by Leah Sottile, Ted S. McGregor Jr and Mike Corrigan
Last Tuesday's right-leaning election results signals great things in the near future for industrial music fans.
Seems odd to say that the re-election of President Bush would be a good thing for real head bangers (not the truck drivin', gun-totin' kind -- the other ones), but according to Al Jourgensen, the man, the myth and the legend behind Ministry, times of GOP preeminence are the times when he does his best songwriting. It was, in fact, President George H.W. Bush who, says Jourgensen, inspired Ministry's first platinum album, Psalm 69, back in 1992.
And prior to Tuesday, saying Jourgensen was "upset" about the younger Bush would be putting it a little mildly. In fact, he based Ministry's latest release, Houses of the Mol & eacute; (which dropped in June '04), completely on his dislike for President George W. Bush. Jourgensen wanted to make that abundantly clear to listeners by having each song title start with a "W," and most spewing messages of his hatred for the president.
And while about half of you (actually 51 percent of you) might scoff at a rocker using his music as an outlet for his political views, especially a cowboy-slash-biker type like Jourgensen, or one who used to be addicted to smack (also kind of like Jourgensen), listen before you judge. On Houses, he attacks everything from Bush's religious leanings on "Waiting" to the post 9/11 rainbow of national security alerts on "W-TV."
It's that same rage and rigor that inspired him in the first place when he first formed Ministry back under the Reagan administration. The original Ministry, then more of a synth-pop, new wave industrial outfit, was a collaborative effort between Jourgensen and Groovie Mann (who would then go on to form My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, which was supposed to appear at the Spokane show with Ministry). They were one of the first acts picked up by Chicago's Wax Trax! Records. After a brief stint with Arista, Jourgensen would finally retreat to Wax Trax! Through the band's 23 years, it's been Jourgensen who has maintained the band by being the only steady member - impressive, given his battles with addiction, shifting members and a whole bunch of milquetoast records. For years he collaborated with studio programming whiz kid Paul Barker - but he left the band, much to the chagrin of many loyal fans, in late 2003.
With Barker's meticulousness out of his long locks, Jourgensen felt inspired to produce a heavy, punky record - and Houses of the Mol & eacute; was born. It's the politically charged, bombastic album that he has been striving for since Psalm 69. And it doesn't skimp on the venom aimed at the President.
If you share Jourgensen's views, or if you want to make the next four years suck significantly less than the last four, join up with Al - he's looking for comrades in his industrial-rock revolution. Or maybe just a few more people to buy his records.
Precocious Prine -- He's not doing interviews on this tour, but if I could have gotten John Prine on the phone, I know what my first question would have been: "What kind of lightning bolt from the heavens inspired you to write the batch of songs for your first record back in 1971?"
The story of Prine's discovery is legendary: Kris Kristofferson watched him play in a Chicago nightclub and helped him land a record deal with Atlantic. Even Kristofferson was blown away, writing in the liner notes that Prine was "Twenty-four years old and writes like he's two-hundred and twenty." Prine was hailed as the next Bob Dylan, a label affixed to many a promising singer-songwriter like an albatross around the neck. And in fact, Prine wouldn't hit the heights of his self-titled debut for another 20 years.
But his music was well known to other musicians, who covered his songs like crazy. I first picked up his debut after I heard a 10,000 Maniacs cover of "Hello In There." Then Nanci Griffith's version of "Speed at the Sound of Loneliness." Then Bonnie Raitt's "Angel From Montgomery." All that attention added up, and in the early 1990s, Prine hit it big -- again -- with The Missing Years. Ever since, he's been producing more great music, making him a cult favorite for his witty songs and heartfelt delivery. He's one of the very best, and you can hear it loud and clear on that first record, with its spare arrangements featuring his acoustic guitar (some electric, though), with some pedal steel, organ and drums thrown in for good measure.
