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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.

"I'm not a preacher," he says firmly. "I don't get on a soapbox. I try to leave the music as ambiguous as possible . . . to force people to think for themselves. I've had so many different versions and theories about what the lyrics or the songs are about, and I think that's healthy--even though some of them are completely the opposite of what we meant."

Jourgensen waves a hand in the air as if to brush away a question about "N.W.O." and whether the anger in his music is partially driven by the country's disillusioned mood in recent years.

"It's obvious," he snaps. "It has to all be said. We've gone through a decade that was so sedentary . . . the me generation . . . Reaganomics . . . feel good . . . sweep the bums under the rug as long as you have your (expletive) electronic trinkets at home. . . . No one is going to riot as long as they have their comforts at home, but comforts aren't cutting it anymore, because people aren't happy."

It's almost 3 a.m. by now and the conversation shifts back to Jourgensen's dislike of touring and his desire to clear up the "maniacal" image that surrounds him. Despite the four empty glasses on the table in front of him, he swears he is making progress against drugs and alcohol.

"I still drink but not like I used to," he says, still quite lucid. "Jesus, I was insane . . . heroin as well. . . . I was just trying to subdue feelings. Reality is a tough thing sometimes. It's like getting used to success, getting used to marriage. It takes a while for me to settle into something. I'm not somebody who is easily adaptable. First thing I try to do is suppress everything with sedatives.

"I finally found out (the drugs) isn't where the (creative) power comes from. . . . The power comes from within, and it just took me a long time . . . maybe longer than others to tap into this. . . . I've learned how to, like, mix a record sober now and go on stage sober, which I've never been able to do."

Was there a time when he feared he would end up like one of rock's famous fast-lane casualties?

Jourgensen rubs a hand through his dreadlocks and pauses.

"Not purposefully," he replies finally. "But it certainly was going that way."

Pausing again, Jourgensen looks around at the quiet, serene pool setting.

"You know, it's funny. . . . All the people in the world can tell you you're going to die, (mess) yourself up, but it's not enough to make you change. I even ODd on New Year's Eve. I was clinically dead for 10 minutes and that didn't even wake me up. I just figured, 'I was lucky. . . . I'd better be more careful next time.' "

Various factors, he says, finally convinced him to draw back--principally his family.

"I didn't realize for years the ramifications of what I did, but there were some personal things over the last couple of years that made me think," he says.

"And those things changed me. . . . Things like people at the school where my daughter goes reading stories about me and questioning our family life at home, which is sacred to me. I guard that very privately. My wife and I have been married eight years, which is already a record in this business."

Seventeen hours later on the Shoreline Amphitheatre stage, Ministry lived up to its promise with a compelling performance that easily stole the "Lollapalooza" show from such platinum-status acts as Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam.

Jourgensen prowled the stage like a caged animal, singing into a microphone on a stand adorned with animal skulls and bones. During breaks, he turned frequently to a bottle of Jack Daniel's placed near one of the band's amplifiers. He doesn't see the alcohol as a violation of his pact. It was, at least, the first time he went on stage sober in years, he says.

Well, there was one other time--a show in 1989 when he reportedly fell asleep on the tour bus in the parking lot and didn't wake up until 10 minutes before going on stage. At that time, there was no chance to drink away the anxiety about performing.

"I was like a deer in headlights," he says during the poolside interview. "I was waiting for the horn to honk before I even moved. I couldn't even start singing. I had to run back to the amplifier and chug a bottle of whiskey before I could even go back up to the microphone and deal with people. I got so drunk, and by the fourth song, I was vomiting all over myself, which, of course, was encouraged by the crowd going, ' Excellent , he's throwing up on himself.' "

But what about the two months on the road? Will Jourgensen be able to stand up to the strain? Why even agree to such a grueling schedule?

"I didn't want to be part of this whole picnic-circus. . . . But this band really is a democracy, despite what people may think," he says. "Basically, I was outvoted within the band, within management, within everyone else."

Klein confirmed Jourgensen's reluctance.

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