Reviewing Ministry’s The Mind Is A Terrible Thing to Taste in 1989, Robert Christgau wrote that industrial is “objective; it doesn’t imply a subject.” That pronouncement still made sense when “industrial” meant Ministry, who obscured leader Al Jourgensen’s subjectivity with effects-garbled vocals and samples of movie dialogue, TV preachers and machine sounds. Nine Inch Nails made the industrial formula hugely popular by giving it a subject, namely M. T. Reznor, whose rich inner life found expression in light piano balladry with industrial twinkles. Feelings were not Ministry’s bag: even the early, wimpy synth single “Revenge” went “Ain’t got time for what you feel.” As it turned out, most people preferred NIN’s boring narcissism to Ministry’s ugly, funny collages.
Ministry - “Thieves”
Nine Inch Nails - “Something I Can Never Have”
Reznor owns up in the Ministry documentary Fix, finally released last year: “My dream was to be, you know, like Al.” It is not so surprising to hear Reznor acknowledge his debt to the superior artist. The surprise comes in realizing that, 20 years after the release of Psalm 69, it’s Reznor who’s doing Jourgensen the favor and not the other way around. Why is “Trendy,” as some used to call him, the wealthy industrialist fondling Oscar®?
Trent Reznor talks about 1,000 Homo DJs in Fix outtake
It wasn’t just the drugs, but also, some of it was the drugs. Most of Fix consists of footage shot by director Doug Freel on Ministry’s 1996 tour (“Sphinctour”) behind Filth Pig. Freel intercuts candid footage (Al fucks a rotisserie chicken from the catering table; Al guzzles booze; Al ties off and jacks up; Al hurls; Al sticks a banana up his butt) and interviews with Lemmy, David Yow, Buzz Osborne, Jello Biafra, Al’s creative partner Paul Barker, Al himself, and various Ministry associates. At the time, you suspected Jourgensen was in bad shape, but it’s no less unsettling to watch him reach the ultimate depths of drug-fueled paranoia as the tour wears on. He wears bulletproof vests onstage, announces to the band that he will be traveling separately to future shows in the protection of a Secret Service agent, and screams about having to change rooms and names twice a day. He is constantly anointing himself with oils and obsessing over talismans in order to “protect” himself. In one scene, Jourgensen rants at Paul Barker about how his top hats discourage snipers. “These hats really are disorienting, so they can’t really know where to fuckin’ shoot at to hit the scalp and shit like that,” Jourgensen tells his properly horrified bandmate. “I got an extra one, man. I got an extra couple top hats.”
Fix trailer #1
Fix trailer #2
One of the best things about Fix is that it doesn’t have an uplifting story to tell. The modest narrative frame is provided by a few voiceovers from drummer Rey Washam, whose role in Fix is analogous to Sam Elliott’s in The Big Lebowski. The movie doesn’t cover Al’s subsequent recoveries from junk and booze, Barker’s departure in 2004, or Ministry’s Bush trilogy. (Jourgensen retired Ministry with a farewell tour in 2008, but restarted the band this year with the album Relapse and a world tour.) Though there are touching moments—Jourgensen takes care of a frail Timothy Leary backstage, Al and Paul dance to “The Ballad of Frankie Lee & Judas Priest”—the movie mainly dwells on the tour’s unrelieved misery and squalor, as it should. The upbeat ending demanded by the conventional rock doc format would have betrayed the depiction of the junkie’s horrible confinement in an infinite present.
As in no rock documentary since Cocksucker Blues, the backstage and tour-bus footage in Fix makes being a famous junkie on the road seem like hell itself. Al, in the clutches of paranoia, swears off touring; “This is no way to live,” Barker replies. In one snippet, presented without sound or context, Jourgensen is on the floor, conscious, but with his head in a puddle of something. A shirtless Barker buries his face in his hands. Little is revealed about the Jourgensen/Barker partnership except that the well-mannered Barker put up with much insanity. Still, Fix is highly recommended to Ministry fans.
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