(As originally published in the Illinois Entertainer...)
“Holy shit! I think I just had a spiritual erection!”
It’s a chilly October morning, and Ted Nugent is looking out the window of his Michigan home, watching a flock of Canadian geese land on his lake. By interview’s end, at least two more flocks will have touched down, arousing his uncommonly sensitive hunter’s instincts and moving him to vow that by day’s end a few of them will be items on a forthcoming Nugent-family menu. “It’s the perfect hunting season,” he says, “and I’m having the best hunting season of my life.”
He’s also having a pretty good rock ’n’ roll season. As you may know, Kiss spent the spring and summer traveling across North American on a “farewell tour,” playing “Do You Love Me” and “Rock and Roll All Nite” to sold-out stadiums and arenas, presumably for the last time. As you may or may not know, Ted Nugent opened each of the shows with sixty-five minutes' worth of greatest gonzos, generating a fair amount of Kiss-fan commentary at kissonline.com.
“We caught Uncle Ted,” wrote Joseph from St. Louis, “and he did not disappoint! It’s amazing what he can do with his guitar backed up only by a bass and drums. I do think some of his language was too foul, but then again I appreciate his blatant rejection of political correctness. Rock on, Ted.”
Frank from Georgia, on the other hand, while savoring some of the Nugent experience (“Ted & his band was [sic] very tight and sounded pretty good ... I love the song ‘Stranglehold’”), did not share Joseph-from-St.-Louis’s appreciation of Nugent’s “blatant rejection of political correctness” (“He still went through the usual bitching ... his banter can get pretty tiresome”).
As for Bryan from Calgary, he didn’t care for Nugent-the-rabble-rouser either (“Of course, the breaks between songs were full of comments that I didn’t agree with”), but he gladly allowed Nugent his right to unfettered speech (“This is a free country, and he is free to think and say whatever he wants--more power to him”). Furthermore, Bryan “was really impressed with [Nugent’s] set.” “He was a man possessed with energy, and [he] really worked for the crowd.”
Alas, not every crowd member enjoyed being worked. “Don't get me wrong,” wrote Reese from Louisiana, “I'm as much a fan of ‘Cat Scratch Fever’ as the next guy, but the Motor City Madman has apparently lost what little sense the good Lord bestowed upon him.... His music only killed time between his pseudo-political rants.”
What, one wonders, does Ted Nugent himself have to say to the Reeses of the world these days? “I’m not specially talented, and I’m not Superman,” the fifty-two-year-old guitar slinger admits in a rare moment of self-depreciation. “I'm just six-foot-two, 190-pounds of fire-breathing shit, and I guess my alarm to my fellow man would be ‘All right! Everyone calm down and take a deep breath! Yes, those are flames coming out of my ass, but don't be scared! Just grab the fucking marshmallows, O.K., kids? Drive safely!
“Oh, and by the way, eat me.”
This month Nugent and his current band (Tommy Aldridge, drums; Marco Mendoza, bass) will return to Chicago--where Nugent formed the Amboy Dukes thirty-five years ago--for two shows at the House of Blues, a venue he calls his “favorite place to play in the whole world.” “Maybe I’m making it up,” he muses. “Maybe I’m perceiving more than there actually is, but because of the Chicago blues history, a soul, a spirit, grows horns when we perform there, no matter whether it’s Damn Yankees, Amboy Dukes, or Ted Nugent Band. The attitude, the spirit, the sound, the invigorating, motivational essence in the air at the House of Blues--I feel Lightning Hopkins, I feel Spoonbill Thornton, whoever the fuck that is, I feel all these wild-ass brothers from the past. I come to Chicago because it’s a gift to me. We play ‘My Girl.’ We play ‘Soul Man.’ We play ‘Hold On, I’m Comin’.’ It’s unbelievable, it’s so intense! People don’t know whether to shit or go blind.”
Neither does the literary community. In addition to rocking out, hunting game, busting druggies, out-swearing the entire rap community, and having sex, Nugent has recently discovered the joys of authorhood. True, he has tested these waters before; his 1991 self-published classic, Blood Trails: The Truth About Bowhunting--120 Detailed Kill Stories remains essential dinner-time reading and is still available through the merchandise link at tnugent.com. His new book, however, bears the imprint of none other than Washington, D.C.’s Regnery Publishing, Inc., perhaps the most august conservative publishing house of the last fifty years. It’s called God, Guns, and Rock and Roll, and the odds that anyone will ever confuse it with George Harrison's I. Me. Mine, David Crosby's Stand and Be Counted, or Jewel’s A Night Without Armor are slim indeed. “Familiarity with both the function of the gun and the tactics of getting it into action could well save your life,” Nugent writes in the chapter titled “Wanna Go To A Gun And Knife Show? I'll Open My Jacket.” “And at the very least, the discipline will go a long way in quality of life upgrade in all other endeavors. As goes the projectile, so goes the soul.”