I've thought about one song in particular a lot these past few years, every time I pull up at a stoplight next to a car plastered with American flags. Apparently during Vietnam it was a common sight as well, and it inspired Prine's "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore." It's a hilarious song, but it also has the righteous anti-war line: "Jesus don't like killing, no matter what the reason's for."
And Vietnam is clearly the backdrop for "Sam Stone," one of the most heartbreaking songs about what happens to some soldiers after the shooting stops. "Sam Stone came home / To his wife and family / After serving in the conflict overseas / And the time that he served / Had shattered his nerves / And left a little shrapnel in his knee / But the morphine eased the pain / And the grass grew round his brain / And gave him all the confidence he lacked / With a Purple Heart and monkey on his back."
The record also has one of the best pro-environment songs ever written. In fact, when the Smithsonian put out a folk song collection, it featured Prine's "Paradise," but, inexplicably, only a cover version. The song's story is set in Western Kentucky, and is sung from the perspective of a kid. "And Daddy won't you take me back to Muhlenberg County / Down by the Green River where Paradise lay / Well I'm sorry my son, but you're too late in asking / Mr. Peabody's coal train has hauled it away."
Way back before Snoop Dogg, Prine was writing about the joys -- and related paranoia -- of ganga in "Illegal Smile." And a meditation on going back to the country is at the heart of "Spanish Pipedream," with the unforgettable chorus: "Blow up your TV / Throw away your paper / Go to the country / Build you a home / Plant a little garden / Eat a lot of peaches / Try and find Jesus / On your own."
Prine's range is amazing on this record, from heartbreaking to funny to touching. Three songs fit that latter description. "Hello in There," the song that first turned me on to Prine, is all about growing old -- there's a topic you don't hear in pop music much.
"Far From Me" is about the little things that add up to failed relationships: "We used to laugh together / And we'd dance to any old song / Well ya know she still laughs with me / But she waits just a second too long."
"Donald and Lydia" are two lonely people who only meet in their dreams. Prine's knack for painting a scene is at its best on this song. Donald is a young private on a military base: "Bunk beds, shaved heads, Saturday night / A warehouse of strangers with 60-watt light." Meanwhile, not far away, he introduces Lydia "Making change behind a counter in a penny arcade / Sat the fat girl daughter of Virginia and Ray."
Every time I listen to this record, the comparisons jump into my head from the world of literature and music: Sherwood Anderson, Woody Guthrie, John Steinbeck and, yes, Bob Dylan. And that's for songs he wrote in his early 20s. But in the end, he was never the second coming of any of those guys. No, John Prine is an American original. -- Ted S. McGregor Jr.
Sweet Dreams -- Loved by silly lovers in love, reviled by music critics and ignored by many, Air Supply -- that chirpy and syrupy pop duo known for crooning songs of love -- nevertheless forged more than one Top Ten hit from endless beatitudes to that warm and fuzzy emotion. First formed in 1976, Air Supply (with founding members Graham Russell and Russell Hitchcock) is back on the road once again supporting a new album, Yours Truly (Reprise Records). And yes, you guessed it, they've got a date with Spokane audiences this Saturday night at the Northern Quest Casino.
While songs with titles such as "All Out of Love," "Lost in Love, "The One That You Love" and "Making Love Out Of Nothing At All" may have inspired the Rolling Stone Record Guide to call Air Supply "Quint-essentially saccharine: ersatz, sickly sweet and probably carcinogenic." But such songs also sent the Aussie singer/songwriter team of Russell and Hitchcock skipping merrily all the way to the top of the charts. You also have to credit these guys with sticking to their guns with this new show, which promises to be a fan-satisfying mix of the new and old -- all performed pretty much according to expectations.
Even when it wasn't exactly fashionable, they made a career and a reputation for themselves singing about love. And they've got the fans to prove it. Few of us these days are likely to remember Rolling Stone rock critic Dave Marsh. But man, everybody knows Air Supply. -- Mike Corrigan