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7 Insane Stories from the Creation of Ministry’s 'Psalm 69'

7 Insane Stories from the Creation of Ministry’s 'Psalm 69'

It's well-known amongst Ministry fans that the band's 1992 breakthrough album Psalm 69: The Way to Succeed and the Way to Suck Eggs, which came out on July 10, 1992, was created in a whirlwind of drug-fueled turbulence, outrageous debauchery and multiple brushes with death.

At the time, it seemed highly (with an emphasis on high) unlikely that frontman Al Jourgensen would still be alive by the end of the album tour, which included a legendary slot on Lollapalooza 1992 that also featured Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Rage Against the Machine, Ice Cube and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Defying the odds, Jourgensen and his bandmates — guitarists Mike Scaccia and Louis Svitek, bassist Paul Barker, drummer Bill Rieflin — not only lived through the tour, but Barker and Svitek lasted until 2003's Animositisomina before quitting the band due to irreconcilable differences.

But no matter how dysfunctional the relationship eventually got between Jourgensen and Barker, the two managed to set aside enough of their differences over a two year period between 1991 and 1992 to create and record their breakthrough fifth record Psalm 69. While the album is most commonly called Psalm 69, the full title was Psalm 69: The Way to Succeed and the Way to Suck Eggs. The latter part of the name came from a line from Aleister Crowley and was a reference to the "69" sex position (succeed was a pun for "suck seed"). And the only actual text that appeared on the album artwork was  ΚΕΦΑΛΗΞΘ, which is Greek for "Head 69." 

The album became Ministry's most popular release, spawning the singles "Jesus Built My Hotrod," "N.W.O." and "Just One Fix" and going platinum in December 1995. Ironically, the band's label Sire/Warner Bros. were initially convinced the album was a failure and struggled with Ministry during the entire creation of the record, even though they reluctantly agreed to double the initial $750,000 advance for the release.

When I was working with Jourgensen to compile his memoir — Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen — the band's frontman documented, in unflinching detail, the chaos and decadence that went down during the creation of Psalm 69 (as well as the dozens of other episodes of conflict, mayhem and creativity that have occurred over the rest of the band's career).

Here, we present seven of the most outrageous incidents of the Psalm era: 

Psalm 1: Drugs, Drugs, Drugs
By the time Ministry were done touring for their 1989 album The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste, Jourgensen, his ex-wife Patty and guitarist Mike Scaccia were all nursing voracious drug habits. "I was shooting up, smoking crack and drinking Bushmills laced with acid," Jourgensen says. "And it was a cycle that I'd repeat 10 times a day, at least."

The addictions cost the band about $1,000 a day, which they happily paid for with their $750,000 advance from Sire/ Warner Bros. for the follow-up to The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste. At the time, Jourgensen was fed up with the protocol of the music industry and felt he had fallen into a creative rut. 

"What I was doing wasn't art anymore," he says. "It wasn't fun. It was procedure. Since I wasn't enjoying what I used to love I decided to rebel harder than ever and push the limits to their utmost extremes. Mikey and I were shooting speedballs, blending smack and coke in the same syringe so you don't nod off and you don't get wired. And then we'd sit around and record walls of white noise for hours on end."

Psalm 2: Al Jourgensen and Gibby Haynes' Build a "Hotrod"
One day when the Butthole Surfers were in Chicago — where Ministry were working on the record — Jourgensen invited frontman Gibby Haynes to come to Wax Trax Studios to collaborate.

"Gibby came in absolutely shitfaced," Jourgensen says. "He couldn't even walk. We set him up with a stool, gave him a microphone and a fifth of Jack and played this thrashy, redneck rock track we were fucking around with. Gibby babbled this incoherent nonsense, knocked over the whiskey and fell off the stool. We propped him back up again and tried again. 'Bing, bang, dingy, dong, wah, wah, ling, a bong!' He slurred shit like that for a while then — crash! — back on the floor. We went on like that for take after take and got nothing but gibberish with a few discernible words, like 'baby,' 'gun,' 'trailer park,' 'around' and 'why, why, why!' Finally, Gibby passed out and it was up to me to turn all that babbling into a track.

