Q&A: Al Jourgensen on Ministry’s visual history book, Slayer’s goodbye and Trump

It’s a good time for Ministry visionary Al Jourgensen, who for years battled addictions, health issues and personal demons. He’s sober, healthy and focused and halfway through a new Ministry album scheduled to appear shortly before the 2020 election. He just announced a tour with industrial luminaries KMFDM and Front Line Assembly that broke Facebook for a few hours earlier this week. Finally, he recently released a visual history Ministry: Prescripture available in a limited run of 2,000 copies. The book, compiled with collaborator Aaron Tanner, includes images from throughout Jourgensen’s long Ministry career as well as anecdotes and memories from Tool, Megadeth, Slayer, Rammstein, Bauhaus, Killing Joke and more and a forward by original Dead Kennedys vocalist and sometimes Jourgensen collaborator Jello Biafra. Jourgensen caught up with Decibel late last month to discuss going through his personal history vault and how self-acceptance comes with aging.

You recently moved back to Los Angeles after years in Texas. What’s it been like?
I’m ecstatic. I’ve lived here once before. This time I don’t think I’m leaving. This is my spot and I feel very comfortable here. I have a studio in the house and I’m able to do what I love to do. I had gone through a messy, weird divorce and came back because I have friends out here. I seriously doubt you’ll ever see me residing anywhere else in the world now outside of vacation.

What was it like to be out with Slayer as they finished their career?
It was fantastic. I remember when I got the offer to do this tour and I honestly scratched my head. I didn’t know how it was going to work. That farewell tour has been going on for about two years and has featured all these bands like Carcass and Cannibal Corpse. I saw this diverse lineup and I thought it might be tough. It ended up being a joy – the most fun tour I’ve ever done. Everyone got along and even the crowds seemed to appreciate the diversity. I know Slayer had a great time and we hung out together.

Did seeing Slayer wrap things up give you any thoughts on the arc of your musical career?  You technically started before they did.
I told Tom [Araya] during their tour that I was in a cover band in 1977 in Colorado when I was about 17. We did maybe one or two originals. The name of the band was Slayer! I gave him a bunch of shit about that and said he owed me money. We basically started at the same time. We did determine that I was the old fogey in the bunch among lead singers. We all went out to dinner one night – Les [Claypool] and me and Tom and Phil [Anselmo] and I was the old bastard in the bunch.

It must have been an emotional moment to see Slayer close their career.
I was an even more emotional moment for me to go home and get off the road [laughs]. To be honest I didn’t stick around for the last show. I just did the thing with the lead singers two days before. The last show is crazy with the backstage scene and I was just happy to be home.

After writing your memoir how did you come up with the idea to do a visual history of Ministry?
That’s what happens when you reach Methuselah age. When I hit 60 some people talked about the need to document my life. I actually just saw the book for the first time yesterday. I saw a few random quotes from that and the forward by Jello Biafra. But the day before yesterday was the first time I saw the whole thing.

How were all the archival images collected and selected?
I didn’t do it. Sometimes looking through these old photos I was trying not to throw up. It’s like when your parents show your girlfriend all of your baby pictures and you’re cringing. Still I was able to look at all of it and say this is what happened and it is what it is. Of course some of the photos are slightly embarrassing to me but at my age it doesn’t matter. It’s water under the bridge and I’ve lived my life. To me the best part isn’t the photos or the ticket stubs it’s the comments and the forward. Some of it was pretty surprising and touching.

Was there one photo you remember being particularly cringe-worthy?
I’m not big on photographs so I’d say one hundred percent of the photos were cringe worthy [laughs]. You’re asking the wrong person!

There’s something very cool about being able to chart the progression of your life and career in photos.
I have an interesting perspective because I end up looking at these pictures a lot different than most people would. I can look at these photos and remember a time I was struggling or things weren’t that good. There are a lot of emotions that surround some photographs and back stories. It’s kind of hard to look through. I’ve looked through it once. But I certainly hope people can enjoy it.

You can look at the photos and see the time period they were taken rather than just a picture.
Exactly – that was my filter for all of these pictures. Periodically some journalist wants me to go through and name my top Ministry albums. Then they say ‘why isn’t Psalm 69 number one?’ and I’ll say that there was some shit that went on behind the scenes. It’s not just the music or the photographs.

When I’ve talked to you before you mentioned how much you loathed With Sympathy. You also mentioned that in other interviews. Would you say you’ve been able to accept that album more in recent years?
Totally. As soon as you come to grips with the fact that you’re getting older you can’t hold regrets. You can’t just keep hating something you’ve hated forever. This is a progression of one person’s life. Mine just happens to be documented in books and music.

I’ve never been able to admit to you that I’ve always loved With Sympathy. And now I can!
That’s good. I still haven’t listened to that record in almost 40 years. But once again, under the circumstances I did what I was supposed to do to the best of my ability. It’s just not something I would have chosen to do looking back. But back in the old days of all powerful record companies you did what you were told. That‘s why I got out of it and why major labels died. People who don’t really know music and only know marketing were running everything. Times have really fucking changed and so have I. My story sort of mirrors the trajectory of the music industry. When you get to a certain age you feel above all of it. I just want to please myself.

You left Texas right before Trump got elected.
I don’t think there’s a place to escape the orange gibbon. It’s really inconsequential if I was in Texas or here. We still have this cancer on our society.

Is this the worst you’ve seen in politics? You’ve always been very vocal about your political beliefs.
Far and away. The first time I was tear gassed was when I was 10 at the Chicago Democratic National Convention protests when we had Nixon. Now it’s like Watergate on steroids. Granted, Nixon was a shady character but this is fucking treason. You’d have to go back to Benedict Arnold to find a comparison. He (Trump) is basically selling out state secrets for his own personal gain. I’ve never seen anything like this in my lifetime.

With Nixon, the American public almost universally disapproved of his behavior and he resigned. Now 30 percent of the population lives in an alternate universe.
In the late ’60s and ’70s we didn’t have the Internet and social engineering performed by Russians. They didn’t have state-run television like Fox News. Nixon was also able to govern. He started the Environmental Protection Agency for God’s sakes! He actually did some things in government. Trump is all about where he can build his next hotel. He gives a shit about nobody.

With the exception of a botched burglary based on insecurity Nixon did a number of good things – including normalize relations with China.
At least there was governance. [Trump advisor and former New York Mayor] Rudy Giuliani will go down in history as this almost Greek, Shakespearean figure. Talk about a bungled attempt at doing something – oh, how the mighty have fallen. We’re living in historic times. Let’s see where we go from here.

What still inspires you looking forward?
The challenge is to not keep repeating the past. I think a lot of people will be pleasantly surprised with the direction the record is going. It’s far different than the last record and that’s important to me. It keeps you young – to push the boundaries of yourself. If you keep doing the same thing you might as well be a greeter at Lowe’s or Walmart. That’s why I did things like give people Filth Pig after Psalm 69. We got majorly trashed for that because they weren’t ready for it. Now, people call that record a classic – a record that people hated when it came out. It takes a few years to settle before you can really start appreciating a record. If people don’t understand, that’s o.k.