current predictable chart-savvy conventions, but longtime bandleader Al Jourgensen was also shaking his shrewd, politically-fomented lyrical fist at a World Gone Numb With Ennui, a World on the brink of knuckle-headed self-annihilation, a World he — like a lot of equally uneasy observers — no longer clearly recognized. The last time the man and I spoke, for an IE cover in August of 2021, he was equally concerned and venting through a tirade-testy long-player dubbed “Moral Hygiene” and sniping at fact deniers — right-wing and otherwise — in gut-punching anthems like “Disinformation,” “Death Toll,” “Broken System,” “We Shall Resist,” and even an oddly-appropriate reading of Iggy and the Stooges classic “Search and Destroy.” At the time, neither of us could have predicted the grave course changes civilization would take in the ensuing months and years. Such as Vladimir Putin’s ongoing Borg-assimilating assault on Ukraine (which now, courtesy of a new financial-aid-apathetic Speaker of the House, is teetering on the brink of defeat for Zelensky’s eternally determined but now desperate country); Israel’s stark, initially-justified War 0n Hamas, which — now reframed under the figure of 29,000 + dead Palestinians — is starting to tilt toward genocide; the advent of autocratic leaders all over the world, from Hungary to South and Central America; and the inexplicable Stateside resurgence of someone that Jourgensen and I both agree, at interview’s outset, to dub He Who Shall Not Be Named, who — while facing 91 felony charges —promises a vengeance-minded, NATO-snubbing dictatorship on Day One if re-elected. Throw in the insidious advent of AI, the recent mysterious death of Putin’s primary Russian political opponent Alexei Navalny (from ‘Sudden Death Syndrome’), coupled with that nation’s new reportedly laser-equipped satellite orbiting the Earth, and the state of the Earth, in general, where accelerating fires, floods, tornados, city-leveling quakes, and rising temperatures hold deadly sway, and we’ve drifted into dire straits, indeed.

Can Ministry ease us back from the China-vs-Taiwan Doomsday Clock brink of Armageddon with HOPIUMFORTHEMASSES? And blunt-force traumatic tunes like “B.D.E,” “New Religion,” “Just Stop Oil,” and ”It’s Not Pretty”? Alongside aides de camp Monte Pittman Cesar Soto and Bill Morrison on guitars, and Michael Rozon programming drums (Jourgensen himself handles lead vocals, guitars, and keyboards), fellow incensed musical guests like Jello Biafra (on “Aryan Embarrassment”) and Gogol Bordello’s Eugene Hutz (“Cult of Suffering”) and Corrosion of Conformity’s Pepper Keenan (“Goddamn White Trash”)? At 65, Jourgensen knows he has a limited audience for his work, so it’s not like he’s tilting at Quixotic windmills. But he doesn’t have dreams of singlehandedly launching a peaceful new era, either. He explains that the now-California-based former Chicago native isn’t feeling too bad. “But do I have hope for humanity?’ he asks rhetorically before prefacing his answer with a protracted sigh. “Not a lot, really. “I’m not Nostrafuckingdamus, so we’ll see what happens. But me, personally? I’m content. I’ve been off drugs for over two decades, and I have a nice life here in California. But with previous albums, like when Bush got into office, I was still angry about Bush/Cheney and this and that. And now, it’s just like par for the course, so I just make fun of it and hope that somebody realizes the ridiculous situation that we’re all in, from climate change to right-wing politics, all over the world. Because it’s not just America, for God’s sake!” And he’s got proof, as documented in the following candid Q&A…

IE: In the two years since we last talked, so many post-9/11 dates have been etched into our collective consciousness — January 6, October 10. And for you, personally, last October 9, when you turned 65 and got Medicaid and Social Security, right?

AL JOURGENSEN: I was about as surprised I turned 65 as when Stanley Kubrick called me out of the blue — I didn’t think I’d make it this far. But here we are. So the first thing I did when I turned 65 was I decided to become a fucking adult. I took all my piercings out, and I took my dreads out, and now I’m (pause for cackling laughter) an adult! A tax-paying, law-abiding adult who gets his jollies by making fun of society through my music.

IE: So you, uhh, look like Patrick Bateman now?

AJ: Nooo….I wouldn’t go THAT far. But you can still point me out in a crowd — let me put it that way. But I just decided it was time to get rid of all the piercings and all that shit and just age naturally. Or gracefully, if you will. Tongue-in-cheek sarcasm noted, of course. And I don’t know now where all those piercings are — I have no sentimental attachment to them at all, and I hope they end up on eBay or something. I don’t give a fuck. And that whole piercing thing came about just on a dare from my daughter — she was like, “Dad, you’re a pussy because you don’t have any piercings!” And I said, “Well, you’re a pussy because you have no tats!” And so we both went down to a tattoo/piercing place, and I got a full facial makeover, and she got a sleeve (tattoo). So we were eve, you know? So now I was just feeling, “Why not?” And I’m doing more adult things now than I did in, say, the ‘90s, you know what I’m saying? Like not getting into trouble, for instance (more cackling ensues).

