The women on the dance floor wore heavy costume jewelry, and heavier makeup. Their blouses were buttoned down just enough to expose perfumed, sweaty cleavage. The men wore drab, poorly ironed suits and stood around grinning like cult members. They shouted bad jokes over the 70's disco blaring on the sound system; the women laughed with abandon. All of them had said goodnight on the phone to someone back home hours ago, said they were turning in early. They lied. They knew they were going to do something they'd be be ashamed of in the morning, and they didn't care.
Into this sty of late night, Orange County hotel insurance convention horniness shambled Al Jourgensen and Gibby Haynes, of Ministry and the Butthole Surfers, respectively.
It was late summer 1992 and the Lollapalooza tour was in town for three nights at Irvine Meadows. The mainstage acts that year were Lush, Pearl Jam, The Jesus And Mary Chain, Soundgarden, Ice Cube, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Ministry. Some of the bands and assorted enablers of the tour were staying at this hotel. So were a legion of insurance agents. I was at the gig with Jon and Marsha Zazula of Megaforce Entertainment, who had a management relationship with Jourgensen at the time. I was a huge fan of the band for years, and the thought of meeting him was dreamlike.
It had been brutally hot at Irvine Meadows that day. I sought refuge from the heat with the Zazulas in an air conditioned shack behind the stage. We went inside and a leather-clad girl who hadn't yet gotten the memo on grunge sized us up glumly; we weren't rock stars. The rock stars were sitting on a couch.
Al Jourgensen was keeping himself hydated with a bottle of Irish whiskey. Haynes, tagging along on the tour to provide guest vocals on Ministry's single "Jesus Built My Hotrod", looked like a plague victim, bones jutting beneath a filthy t-shirt and jeans. The leather-clad girl pulled a cigarette pack out of her tiny purse. As she clicked a flame under the tip of a Marlboro Light, Haynes bounced off the couch right up in her face and drawled contagiously, "If you give me a cigarette, I'll fuck you." She smiled thinly, handed him a smoke, and passed on his offer.
Jourgensen greeted the Zazulas warmly, and seemed to be in good spirits. But he radiated volatility, like a patched iron boiler that could burst without warning and scald you to death.
Ministry started out as a faux-lispy synthpop act in 1983, but by 1992 Jourgensen had morphed the band into one of the heaviest in the world. His songs railed against globalization, the Christian Right, oppressive cops and greedy policitians. Their Lollapolooza set, which started just after dark, featured songs about heroin addiction and murder. Shirtless youths thrashed to Ministry's jagged speed metal grooves while stobe lights flickered, casting monstrous shadows on the hills around the stage. A smoky mist rolled in, obscuring fans from sight as if something in the fog had taken them. Bang your head and soak up the dread - its summer camp on Golgotha, with Charlie Manson as your activities counselor. I left the gig after Ministry's set, before the Red Hot Chili Peppers, because let's face it: four guys slapping their dicks around onstage is a bit anticlimactic after witnessing Armageddon.
Back at the hotel, I hit the bar for a nightcap. Sometime later, Al and Gibby walked in. Jourgensen was staggering, Dylan-Thomas-level shitfaced. Haynes was propping him up. No one in the bar recognized either of them, because they were both wearing rubber masks: specifically, charicatures of then-President George Bush, and Ronald Reagan. Jourgensen wore the Bush mask onstage when the band played "N.W.O. (New World Order). I saw depraved glee shining through their eye holes as they sized up the revelers. The sentient spirochaetes were about to wriggle into a vulnerable biosystem.
As Kool And The Gang's "Celebrate" came over the speakers, Jourgensen and Haynes boogied into the crowd, hands in the air. They received a warm reception. "Drinks are on me, Mr. President!" howled a pearly-toothed man, and Jourgensen high-fived him. A women backed her ass up into Haynes' lap and shouted "I love you Ronnie!" He ground into her, shouted "woo-hoo!" and whirled his arm, rodeo style. The dirty dancing went on for a while, until the bartender gave the last call warning. One by one, the insurance agents paired off with their own kind, pulling at each other with abandon. They dropped their sticky drinks and slobbered kisses. It was the last call to get laid. Uninaugurated, Ronald Reagan and George Bush vogued along to Donna Summer's "Last Dance" amid the squishy coos of middle-aged heavy petting.
I'd had enough depravity for one day and didn't want to see how Saturday Night Fever In Hell ended, so I went to my room to go to bed. My flight back to New York was early, and I was hoping to get about four hours of air-conditioned sleep. But there was a bad dream still to come.
In the dream, the Megaforce folks booked me in the hotel room next to Jourgensen's wife, and things between them were not in a good place. In the dream, I was awoken by glass shattering and someone screaming; there were hazy accusations, denials, and violent threats. Scalding steam filled the room, the boiler had burst. It hissed "I hate you, you fucking bitch!" In the dream I called Jon Zazula for help, and he ran down to patch the boiler. For a time the scalding steam wailed, but then it began to receed, and as it did I followed the hum of the air conditioner into a quiet place where I had no thoughts.
But sometime later, the dream continued. A monster had pulled a fire alarm. A robotic voice bleeped "THIS IS NOT A DRILL, REPEAT THIS IS NOT A DRILL. EVACUATE YOUR ROOMS IMMEDIATELY!" In the dream I left my room and followed dozens of sleepy others down a hallway. The monster had smashed every piece of artwork, photograph, and mirror along the way. Broken glass was everywhere. Near the elevators, plants were upended and dirt was scattered across the carpet. A heavy marble ashtray had been rubbled, and pieces of sharp stone crunched underfoot. In the dream, I was walking through a disturbed gravesite, praying that I didn't encounter a corpse.
In the dream, I stood outside the hotel with hundreds of other sleepy guests: show business people, insurance agents, and families on vacation. We smiled as the dawn sun came up, because we knew that monsters hide away from the light. In the dream, I saw the monster, sheepish at the back of the crowd. He was alabaster white and dense as a black hole. He winced as the darkness faded. He flashed guilty, spiteful eyes and then skulked away.
Not long after, I was on an airplane, headed back to NYC, fast asleep. I still dream of the music I heard that day. But I did not dream of the monster again.