An Axe to Grind
Pearls of wisdom from a legend of rock 'n' roll.
By John Sewell
AUGUST 23, 1999: I remember seeing Ted Nugent live for the first time when I was a freshman in high school. It was quite a feat to talk my parents into allowing me to attend any rock concert, let alone a performance by the Motor City Madman. Luckily, my folks weren't really hip to what The Nuge was (and still is) all about.
As a lad of 13 or 14 with the physical and emotional maturity of a 10-year-old, I couldn't go just anywhere I pleased without permissionespecially not to a scary event like a this. I always had to ask my parents well in advance if I wanted to see whatever big rock show came through town. Then we'd go through the usual dance where my folks would tell me I could go to the show if and only if my grades got better in the meantime. The next few weeks on the home front were punctuated by seemingly endless debate on whether or not I was performing at an academic level high enough to earn the right to rock. The controversy over the Nugent concert had predictable results: My parents begrudgingly allowed me to go to the show and my grades didn't get any better.
The truth of the matter was, I got to go to the show because any other outcome would have made life unbearable for me and my folks both. I just had to go and rock out, dude.
The day after the concert, I knew I wasn't just a mere freshman anymore. I had entered the lower echelon of the bad dudes club at my high school. I was a member of a special fraternity of rockers who had attended the show.
After seeing the Nuge in the flesh, we were one step closer to manhood. We all hung out in front of the band room with a newly acquired swagger, sporting our concert T-shirts, talking about how much our ears were ringing, and performing replays of Nugent's on-stage raps.
The show had been worth all of the gnashing of teeth, cursing, and groveling it took to get me in the door. It was violent, profane, and just flat out bludgeoningeverything a pubescent teenage male wants to see. Clad only in a loincloth and swinging from atop one massive stack of speaker cabinets to another, Nugent assaulted the audience verbally and sonically. At the end of the show all in attendance shared a kind of post bacchanalian bliss. Spent and happy, we went back to school to regale our friends with legendary tales about the Motor City Madman, Young Ted, The Nuge.
That was 20 years ago, and during the last two decades Nugent has gone through a transformation of sorts. He's just as rowdy and outspoken as ever, but somehow between the '70s and the '90s, the public perception of Nugent has shifted. Once famed as a rock 'n' roll troubadour in testosterone overdrive, he is now more famous for his non-musical activities. The Madman of Rock 'n' Roll has now been dubbed "a great, conservative rocker" by none other than Rush Limbaugh, a close friend of Nugent's. Only in America...
The new, renaissance Ted Nugent is more than just a rock 'n' roll machine. He's a nonstop explosion of energy, dogmatic opinion, and no apologies. Rapid fire, he jumps from one subject to the next, describing a world where politics, survival of the fittest, rock 'n' roll, ego, and aggression are inexorably intertwined.
Though the mindset of the rock 'n' roll world may have changed, Nugent claims he's always stayed true to his original vision.
"You can look at the cover of Rolling Stone magazine from 1978," says Nugent. "What's that in my hand? It's a fucking gun! What's the whole article about? That I kill my own dinner. That I'm an individual. That I know what the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness means. It means that in order to have life, you gotta live. How do you live? You kill shit and eat it and have a gun and shoot bad guys that wanna take your life away. What else does life mean? I'm just the only one honest enough to fucking stand up for it and I've always done that.
"I never consciously decided to be political. I'll tell you what I do: I consciously live. My conscience, my level of awareness, guides the very level of my momentary existence accumulated into days and weeks and years and a lifetime of absolute dynamo hummage, man. I'm on fire. I scare white people for a living, and I get paid to do it quite handsomely. I get to go and hunt six months a year, and my life is dicked. I've got it down to a fucking dream. And these guys that write about methey can't stand it because I'm on the board of directors of the NRA. I promote true conservation, which means hands-on utility of renewable resources to feed the gut and the soul. And I do it so fucking good that Bambiists and the Communist anti-gunners out there can't stand how effective I am."
A self-proclaimed enemy of political correctness, Nugent goes to great lengths to be sure that the public is aware of his uncompromising ideas. He tours half of the year, then hunts the restall the while writing several newspaper columns, hosting a morning radio show in Detroit, producing an outdoor magazine that he writes entirely by himself, serving as a member of the board of directors of the NRA, participating in the D.A.R.E. and M.A.D.D. programs, and a multitude of other projects. Nugent claims that his outspoken ideas have resulted in a lack of airplay for his music.
"It's outrageously apparent that great, great music created by me and my brilliant, virtuoso collaborators, or the unprecedented sales of my guitar instruction video is being ignored by the media," says Nugent. "It's outrageous, but on one hand I celebrate it because do you know how proud I am when assholes hate me? If the assholes hate you, it proves you're not one of them!
"It's amazing how deep the media's denial goes. I sell out night after night, as I drive people wilder than any Limp Bizkit/Kid Rock-rap-paroled-cock-sucker band in America does, they pretend I don't matter because I'm not fashionable.