IE: And to also note another huge societal sea change, if you and were still doing cocaine in 2024, we probably would have both overdosed and died on a fatal fentanyl-laced gram or two. That’s how Steve Earle’s son Justin Townes Earle accidentally passed away during the pandemic.

AJ: Yeah. There is no way. So, I don’t do any drugs outside of psilocybin and pot, and that keeps me stable enough. And with the psilocybin, I don’t buy it unless I know the person and my person is more of a horticulturalist than a drug dealer. He really takes pride in growing these little mushrooms downstairs in his basement, and he has all the best equipment, so I know it’s not sprayed with fentanyl and all this shit. So yeah, I quit 22 years ago, and I’ve watched people shoot up in front of me on a tour bus and then offer me plenty, but I’m just not interested. And I mean, it interested me at first, but it’s just not a way of life that interests me now. And some people can do that. They can dabble (in drugs) for their whole life, and more power to them. But for me, it was pure hell just getting out of that (addiction) hellscape, so eventually, it was just no longer cutting it.

IE: We spoke about psilocybin last time. A couple of months later, it suddenly seemed like every musician and/or Hollywood star was openly discussing micro-dosing. 

AJ: Yeah. And well, I generally seem to be either ten years behind or ten years ahead of whatever current fad is going on. I can never seem to stick the landing and just be the flavor of the month for that particular societal era, you know? And for that one, you’ve got to remember that I lived with Timothy Leary for about a year and a half, so I was well-exposed to and well-versed in, psychotropics.

IE: I recently saw an old **Simpsons episode where Otto, the school bus driver, finds some psychotropic mushrooms and is excited that he can finally watch his old VHS of Koyaanisqatsi.

AJ: I would have stuck with Beavis and Butt-Head if I were him. But hey — whatever! But for me, it’s not so much that psilocybin opened my mind. It opened my LIFE to where I don’t have anxiety anymore. Because I was literally ordering my groceries to be delivered from stores — I just couldn’t deal with crowds. And this is the dichotomy of it and the paradox. I can go onstage in front of 20,000 people and feel completely comfortable, but just going to the grocery store or something made me have a panic attack. But as long as I micro-dose every day, I’m able to go out and about, meet and greet, and do this and that. So it’s just opened up my life, and I’ve been doing the micro-dose thing for about four or five years, and I remember that I tried all the Pharma shit with therapists and all that for my anxiety attacks, and they gave me this stuff, but you couldn’t even get a hard-on on it. But the great thing about ‘shrooms is that you do one micro-dose, and you’re able to go out and about, and your brain is chemically functioning properly. But at the end of the day, if you’re in a situation that calls for excessive laughter and partying, you can do more of that, whereas, with all the other antidepressants, you don’t exactly party on those, if you know what I’m saying. So, psilocybin is really good. And it’s a tool for me, and I love it. And it seems to work because, hey! I’m still alive!

IE: Why title the new album HOPIUMFORTHEMASSES? The ‘opium’ reference implies a morphine panacea, a numbing appeasement. Is it an up-dating of the old culture-controlling trope of malt liquor ads plastering most ghettos, specifically designed, they say, to keep the black race repressed?

AJ: Yeah. That and bubblegum vape for kids and his and that. But look — the whole thing is a play on words, as most of my album titles are. And I simply recalled the Marx quote about opium to the masses, and we just changed it to HOPIUMFORTHEMASSES; it’s neither good nor bad, but just the usual Ministry sarcasm because we just like to poke hornets’ nests whenever we can. So it’s just making fun of the fact that, like, is that what we’re waiting for?

The new Hopium for the masses? Which is what? Fucking AI? Because the last Hopium for the masses was social media, and look where that got us. You see what I’m saying? So we just turn things on their ear and plow forward.

IE: Do you participate in any social media? I don’t.

AJ: I don’t, either. I don’t have a single fucking account. I mean, there are people that, for me, run my Instagram and Twitter because I wouldn’t even know how to get on there. So, I don’t have a personal account, and I’m not even on Facebook; I’m not on anything. But because of the way society is structured now, if you want people to know that you have a new release coming out, you have to use (social media). But I don’t even have a Roomba — I’m paranoid about people spying on me in my house, with Alexa and Roomba and all that shit. So, I’m certainly not gonna be a neural link candidate for the new Bond villain, Elon Musk. So I just tend to stay away from all that.

IE: Don’t even get me started on MY conspiracy theories revolving around mind control via covert hypnotism and MK ULTRA-diabolical experiments like what the government did to Whitey Bulger, secretly dosing him with LSD every day for a year while he was in prison. It happened under Sidney Gottlieb, as documented in the creepy book “Poisoner In Chief.” And it’s probably still going on. Somewhere.

AJ: I’ve heard of that! That is INSANE! Why would they pick on Whitey Bulger? And I thought that with all of that MK ULTRA shit, they’re legally not able to do that these days. But oh, well. I’m sure he had fun.

IE: Speaking of AI, and as you hinted at earlier, you were ahead of the Kurzweill/Singularity curve years ago when Stanley Kubrick hand-picked you to appear in his final film “A.I.” and also compose its soundtrack. But you actually hung up on him and his secretary when he first phoned you with the incredible offer?

