This is a book that had to be written and one that I had to read, which made me feel somewhat guilty when it fell through the letterbox due to the fact I knew nothing about it. I certainly felt that I knew plenty about its subject and co biographer Al Jourgensen having lived with his music through thick and thin, but reading this book I realised that in fact I knew very little. Having just read and reviewed the Cemetery Gates book which featured a host of ‘survivors’ of the “heavy metal scene” I did mention the glaring omission of Al who certainly fits the bill, nothing quite prepared me for just what a damn hedonistic lifestyle he has had as well as his many close calls and escapes from the reaper though. This book charts it all unflinchingly. Despite a first couple of meetings which did not seem to have Al and co-author, journalist Jon Wiederhorn hitting it off the writer did gain permission to spend a lot of time with Al and chart his life so far and boy does it make a compelling read.
Al is amusing and wry throughout and this is a real warts and all tale that has a jaw dropping fact or story on virtually every page. We start with his past and upbringing in a Cuban family arriving in America in 1961 and his mother marrying and leaving Al to be brought up by his grandmother who was certainly one of the biggest influences in his life. We go through the normal tales one would expect of juvenile delinquency from someone who never fitted in but found drugs as a near saviour and then music, both of which would stay with him pretty much for life and define everything about his character. Musically everything is charted, in fact the book is bang up to date taking in his production work up to DethRok ‘Us And Them (which formed part of the listening accompaniment to my reading this book) to forthcoming album ‘From Beer To Eternity’ following the tragic death of co-conspirator and friend Mike Scaccia.
Of course musically Ministry were not always the band that I and many others discovered from The Land Of Rape And Honey and The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste.’ Yes I was shocked to backtrack and discover ‘With Sympathy’ and it is incredibly interesting to read why this work exists and the way the music industry manipulated Al into making it, wanting him to be the next big thing in the future pop world, which was exploding with the likes of The Thompson Twins (yes a guilty pleasure of mine too back then). Thankfully he was turned onto the punk and industrial scene and the music that we know and love was made. Unfortunately heroin was also discovered and this was the muse that somehow literally flowed through the veins of these albums bringing them into existence. The story of the excess and abuse is amazing in itself. If you want more insight into the drugs and drink utilised in the making of, every Ministry album has a list of substances that were involved in one of the books sub-sections.
The fact that Al pretty much hated everyone around him involved in putting together these legendary albums is quite illuminating and no holds barred reading too. There are no kind words to be said about the likes of Paul Barker and Chris Connelly for instance, it was the much more colourful and destructive characters like Mike Scaccia, Phildo Owen, Paul Raven, Gibby Haynes, Tommy Victor and El Duce of The Mentors that he affiliated with. Others such as Barker, an emerging Trent Reznor and even Joey Jordison literally were put through a ritual of fire, pranks and humiliation during their affiliations with Al’s musical world. Some of the most colourful tales included are Al’s first meeting with El Duce, Gibby’s construction of the meaningful lyrics to Jesus Built My Hotrod and the letting off of steam and massive big fuck off fireworks on the tour bus. Seriously though they never stop coming!
Of course we take in not just Ministry but all the side projects as well. I found the Revolting Cocks stories just as crazy (dwarf tossing and all) having loved them since discovering Big Sexy Land. The likes of Luc Van Acker are interviewed in intervention sections of the book putting forward their points and memories. The Power Of Lard is fascinatingly documented too and despite not touching illicit substances Jello Biafra seems just as lunatic a character as any of the users and abusers documented. It’s also amazing to read about how Al collaborated so successfully and got on well with straight edger Ian MacKaye recording Pailhead too.
Al never settles down throughout this biography even when he kicks one habit it seems that there are a host of other demons chipping away and having got through The Bush trilogy of albums, married for the second time to Angelina and set up his 13th planet Studio one has to wonder what on earth can happen next. He has defied the odds that’s for sure and if there is a god, one of the only reasons he has probably kept Al alive is for his own amusement.
Even if you are not a fan of the music this is still a compulsive read. It takes in so much from alien encounters, to giant spiders, and memories of hooking up, turning on and tuning in to the likes of William Burroughs and Timothy Leary. In my opinion this really is not far off from the sort of biographical great American novels told by the likes of them, Jack Kerouac and Charles Bukowski.
My biggest problem with the book is that I finished it (and I forced myself to pace it), although I have a feeling that it won’t be long before I have to pick it up for a repeat read. If like me you read The Heroin Diaries and thought “yeah but the music is shit” here is a book that redresses that balance, the music is great although Christ knows how it was ever created. It even has made me think a bit about its colourful character and regret some of the things I have said about his shitting out of albums after supposedly retiring. Long may he and they continue and I hope there are plenty of chapters left in his life even if the stories calm down a little for everyone’s sakes, sanity and longevity.
The book is available with a mid-section of incriminating photos from all good blah blah in paperback, hardback and for you techno geeks download editions. The Lost Gospels is an absolute gem and a real treat of a book and I simply cannot recommend it enough.