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POP MUSIC : The Face of Fame, The Face of Anger : Al Jourgensen, leader of the industrial-rock band Ministry, has a potent message that has touched a lot of kindred souls.

August 02, 1992|ROBERT HILBURN | Robert Hilburn is The Times' pop music critic.

A 1991 profile in Rolling Stone magazine reported that Jourgensen usually mixes his records while on LSD during marathon day-and-night sessions. It also tells of the time a journalist attended one of his sessions at Chicago's Trax Studios, the studio where the '80s form of disco known as "house" was born.

Working on a record with the band the Revolting Cocks, Jourgensen allegedly got the writer so drunk that the guest passed out in the studio bathroom. Jourgensen and his mates, the story goes, then erased the interview tape.

There are also other, bizarre tales repeated in fanzines and other more hard-core rock publications. As with many rock legends, the stories get told again and again, developing new wrinkles and degrees of outrage with each telling.

For a while, Jourgensen got a kick out of them, but he thinks they have gotten out of hand. He worries that the wild-man image may overshadow the music.

"I've done some things that warranted some nasty press, but everyone was young and stupid, you know--me as well as anyone else," he says when asked about the tales. "I've done some insane things that I can't even believe, but I've learned how to channel that into the music now rather than flailing around without any purpose. That's the difference.

"But the press really likes the flailing because it's so easy to write that kind of story. But I'm not going to be that easy. I'm not going to be dead like Jim Morrison. I'm not going to be a flash-in-the-pan burnout. I want to still be around in 10 years; if not doing this, I'll be doing soundtracks. . . . I'll be doing my country-Western band. . . . I'll be doing something."

Alain Jourgensen, who is of Dutch and Spanish heritage, says he has does not remember anything about his real father. The surname is Norwegian, taken from his stepfather, whom his mother married in the United States in the mid-'60s.

The Beatles' "Second Album"--the one with "She Loves You" and "Roll Over, Beethoven"--was his first pop obsession. Though he was barely in school at the time, he remembers listening to it over and over.

By his teens, however, his family was living in the Denver area and Jourgensen's tastes broadened to the progressive rock of bands like Pink Floyd and Hawkwind, whose "Space Ritual" was a particular favorite.

Later, he liked the power of Led Zeppelin and the unfiltered sentimentality of country music stars like Hank Williams and George Jones.

Jourgensen had a lot of time to listen to music, because he didn't get along with his family and moved out on his own before finishing high school.

"I was a pretty delinquent little kid," he says, speaking in a rapid-fire manner similar to the insistent beat of his music. "My folks and I didn't get along, so I basically moved out . . . put myself through high school and then college by working. I'm only a half-year short of a degree in history."

But he heard the music that changed his life the night in the late '70s that he stopped by a club in Denver to see the Ramones, the New York group that greatly influenced the punk revolution in England. He was so excited by the energy and aggression of the Ramones that he wanted to be in a punk band himself. "The next day I had a Mohawk and I was on my way," he recalls.

Jourgensen was in and out of bands, searching for a record contract and stardom. He eventually signed with Arista Records and put out, under the name Ministry, "With Sympathy," an album of synth-dance music that he now detests.

If the seeds of rebellion were already in Jourgensen, they were in full bloom after the album experience. Eager for recognition and success, he gave control of the album to other, more experienced hands--and the results so soured him on the record industry that he now refuses any outside interference.

Refusing to even submit demo tapes to show label executives the progress on albums, Ministry simply delivers the finished product.

"I was bitter and the music got a lot angrier," he says now of the period after the first album. "I actually became more and more of a recluse . . . and really started drinking a lot more."

Signed by Sire Records, the Time Warner subsidiary that is known for having discovered such innovative talents as Talking Heads and Madonna, Jourgensen and Ministry released "Twitch" in 1986, and it was the first step toward the accomplished sound displayed in "Psalm 69."

There are themes in the album--ranging from religion to politics--but the heart of "Psalm 69" is in the music itself, the seductive swirl of colliding elements that in some strange way mirrors the chaos that Jourgensen sees in the world around him.

As if impatient with language, Jourgensen merely punctuates the sonic blasts with occasional howls or TV sound bites, such as President Bush's call for a new world order in the album's opening song. The sarcastic "N.W.O." is the closest Ministry gets to commentary. Normally, Jourgensen simply aims to stimulate.

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