By Ellen Eldridge, as originally published in November 2013 issue
Sometimes, the music itself becomes weight-bearing, crushing the creator. Ministry frontman Al Jourgensen has had his fists in any projects and tried more than once to step away from music altogether. Haunted by the loss of his best friend, he finished the most recent Ministry release to honor Mike Scaccia, Ministry’s guitarist who passed late December 2012.
When Al Jourgensen answered the call to discuss the 13-issue series comic coming out by dark artist Mister-Sam Shearon, he sounded surprised. He claimed I caught him off-guard as he blew up pumpkins as part of a contract paid by Esquire magazine. When I asked if he had a few minutes to chat, he agreed saying he could make time.
“This is how I spend my day, blowing up pumpkins,” Jourgensen said. “Esquire Magazine paid me to do this. I got a couple of acres out here and I just sit in a chair watching pumpkins blow up. Then I try to piece them back together.”
He then redirected his thinking back to his music as if some piece of him knew our phone call had a point, but the truth was I didn’t have but three questions—and I forgot to ask one of them.
“I’m a little bit nuts, but not too much,” he said.
Jourgensen connected his joy from blowing up pumpkins to music:
“Deconstruct, construct,” he said. “Like my music.”
Without hesitation, because it made perfect sense to me too, I asked what he was using to piece the pumpkins back together. “Duct tape, glue and stitching,” he said describing what he called his “weird fascination.”
“First you blow up the pumpkin, then you put it back together.”
The beauty of the metaphors inside that statement emerged easily, as many Ministry fans and musician colleagues must have experienced similar experiences as Jourgensen recounted in his memoir. Similarly, Shearon’s dark-art audience could well have spent years self-destructing just so they could piece themselves back together, perhaps learning something about their own makeup or core in the process. The dark artist has a way of depicting the mobsters many artists deal with internally, so the match makes perfect sense for the series.
“I’d listen to their stories, drink with Al until sunrise, draw sketches of him while I’d hear horror stories both funny and sad at times … of his actual REAL life,” Shearon said.
The scenario sounded so very like that of Johnny Depp understudying Hunter S. Thompson, and I told Jourgensen that he reminded me of the late journalist sitting on Owl Farm trying to tame peacocks.
“I met Hunter in ’95—he was at Tim’s house,” Jourgensen said before quickly admitting that the scenario with Thompson was too contrived to be as meaningful as the time when he randomly met Charles Bukowski in an airport and got drunk with him.
I asked why meeting Bukowski was a bigger deal to Jourgensen than Thompson and he said, “I was way more drunk” with Bukowski, but then he continued, “Hunter was more of a staged event. Bukowski was a chance meeting at an airport.”
By this point in the conversation, I got around to asking my first question, which was why did he make statements and actions (including the C-U La Tour where Ministry said goodbye to fans a few years ago) to the effect of stepping away from the music business.
“There’s other things I want to do; the music business sucks,” he said.
He made a statement about wanting to write books and put off death. Jourgensen described how his wife, Angelina, and Shearon considered him a comic book character, with super powers including an “ability to hear conversations across the world, and a flying V [guitar] that I can whip out and play the Devil’s Chord that will knock down a building,” he said.
When I asked Jourgensen to describe the super powers his character had, he sounded truly excited, like a kid. Not in an infantile way, but in a pure way. A way that led me to believe he had been missing with music.
Convinced, he said, “I’ve had these powers for a while.” Confronted with the choice of the one super power he could take back into real life, he flared, “This is real life! I’ve had these powers for a while and I’m gonna start using them.”
Bringing the discussion back to Hunter S. Thompson again, I asked if he knew much about the comics portraying Thompson. I admitted I didn’t know much, but that I believed it was a comic Thompson never approved nor appreciated. Jourgensen agreed.
“I kinda know him and he wouldn’t have liked that,” Jourgensen said about someone turning Thompson into a comic character. Jourgensen, on the other hand, had a hand in writing the stories. The time Shearon spent in El Paso connected them.
Concerning the ‘Alien’ connection with the character’s name as Alien F. Jourgensen, Shearon explained that “Al’s nickname for a long time has been ‘Alien Jourgensen’; on a number of occasions Al and I would stay awake all night talking about the paranormal and the Supernatural, the Occult and the Unexplained, things of which we both share a huge passion for.”
“We’d see the sun come up and the beers would go down,” Shearon said. “I’d make notes and sketch him some more.” Jourgensen described to Shearon childhood grey visitations, as well as recent alien encounters at his home in El Paso.
“Coupled with Angelinas’ own tales of black triangles above the house, phones being tapped, suited men at the door asking to see computers during the ‘anti-Bush’ records era … it all became a little too real,” Shearon said. “Things you just couldn’t make up … then a light-bulb in my head blew … THIS would be the material that would carry across the journey of Jourgensen. That’s when I suggested to Al we map out the series in chronological order using the actual Ministry albums themselves as a canvas and themed for each of the 13 issues.”
Shearon dug deep to find a way to draw out the dark angles of Jourgensen’s life for the comic, but the reality feels much like uncovering Hunter S. Thompson’s drug-rattled trip to Las Vegas as a journey to the heart of the American dream.
“There were things about Al I never knew. One real eye-opener was the very real power that he does indeed have involving electricity,” Shearon said. “He puts it down to being around so much ‘gear’ and equipment in the industrial scene for so long, being shocked here n’ there he’s somehow harnessed and developed his own ability to control electricity. He can make light bulbs blow; I myself have witnessed this.”
Listening to the descriptions of the comic by Shearon and Jourgensen elicited a true excitement that I believe Jourgensen lacked from music. Or hadn’t felt in a while. That idea of electricity coursing through Jourgensen, unleashed as creative energy paralleled that sense of fueled inspiration. And asking Jourgensen about the music business brought a frustrated tone to an otherwise enthralled individual.
“I’m over music, man; I started about 28 years ago on this book and I just got the ending,” Jourgensen said. I heard the light emanating from under his skin electrically.
As he recounted his idea of a serial killer book that focused not on the main character as a murderer who used his mind to manipulate people in dive bars to kill themselves, but on the prosecution. “The dilemma of the book is who’s responsible,” Jourgensen said.
Music, for Ministry’s frontman, may have been the pumpkin blown apart and stitched back together. Jourgensen has stories to tell, and he’s transforming himself into the character those closest to him see. This comic series with Shearon opens an interesting door and exposes a side to Jourgensen that fans will need as much as the man himself needs a new outlet.
The Devil’s Chord comic series should be available by July according to Jourgensen and Shearon.