"It was like pulling a diamond ring out of a septic tank," Jourgensen adds. "I edited the song on my two-track at home and I spliced so much tape to make his gobbledy-gook sound like words. Even in my fucked up state, I had the rock-steady hands to conduct delicate brain surgery. I cut tape all night long and three weeks later it started sounding pretty good. I added these samples about drag racing, put in these crazy backwards effects, racecar sounds, a thrash beat [guitarist] Mikey [Scaccia's] riff. Mikey added these wild blues solos, then I added the nonsense spoken word intro to go along with Gibby's moronic lyrics."

When Ministry's record label started getting anxious and pressuring Jourgensen about what he and his bandmates were doing with their $750,000 advance, he delivered his collaboration with Haynes — now christened "Jesus Built My Hotrod" — because that's all he had.

"They hated me to the point of viciousness," Jourgensen says. "They had given me all this money and this was all I had to show for it. They became hell-bent on my destruction. I got this phone call: 'We gave you $750,000 and you send this nonsense back to us. What are we supposed to do with this?' They hated it. I was like, 'Well, either double down or not, man. Cut us loose now if you want. I don't care.' So they took the bait and doubled down, which was cool because we actually got the record company to pay us $1.5 million to make this fucking record!"

 

Ministry - N.W.O. (New World Order) from universum on Vimeo.

Psalm 3: Run-in with Rollins
When Lollapalooza came to Chicago in 1991 on the first year of the festival, Jourgensen went to check out his former roadie Trent Reznor's band. The Rollins Band were opening the main stage that year and when Jourgensen went backstage to congratulate Reznor he bumped into muscle-bound vocalist and media celebrity Henry Rollins, whose band was sharing a bus with Nine Inch Nails. 

"Rollins looks at me and says, 'Get out of here, you piece of shit. I hate junkies,' " Jourgensen recalls. "I know Henry Rollins is supposed to be this he-man who lifts weights, takes off his shirt and shows his muscles offstage, but I didn't know if the guy could fight or not, and frankly, I didn't care," Ministry's frontman explains. Determined to defend himself regardless of the cost he sprung into action. "I didn't even think about what I was doing. I just took a giant swing at him a caught him with a right hook to the jaw," Jourgensen says. "His eyes widened with surprise and he went down and then a bunch of guys split us up. He didn't even get a shot in and he never came after me or bothered me again. 

Psalm 4: The Junkies Versus the Book Club
While Jourgensen, his wife, Scaccia and possibly other members of Ministry's entourage were battling crippling drug habits, bassist Paul Barker, drummer, Bill Rieflin and vocalist Chris Connelly — drug-free individuals who Jourgensen nicknamed "the book club" — began to take more control over the day-to-day activities of the band, even though Jourgensen insists he and Scaccia were still responsible for the bulk of the usable creative output.

"I was a mess, but thank God for Mikey," Jourgensen says. "He was wasted all the time, but still productive. And the success of 'Jesus Built My Hotrod' gave Mikey a second wind. He came up with all the riffs for "N.W.O." "Just One Fix" and other thrash-based riffs. I just added my production and some movie samples to make it cool. But Barker saw this as his opportunity to take over. Ministry started getting out of my hands as my baby the more Barker took over. It became corporate and then I became more rebellious than ever when it came to my own self-destruction. I felt cornered now. I had all these people running my life and I was taken over. Ministry was taken over for a few years by the book club. And that's OK; it needed to be because I was useless. I was completely whacked out of my mind on drugs so I figured I'd put it to the guy that's not whacked out of his mind on drugs and put it in his charge, and that would be Barker. For about three years he assumed the main identity of Ministry and did all the interviews and promotion because I was unable to walk from mixing board to the front door without falling down. Seriously, that was my downward spiral."

 

Psalm 5: Chased Out of Chicago
It takes a lot for a band to be drummed out of town by the Chicago industrial rock community, but that's exactly what happened to Ministry while they were working on Psalm 69 at Chicago Trax. Jourgensen and Co. were doing the best they could to be productive considering some of the main members of the band were incapacitated by chronic narcotic use. But Jourgensen's out-of-control drug habit wasn't what got him ostracized by the locals. In a way, Jourgensen's exile was inevitable. It wasn't just the vast quantities of substances he was doing that turned people against him it was the debauchery that was happening at Chicago Trax while he was nodded off that sealed his fate.

