Al Jourgensen is not known for being a do-gooder. Leader of dance club favorite Ministry, he’s burned more than a few bridges with music business execs and sidemen, who view him as an arrogant malcontent. But the release this week of Animal Liberation on Wax Trax Records casts Jourgensen in a different light, since he produced the album in affiliation with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (P.E.T.A.). Their slogan is “Animals are not ours to eat, wear, or experiment on.”

Sitting in Wax Trax’s hectic office above the Lincoln Park record store, Jourgensen — dressed in trademark black sunglasses, black coat, and black hat — insists, “We’re not just jumping on any fucking bandwagon to get our names in the papers or something. We’re not a real cause-related label. But the long-term outlook is if people started treating animals better, they might start treating themselves better. Concentration camps have to end, whether they’re for animals or humans.”

One of Jourgensen’s chief complaints is experimenting on animals to research consumer products. “My favorite one,” he says, “is testing (by direct application to the eyes) cosmetics and oven cleaners and so forth to see if the chemicals are damaging. They use rabbits, which don’t even have tear ducts. And the dosages!” Wax Trax owner Jim Nash chimes in, “Anybody knows if you drink a gallon of oven cleaner, you’re not going to be well.”

Another issue that riles Jourgensen is what he calls “factory farming — they use steroids to balloon up the meat so they can kill it quicker to make a fast buck. The muscle tissue of the animal stores the steroids, which then goes into the human. I think they should put a warning label on meat,” he continues as he lights up a cigarette, “like the one on this package: ‘Warning: the Surgeon General has found eating meat can cause colon cancer, digestive problems, etc, etc.’ Beyond the human angle, it’s also the animals themselves that suffer. Some never see the light of day, or even the light of artificial light. They’re in darkness their whole lives.”

Jourgensen became a vegetarian while making his first Arista album at England’s countercultural Southern Studios in 1982. He says the life-style transition since then has been gradual: “For instance, I’m wearing leather boots. People say ‘You’re a hypocrite.’ I say no, I say you do what you can do. I haven’t found a pair of canvas shoes I like, but when I do I won’t go buy a leather pair. There are no hypocrites in this movement — if you can cut down on meat one day a week, that’s great. It’s not like, well, if you can’t do it all, you can’t do anything. That’s stupid.”

After returning from England, Jourgensen included animal vocalizations from slaughterhouse documentaries on his next recording, “Nature of Love.” The song caught the ear of P.E.T.A.’s unorthodox president, Dan Mathews, who proposed putting together an album with Jourgensen to publicize P.E.T.A. concerns.

A native Californian, Mathews grew up in a household of 13 cats. In the late 70s he gravitated to LA’s hard-core music scene before becoming a full-time animal-rights activist. From the group’s Washington, D.C., headquarters, Mathews talked about their most celebrated case, in which a P.E.T.A. staffer worked incognito at Maryland’s Silver Springs Research Lab, documenting its abuses of monkeys (which brought about the lab’s closing): “Dr. Taub, the director, used a monkey head as a paperweight. They had a barrel filled with auto parts and monkey limbs. When (the monkeys) were fed, the food mixed with blood, vomit, and feces because the cages were rarely cleaned. The monkeys self-mutilated, dug holes in their own chests, bit off fingers and toes. One or more limbs were crippled by researchers.”

Another P.E.T.A. target is City of Hope, a cancer-related research fund. Mathews says, “At their research facility in San Diego, half the animals died from neglect. They found a mother dog with all her puppies drowned in their own feces. We closed it down.”

Mathews claims over 1,000 PhDs and scientists among P.E.T.A.’s membership, who argue that computer-generated analogs, statistical studies, preventive medicine, and the safety of “cruelty-free” products (cosmetics and cleansers formulated without animal testing) eliminate the need for experimenting on animals. Further, according to Mathews, much animal research is gratuitous because research parameters are so often biased to serve commercial interests: “When they were testing Sucaryl, the research was funded by the sugar industry, who just wanted to show it was dangerous. You’d have to drink 144 cases of Diet Pepsi every day to suffer the effects equivalent to what they subjected the monkeys to.” In other cases, Mathews says, “the biological systems are not similar enough to get valid results. They’re testing AIDS treatments on chimpanzees who aren’t even sexually developed. And one drug that did test safely on animals was thalidomide.”

P.E.T.A.’s call to end animal experimentation pervades Animal Liberation. The lead cut is a rap song from Lene Lovich and Nina Hagen called “Don’t Kill the Animals.” The rest of the record, an emphatically left-of-mainstream compilation, ranges from up-tempo punk (Shriekback), through lots of English techno-funk (Luc VanAcker, Attrition, Chris and Cosey, Captain Sensible), to the acoustic musings of Colour Field. Side two concludes with “Assault and Battery,” a gospel-tinged plea for compassion from Howard Jones.

Plans are already being made for a follow-up effort, to include the Pretenders, Public Image, the Ramones, and maybe even Ministry. Despite Jourgensen’s involvement in the project, his band does not appear on Animal Liberation (due to contractual hassles with Ministry’s current record label, Warner Brothers/Sire). However, Jourgensen and friends will be on hand for the Animal Liberation record release party being held at Medusa’s, 3258 N. Sheffield, Sunday, May 10. Minstry, Lene Lovich, and Luc VanAcker will perform an all-ages show at 7 PM and a 10 PM set for 18-and-over audiences. Admission is $15. For more information call 528-8753.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/David Banks.