Fear and Loathing at the Jourgensen Compound

by Tim Stegall

Time is a rare and precious commodity, like oil, diamonds, and the Clash's Cost of Living EP. When my time is wasted, I usually want it paid back. By my calculations, Al Jourgensen owes me 11 hours of my life, and I want it back. Now.

It was January '95, and the latest Ministry LP was virtually complete. Or so went the word received by Warner Bros. from the Jourgensen compound in Marble Falls. Alternative Press wanted a cover story, and since I virtually lived in the neighborhood, AP wondered if I'd be up for writing it. Why not? Ministry had made an interesting record or two that sold some neatly pilfered PIL and Big Black ideas to the bonehead alternametal market. Besides, some of the most interesting writing comes from wading into alien circumstances. While I was at it, I could also give the Chronicle the piece they'd long desired on the area's newly resident rock royalty.

Yeah, "alien circumstances" are one thing, but the disorientation which followed a pleasant ride out to Marble Falls (graciously provided by Warner's Bill Bentley, possibly the world's most human - and humane - record company executive) could only be compared to being dropped from this reality into one painted by Robert Williams. Once we passed the water fountain marking the entrance of the designer community housing Jourgensen HQ, I should've kissed time goodbye, or at least whatever schedule Ministry's PR/management firm, Megaforce, had provided. That January day, a batch of us journalists and photographers were flown into the area from exotic locales ranging from England to Chicago to talk to Jourgensen about the upcoming album. What we didn't know was that Jourgensen's sleeping schedule had already capsized the interview/photo schedule by a good five hours. All the better to get a look at Al's world, I figured.

The compound consisted of three buildings and a tennis court. Flanking the main two-story building that housed the studio and Jourgensen's living quarters was a building for whomever currently composed Ministry (save for Paul Barker, who opted to commute from the Austin home he shares with his wife), and a third structure in which a constantly perking espresso machine stoked the anxiety levels of people barking through phone lines over the details of an upcoming Ministry tour of Australia. Off the studio was a bar, a bedroom for Jourgensen that resembled a teenager's (down to the strewn clothing, piles of records, and collaged photos of various musical icons on the walls), and a staircase leading upstairs to a pool room, a kitchen, and a TV room in which various people watched a slasher flick on cable featuring Nicolas Cage's face being shoved into a deep fryer. Amongst a stack of magazines on a table was a framed document legally changing Jourgensen's name from "Allen" to "Alain."

Jourgensen's engineer, Paul Manno, kindly previewed the tracks completed thus far through monitors bigger than the main speaker stacks found in most rock clubs. At that date, all that had been completed were the already notorious vivisection of Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay" and its swirly B-side, "Paisley." Six more tracks of high-tech cement-mixer metal (enlivened by Rey Washam's percussive brilliance) were in varying states of completion, and Paul Barker would confess later that evening of the need to compose six more tunes, much less record them. They had been working since the previous October, but somehow it didn't seem that the planned April release date would be met.

Photo sessions continued apace as more and more beer and wine was consumed. Laika & the Cosmonauts blasted from the boombox in the bar, while another boombox upstairs blasted the very same Laika CD on a totally different track. Occasionally, Jourgensen would break to play (and scream at) a Gameboy, and shout the praises of Dick Dale. Meantime, the press pack attempted to quell its boredom and impatience by trading gossip about London Suede. Or comparing footwear. Or telling war stories about The Worst Hotel Rooms We'd Slept In. And Laika blasted another pair of totally different songs.

About 10pm, Paul Barker and I walked upstairs to begin the interview (scheduled for 7pm). Jourgensen pledged to come up once he'd finished the jug of wine he was nursing. As Barker and I talked about Ministry then and now, the New York Dolls, and the artistry of Al Green, Jourgensen was downstairs, blaring the Rolling Stone's country burlesque "Far Away Eyes," smashing crockery, and hurling potato chips around. Word was sent upstairs that Al no longer felt like doing interviews today and wished to schedule a phone interview for next week. Word was sent downstairs that Alternative Press frowned upon making cover stories out of phone interviews, and that Jourgensen may find himself reading the first Ministry article he was never interviewed for.

Things got uglier from there, uglier than I care to reflect upon. Suffice to say words were exchanged that led to months of recriminations flying between Austin, Cleveland, and New Jersey, as well as to the breakdown of a long and friendly working relationship between Ministry and Alternative Press. No story was ever written. All I walked away with from that evening were many bizarre memories, a strong sense of admiration for Paul Barker, and an even stronger sense that none of this was worth the cancellation of my regularly scheduled band practice. n

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