"It didn't have anything to do with me," he insists. "A doorman would tell a girl, 'If you give me an extra $1,000, I'll let you in there all night and you just go right up to Al and give him a blowjob. He's the one in the bubble chair.' People were overdosing in front of me or swallowing their tongues. I'd be all junked out, trying to rationally deal with this shit: stabbings, thefts, all kinds of mayhem. Then somebody died, but not on my watch." 

Someone threw a heroin birthday party for Jourgensen and two of the attendees were Jourgensen's tattoo artist Guy Aitchison and his friend Lorri Jackson, a local poet. While Aitchison was still hanging out Jackson left the party with a heroin dealer and overdosed. "I got fuckin' blamed for it," Jourgensen gripes. "I had nothing to do with it. She showed up at my place, met this guy, left with him and shot up with him and died in his house, not my house. But the press attacked me, everyone was giving me the evil eye, the cops were watching me. The heat was on. I literally got drummed out of Chicago and I'll never forgive the people who treated me like a serial killer after this girl died."

Psalm 6: The Book Club Moves the Junkies to a More Productive Location
Pressured to leave Chicago, Barker convinced Jourgensen and the rest of team Ministry to relocate to Shade Tree Studio in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Barker's aim was to get Jourgensen away from his Chicago drug buddies and into a healthier, more productive environment. But he miscalculated Jourgensen and Scaccia's willpower.

"Barker was too stupid to find a place more than 90 miles away," Jourgensen says. "So me and Mikey just wound up driving the 90 miles twice a week to hook up with our dealers, jonesing all the way there and risking getting arrested on the way back. We had a couple of close shaves with the law, where we were pulled over and we hid our stash behind the ashtray, popped the vents out, put our stuff in there and clicked it back in just  as the cops came up to us with a flashlight." 

The Wisconsin studio was owned by Cheap Trick, whose guitarist Rick Nielsen later became one of Jourgensen's close friends. But being outside of Chicago and in an unfamiliar location just emphasized the cavernous gulf that had developed between Ministry's two main men.

"We weren't a unified team anymore by any stretch of the imagination," Jourgensen says. "Me and Mikey were in one camp. Barker, Atkins and Connelly were in another camp. But the funny thing is that we were the scumbags, yet we were the ones coming up with all the fucking songs. They treated us like shit and tried to give us a schedule to follow. It was like, 'Hurry up, we're off schedule.' I was like, 'Schedule? What Schedule? We're wasted, I'll work tomorrow.' That was the beginning of the big split in the band. We were all fucked up and they were all freaked out because we were the creative force of the band and, hey, if the junkies didn't produce, they didn't eat."

 

Psalm 7: Al Jourgensen and William Burroughs Join Forces for a "Fix"
For the song "Just One Fix," Jourgensen included audio from speeches and readings given by legendary writer and junky William S. Burroughs. When Ministry finished the album and their label were seeking clearances for the samples, they had a problem. No one seemed to be able to clear the Burroughs samples. Wary of a lawsuit, the label tried in vain to reach Burroughs' camp, which delayed the release of Psalm 69 by two months. When Burroughs' manager James Grauerholz read an article in which Jourgensen explained the delay he became incensed and tracked down Ministry's frontman. "He called me and said, 'Nobody asked us for sample clearance. We never said you can't use that stuff. As a matter of fact, why don't you come to Lawrence, Kansas where Bill lives and we'll do new stuff.' "

Thrilled with the idea, the band, representatives from Ministry's label and management and a video crew headed to Burroughs' home to record new audio and shoot a video. Everyone arrived on time except Jourgensen. He was three days late. "There were a couple reasons I kept Bill waiting," he explains. "First, I had to finish up a Revolting Cocks mix that I was already late doing because we had been working on Psalm 69."