Word-slinging has long come easily to Nugent. His 1977 Double Live Gonzo album remains to this day as notorious for its ’tween-song jabber as for its hi-amp celebration of all things wang-dang, and during his early-’90’s Damn Yankee phase, his impromptu phone-ins to Rush Limbaugh alerted several million conservatives to the fact that they had a friend in Ted. By the mid-’90’s he was hosting a successful morning talk show of his own in Detroit, a show that he abandoned after two years at the peak of its popularity. “I quit,” Nugent laughs, “because I missed the road so bad I could hardly stand myself.”
The good news for fans of Radio Free Nugent is that the Nuge has plans to be back on the air, nationwide this time, by 2002 if not sooner. “It’ll be on a brand new radio format,” he explains. “First there was AM. Then there was FM. Next year there’s going to be XM. It’s a digital satellite radio subscription service that will be available in all automobiles, and I suspect that, as sure as the deer breed in November, I will be on the airwaves again because I’m too fucking good to keep off.”
In a sense, Nugent’s assault on the talk waves is payback for the silence with which FM programmers greeted his last album of original material, 1995’s Spirit of the Wild (Atlantic). It’s a silence, he believes, that’s entirely attributable to politics--specifically his. Side by side with such quintessential Nugent numbers as “Thighraceous,” “Tooth, Fang, And Claw,” and “Primitive Man” were Nugent’s first overtly political anthems, the Second-Amendment touting “I Shoot Back” and the hilariously liberal-baiting “Kiss My Ass,” a song that on the Kiss Farewell Tour, incidentally, has metamorphosed into the centerpiece of Nugent’s seventy-minute sets. During a performance last August in Lafayette, Louisiana, Nugent backed his way into the track by declaring Janet Reno, Jesse Jackson, and Sarah Brady “pieces of shit” while the assembled thousands roared their concurrence. (“You want to cure AIDS?” Nugent asked an Irving Plaza crowd in New York City one month later. “Everybody, repeat after me: No more butt-fuckin’!”)
Nugent’s tone for most of God, Guns, and Rock and Roll’s 315 pages is far less inflammatory. Just as Nugent the Champion Cusser morphs into Nugent the Airwave Friendly Talk-Show Host at the drop of a hot mic, Nugent the Scribe comes on far more thoughtful than the Nugent who during that aforementioned Louisiana performance introduced “Cat Scratch Fever” by saying “Even the faggots will be eating pussy tonight.” True, the book probably has two or three too many hunting stories to hold the attention of readers used to procuring their sustenance in the drive-thru lane, but the stories about Nugent’s real-life law enforcement adventures, his aggressive confrontations with drug abusers and pushers, his hunting trips with Joe Perry (who along with Charlton Heston, Kirk Gibson, Mitch Albom, and Congressman Bob Barr contributes a blurb to the book’s back cover), and his wilderness-awareness-raising Kamp for Kids reveal a man far more well-informed than his ’coon-tail and headdress-wearing onstage alter ego.
He and all his gun-brothers, for instance, eat everything they shoot and insist that anyone who doesn’t--anyone, in other words, who kills animals just for fun--is no gun-brother of theirs. Nugent also substantiates his claims that animal populations allowed to run amok can be destructive of the eco-balance and that therefore hunting can be as conservationist an activity as protesting the cutting of old-growth forests.
“You should communicate with all the players at Regnery and ask them what it was like to deal with Ted Nugent,” he says by way of pointing out that it was they who approached him to write the book and not vice versa. “The outcome’s going to be, basically, ‘Fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun! Nugent is dedicated, he’s sincere, he gives a shit, and he’s reasonably intelligent for a guitar-slinging idiot.’ And why? Because I’m clean and sober and my brain and everything else works pretty damn good!"
Obviously, the rock-star mold that Ted Nugent shattered just by being born remains in pieces, and, lest anyone get any bright ideas about gluing it back together, don’t bother. Ted’ll be there, fully loaded, ready to blow it back to smithereens.