"It's not about Ted and what Ted does: it's about how they hate what Ted stands for. I've always stood for the same thing: the celebration of the Motor City Madman and the intensity of the primal scream that has always been my music. I always proclaimed the fact that I am a hunter, I am a gatherer, I am a nature guy, I'm militantly anti-drug abuse and fucking trends. I will squash trends with my left nut."
Not one to skimp on adjectives in conversation, Nugent seems to have never been hindered by modesty or humility. He is especially proud of his new band, a trio which also features journeyman drummer Tommy Aldridge (formerly of Black Oak Arkansas and Ozzy Osbourne's band) and noted bassist John E. Gee.
"I'm telling youI know when I'm good and I know when I'm grand and my worst concert is a fucking joy. The worst I can do is awesome. I got Tommy Aldridge playing drums and we could get up there on stage and shit green rivers and it would be fucking musical gyrating primal scream, soul of man celebration. We're just too dedicated to do anything but great. On a brilliant, spirited night we're downright spooky."
Nugent attributes his musical virtuosity and stamina to his drug-free lifestyle and strict hunting regimen.
"What is a great musical experience supposed to be? Is it supposed to be a flashback to a bad LSD night? Is that really what music's supposed to be? No. Music is to celebrate the soul of man, the dynamic roller coaster that brings to mind the emotional upheaval and spirituality that is our day by day existence. How do you do that? By buoying your level of awareness. And how do you do that? By taking good fucking care of yourself. And how do you do that? By killing your own food and knowing where it came from and who blew their nose on it."
When Nugent's conversation shifts from himself and his music into other arenas, his rhetoric gets a little more questionable. In the last decade or so, Nugent has shared the limelight with a host of leaders of conservative political ideology. He has no qualms about hobnobbing with top dogs like Ronald Reagan, Charlton Heston, Rush Limbaugh and others. Asked if his association with these figureheads implies that he is himself a hard-line conservative, Nugent claims that he is actually a liberal, offering up a baffling definition of the term that could cause some head scratching on either side of the political fence.
"No, I'm not at all [an across the board conservative]. In fact, if you really analyze the true meaning of the word liberal, I am one. Quite honestly, if you wanna poison your body, be my guest. If you want to have butt sex, be my fucking guest. But don't have it around me and don't you dare try to tell my kids that it's acceptable. Don't tell me that homosexuals are normal. It's plumbing abuse. But I have some good queer friends and we get along fine. But the minute your conduct becomes aberrant, illegal, or dangerous to the security of my family or my neighborhood, fuck you, you're going down. In a real liberal society, you should be free to do as you choose, till your conduct affects my quality of life."
All of this braggadocio and bluster reveals an underlying moral sense and an albeit different sense of spirituality.
"I'm not religious but I'm extremely spiritual because when you open up a fucking moose and check out the plumbing, that was no accident, baby. That's some serious complicated shit going on there. And when you have to place an arrow in a vital organ, you feel the spirit of that animal. The very level of awareness that is essential to penetrate that defense mechanism of that beast teaches you that your footsteps have an effect, that your physical being affects the environment of that animal's zone.
"The spirituality of the hunting endeavor is indefatigable. It's intense man, just like my fucking guitar is intense. After I lay in a fucking swamp waiting for a caribou to come by and I'm all wet and wanna sneeze but I can't or I'll go hungry that nightafter I kill it, I want to get a guitar and dance like a fucking wild man. There's a real feeding frenzy of extremes in the silence of the hunt and the sonic bombast of the rock 'n' roll maneuver, and they really enhance each other grandly."
Nugent's philosophy seems to boil down to basic components of self-reliance, patriotism, and a shoot now, ask questions later approach to outside aggression. Though many may see this as an overly simplistic and excessively brutal approach, others would counter that this attitude hearkens back to the essential building blocks of the American way of life.
"My idea has always been that the whole world sucks, but America sucks a whole lot less," says Nugent. "I've traveled the whole wide world and it all sucks. It's getting worse here, but it's still the best place to live. But thanks to Bill Clinton, Janet Reno, Sarah Brady, etc., we're catching up.
"If evil enters your life, whether it's at the playground, at the workplace, at the movie theater, or at home, do not fall victim to the sheeping of America. Do not become a coward and go running and hiding, crawling under your desk. When an evil perpetrator is threatening your life and happiness, shoot the motherfucker. When you run and hide, you're a target and you're actually encouraging copycats. Where people are defenseless, they die! You can't do itit's too weird. It sounds like Michael Jackson, man.
"The band is having so much fun, and the music is so lively and diverse. We just go anywhere we want because these guys can do anything. It's a really exhilarating tour and I'm just on fire with it. I can't wait to come back to Knoxville because I've been playing there for hundreds of years.
"I'll have a section of the audience for all my hunting friends called the Tennessee Hog Whackers. We'll have a special section where we'll frisk you when you come through the door, and if you haven't got a gun, we'll loan you one! I suspect that'll make you feel safe at the show."
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