More problematic to Jourgensen were the travel plans that had been booked for him. He was scheduled to fly out on the 23rd, but he refused to take a plane because he was superstitious about traveling on that day. So Jourgensen compromised and agreed to travel by car with a friend from Chicago.

"We stopped off in Kansas City, knowing we didn't have enough dope to last us our trip," Jourgensen says. "We figured Bill would probably want some. We went to this ghetto neighborhood and drove around looking for someone on a corner or something.  We got chased out by the cops because we were two white guys in this ghetto area — it was pretty obvious what we were trying to do. So we said, 'Fuck it. Let's just go to Bill's house.' We drive down to Bill's, knock on his door and he answers. The first thing he says is 'Are ya holding?' He didn't even say hello.  Then he said, 'I can smell a junkie a mile away.' We only had enough to keep ourselves from getting sick. So I was like, 'No,' and he slammed the door in our face."

Figuring the key to admission at the Burroughs estate was smack, Jourgensen drove 35 miles back to Kansas City and cruised the ghettos again. This time he found a kid on a street corner who sold him $800 worth of heroin. Pleased with his success, Jourgensen headed back to Burroughs' house.

"We knocked, he opens the door and is like, 'Oh, it's you again.' He knew he had to do a video with us for 'Just One Fix.' He had already agreed to it. We were like 'No, no, no. It's different this time. We scored. We're holding.' He says, 'Come on in.' We go into Bill's living room and right away he goes to the bedroom. Bill was like a giddy little kid because his manager James usually prevented him from using. He was strictly on this methadone program. He wasn't shooting and he hated coke. So James would keep him on the straight and narrow. But James had the flu and Bill was taking advantage of this – kind of like daddy's away so I will play. We go to shoot up and he brings out this, like, Pulp Fiction 1950s' leather belt with 1950s' needles – really old school. It was comical. We had our little normal needles and he had this elaborate setup. We all shoot up and pass out for a while. I still haven't said anything to this guy and he hasn't said anything to me. Then I wake up and I see a letter from the White House — the fucking White House — on his table, unopened. I was like 'Bill, you got a letter from the White House.' He is like 'Eh, so what? It's junk mail.' I said, 'Are you going to open it?' He said, 'No.' I asked if I could open it. He said, 'Whatever you want to do.' So I open it and it is a letter from Bill Clinton saying he wanted Bill to come do spoken word at the White House. I was pretty impressed by that. I was telling him that and Bill says, 'Who's the president now?' He didn't even know it. He didn't know it was Clinton. Not a fucking clue. And he didn't give a shit. When I read him the letter he was like, 'I never heard of Bill Clinton.' He said he wouldn't go and he never did." 

Uninterested in contemporary politics, Burroughs spoke at length about his garden, griping about the raccoons that were destroying his petunias. "He said he would try to shoot the animals with a pellet gun but they always got away. He wasn't allowed to own a real gun because he accidentally shot his wife back in the 1950s. So he was trying to kill these raccoons, but the pellet gun didn't fire fast enough. I said to him, 'Bill, you're on the methadone program, right?' And he said, 'Yeah, so what?' And I said, 'Well, why don't you put out methadone wafers for the Raccoons to eat. That way, maybe it'll slow them down enough so you can get them with your pellet gun.' "

That was pretty much the end of the conversation, so Jourgensen and his friend headed to the hotel to meet up with the band and video crew. The next day they showed up at the location for the "Just One Fix" video shoot and Burroughs wasn't there yet. Four hours later he arrived with a broad smile on his face.

"William Burroughs was the grumpiest bastard I had ever met," Jourgensen says. "He never seemed happy about anything. But he was in a great mood from the moment he walked in. He comes up to me and he says, 'You're an astute young man. Your idea was magnificent. I shot two stoned raccoons today!' Right away, I was on Bill's friend list and it was a short list. And all because he took my suggestion of feeding these raccoons methadone wafers so he could slow them down and shoot them. Up until the time of his death, he would call me about once a week and we'd talk. But the real reason for his call was to bitch at me for doing coke. His exact quote was, 'Why would a person do a drug that keeps you up all night twitching? Stick to heroin, kid.' "



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