AJ: Three times! I thought I was being punked, you know? So finally, she got him on the phone, and yeah — it was Stanley Kubrick! I was living in Austin at the time, and I just couldn’t believe it — it just came right out of the blue, and it all worked out. Uh, except for the fact that he died before the movie was made. So (follow-up director) Spielberg kind of inherited me because Kubrick had been adamant that he wanted us to be the band in the Flesh Fair and all this other shit. So I was inherited by Spielberg because Kubrick died before the movie was being shot. And that was kind of rough sailing at first because they’d changed the script from what I was sent by Kubrick — it was a lot darker, the Kubrick version, and there were no fucking teddy bears or any shit like that anyplace. And I was a big fan of his, and I go back to Dr. Strangelove and Lolita. Kubrick was kind of a dark guy, and the movie changed when Spielberg got it because he has this obsession with children and his childhood. So when I met him, it was kind of a strange meeting — I’m in full costume on set, and I’m like, “Steve, baby! What’s the fucking deal, man? I got sent this script, and I thought it was a porno film! I thought “A.I.” stood for “Anal Intruder”! What did you DO to this?” And, uh, he didn’t really understand my sense of humor for about a day or two. So, at first, it was kind of a rocky start with Spielberg. But we got along fine after that. But it was SO out of the blue — I had no connection with Kubrick, an eccentric American living in the British countryside, calling me up in Texas, saying, “No, you HAVE to do this! You HAVE to do the score for this film!” But as it turned out, Spielberg went to his usual go-to guy, John Williams, and we were just down to one song and part of the Flesh Fair scene, whereas Kubrick had wanted me to do the whole score. So yeah, it was weird.

IE: What was your take on Artificial Intelligence, then, as opposed to now?

AJ: Well, it’s just like the dawn of the age of the fucking Internet. It was supposed to lead us into the age of information, and instead, it became an age of DISinformation. And it’s the same with AI — there’s a lot of incredible aspects to it, especially with anything medical or with climate change. It can be a useful tool, and we’re still discovering how to use it. So it could be really useful. But the powers that be — and the people themselves — have been using it for more malevolent reasons.
IE: How do you view the unreal rise of strong-arm autocrats, here and globally, and the public’s almost blind acceptance of them? And voting against your own self-interest? None of it makes sense.
AJ: I don’t understand what people are so surprised about because history is cyclical, and in the 1930s, we had this same thing. They had the exact same PR people, and Goebbels might as well be still alive right now. Because they’re just regurgitating the same us-against-them tropes, the downtrodden — or the lower class — versus the bourgeois, or the super-rich, and this is all cyclical, and this is how world wars start. And this is why we make fun of it in “HOPIUMFORTHEMASSES,” and just by quoting that title, we’re distorting a Marx quote. Because it’s happening AGAIN, so it’s not surprising. It’s disappointing. It’s frustrating. But it’s not surprising. We’re basically in the 1930s again, and it’s ridiculous. And it is, once again, just populist culture. But sometimes, populism works well. Look at Ukraine, look at Zelensky. Zelensky was basically a man of the people, and he’s not insane — he comes from a Jon Stewart mold, and he was a comedian. So sometimes that kind of populism sweeps just like a celebrity in there, and this guy will have some good ideas. And I do understand all this in the sense that social media has made it so the person with who’s going to win (an election) has the most Likes or followers. And then you can say all sorts of crazy stuff, and people will like you for that, until all of a sudden, you obtain power, and then it’s like everything else on social media. That’s why these kids are wishing there WAS fentanyl in their coke or heroin — they just want to die. They want out of the hamster wheel that we’ve created with social media. And you think THIS is bad? Wait ’til AI rears its ugly head, and the right people start using it in an even more malevolent fashion.
IE: What do you foresee for our own crucial 2024 election?
AJ: Well, I don’t see a path of victory for Trump. Uh, or the Unnamed One, as we decided. He’s not going to gain anything new — he’s lost all the independent voters in the suburbs, so I just don’t see it. And the Republican House of Representatives will not win, although, unfortunately, I think people are still stupid enough to vote in a Republican Senate. But here we go — we’re gonna have a stalled Congress again and an old man running stuff. So it’s all going nowhere — we’re on that hamster wheel again. But the thing is, it doesn’t matter because Trump is baked into the cake — it’s either you like him or you don’t, and enough people don’t like him that he’s not gonna be able to retain power. So he can stall and delay all of his indictments all he wants because, at some point, he’s gonna have to face the music, As will Orban in Hungary, as will China with its collapsing economy. All these things are coming to a head, and the world is like a giant boil that’s about to be lanced.
IE: Final question: Will you ever employ AI technology to create music?
AJ: No. What’s the point? I’ll let other people do that and go, “Alexa! I wanna sound like Ministry! Write me a song!” So, who am I gonna sound like? I sound like Ministry already, so there’s really no point in it for me.
Ed Spinelli captured Ministry on March 14 at the Aragon Ballroom with Gary Numan and Front Line Assembly.

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