Call us narrow-minded, but Ministry and Steven Spielberg don’t necessarily feel like they go together.
Think Spielberg, the most commercially successful film director all time, and you think of wholesome family values, plucky young heroes and overwhelming messages of hope and togetherness.
Ministry, on the other hand? Well, frontman Al Jourgensen named one side project The Revolting Cocks, was once denounced in the UK Parliament as “a filthy pig” and has packed a hell of a lot of un-Spielbergian messed-upness into his life: multiple drug addictions, purported encounters with ghosts and aliens, amputation of a gangrenous toe, run-ins with the FBI, and an extraordinary amount of wilfully offensive puns. Oh yeah, and he once told us that he sucks his own cock.
Yet the pair have collaborated, when Ministry cameoed in Spielberg’s 2001 movie A.I. Artificial Intelligence, and formed a brief but unlikely friendship. No, really.
It all came about when the movie’s co-producer Bonnie Curtis saw a picture of Ministry and their appearance, all leather and cowboy hats, struck her as hitting the post-apocalyptic vibe her movie needed.
"We were really going after a certain look," Curtis told MTV. "I was not familiar with who they were. Steven was not familiar with who they were."
However, according to Jourgensen, this was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
(Now, let's say up-front that 'Weird Al' is prone to a bit of exaggeration, so perhaps not every single word of this story is true, but let's go with it, friends.)
Jourgensen told The Hype in 2018 that the band were actually contacted while Stanley Kubrick, who died in 1999, was still involved. “Originally I was approached to do that movie and the soundtrack to it by Stanley Kubrick, who was the original director of that movie,” he said. Kubrick had apparently heard one of the band’s records on the set of Eyes Wide Shut, and was aware that they had used a sample from Full Metal Jacket on their song Thieves.
When the role that Ministry might play was explained to Jourgensen — the band were to play at the Flesh Fair, an anti-robot rally in a bleak dystopian future — it was right up his alley.
"We just pitched the story and Al just immediately got it, to a scary level, got it," said Curtis.
While the band were initially only hired as actors, not to provide any music, one phrase Curtis had used stuck with Jourgensen and became the basis of a song.
"They just walked us through it on the phone and from there the key phrase was 'What about us?'" Jourgensen told MTV. "I remember just thinking that was the summation of what was being said in this little speech... What about us humans?"
He faxed his lyrics over to Curtis, and an agreement was struck to use What About Us? in the movie.
“So I’d been working with the A.I. people for a while, projecting what I was going to do and how we’re going to go about some of the scenes,” Jourgensen recalled. “I got the original script and all this, and then [Kubrick] died suddenly and Steven Spielberg picked up the movie. Trust me, we’re not his first choice, he’s only ever worked with John Williams on his music scores, so we’re kind of like this freaky thing to him.”
Despite Ministry’s appearance being a large part of the whole reason they were there, they were costumed in what Jourgensen calls “these, you know, crazy dystopian post-apocalyptic outfits”. Jourgensen had a silver mask, and his guitar had a built-in screen, an absurdly high-tech idea at the time.
It's fair to say that the band and the director didn't bond instantly.
“[Spielberg] had never worked with a rock band before and he was really freaked out," Jourgensen later admitted to his pal (and LARD bandmate) Jello Biafra. We were there for two days and he wouldn’t even come near us.”
“It wasn’t a very good start, and we were on set for four days and Spielberg hadn’t talked to us. Then they lined us up, the band, like we are meeting the fucking Queen or something. [...] ‘Don’t talk to him unless you’re talked to first. Never look him in the eye.’ This kind of bullshit, and it happens to be that I was the last one in line. So he went down and shook hands of all the band members and said, ‘Welcome aboard.’”
When he reached Jourgensen, Ministry's frontman decided to tell Spielberg that he wasn't enjoying himself, but to do it in his own inimitable style: cheerful but offensive.
“Hey Steven, baby, dude, I think this band has to walk on this movie,” Jourgensen claims to have said. “We can’t do this part for you, because Kubrick told me that it was a porno film and ‘A.I.’ stood for ‘Anal Intruder’. We were here for a porno film. It’s got these fucking teddy bears and these kids running around acting [...] like this E.T. clone movie, and we’ve got to walk.”
While the exact details of what happened next differ from telling to telling, Jourgensen told Biafria Spielberg “grabbed his heart” before running off. Apparently, Big Al attempted to follow him to explain he was just kidding, but was wearing so much metal that he couldn’t run. An assistant offered to let the band leave the film, to which he received a very Al Jourgensen response: “I don’t give a fuck, fuck you!”
The next day however, everything was different.
“He was laughing his ass off at the fact that I thought the name of the movie was ‘Anal Intruder’ instead of ‘Artificial Intelligence,’” said Jourgensen.
“So every day after that, at the beginning of the day Spielberg would come up to me with a new ‘porno’ title for A.I., like: ‘Ass Intruder,’ ‘Animal Instinct’… And then he started wearing my hat and jamming with us onstage. So we ended up getting along great!”
While the idea of Steven Spielberg jamming with Ministry seems reasonably absurd, especially given the sheer size of the Flesh Fair set and the enormity of everything involved — this one sequence took eight days to shoot — it seems to be true.
While the passage of time has added a few 'flourishes' to some of Jourgensen’s stories — he is prone to claiming The Land Of Rape And Honey sold some 65 million copies, which might be around 64 million copies wide of the mark — he told the Spielberg tale at the time, speaking about it before the movie’s release, saying, "He was funny. He just kind of came up with us and ... air-jammed and just got into the whole thing. He basically said if he starts listening to this kind of music he has us to blame."
Whether Spielberg did end up getting heavily into industrial metal is unknown, but he’s yet to feature any other bands from the genre in his movies.
Jourgensen is also adamant that composer John Williams “hated” What About Us?. It is absent from the soundtrack album, which is all William’s work with some guest vocals from Josh Groban, Lara Fabian and Barbara Bonney. Despite this, the song was released as a single, complete with video, ostensibly promoting the Ministry best-of album Greatest Fits.
Spielberg has almost certainly crossed paths with former Ministry roadie Trent Reznor though, as he has ascended the ranks of Hollywood. Perhaps next time the pair are hobnobbing at the Oscars, Reznor can tell Spielberg about the time Jourgensen set him on fire.
He’d probably like hearing the story, as he seems to have very positive memories of his brief time working — and jamming — with Ministry. Anthrax’s Scott Ian tells a story about meeting Spielberg on his Swearing Words In Glasgow album (not available on streaming for some reason): Spielberg is essentially uninterested in this bald bearded guy rambling at him until he mentions they have a mutual friend in Jourgensen, whereupon he lights up.
Ministry’s appearance in the final movie is pretty brief given the eight days involved - they’re more like featured extras or human set dressing - but the real legacy seems to be the fond memories everyone involved has of Al Jourgensen and Steven Spielberg’s brief but happy friendship.
"He thought we'd be baby-eating, satanic goat herders or something. And we thought he'd be some puppet master of E.T.," Jourgensen told MTV at the time. "From uncommon ground, we found out we're pretty much the same folk."