Fuck Ted Nugent: The Nuge and the Legacy of the 1970s

Seventies sensibility then offered a kind of antidote to the melodrama of Sixties sensibility, an antidote devised by a generation of youth just plain sick and tired of being told how they missed out on the glory days. Americans who came of age during the 1970s, in the words of disco enthusiast Jefferson Morley, ‘were less idealistic but more realistic. Less wild and less authentic and less sincere, but also less melodramatic and less violent. Less courageous but also less foolish. Less moralistic but more ethical.’ They ‘were a sweeter, sadder, sexier funnier bunch than the kids of the 60s and they’ve never forgiven us for it.’

— Bruce Schulman, The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture, Society, and Politics (158)

As we push forward out of the aughts and into the twenty-teens (?) historians and others have begun to look back and reassess just what earlier decades like the 1970s meant. Some have focused on the neoliberal economic shifts that hollowed out the welfare state and transformed America from a savings society to one based on investment. Others have looked at the cultural shifts that impacted gender, sexuality, and culture. Bruce Schulman’s The Seventies focuses on all these issues, one moment tracing the meaning of stagflation and economic instruments like money market accounts the next exploring why disco offended white racists and black nationalists alike. For Schulman, the decade served as a conscious break from the overly moralistic and condescending boomer dominated 1960s. Symbolically, the peace sign “gave way to ‘the finger’,” a direct challenge to peace/love/dope ethos perpetuated by one-time hippies many of whom transformed into the bankers, lawyers, and financiers of the 1980s.1970s rocker Ted Nugent provides a relevant example of this phenomena. After all, Nugent’s verbal antics in the 1990s and 2000s seemed to epitomize a certain moralistic racial logic. Working class whites emerge as his idealized America: bow-hunting libertarians living on gun laden Michigan compounds, pushing back against a government dominated by special interests. Though his ethos opposes the kind that dominated the 1960s, Nugent’s rantings retain a moralistic sheen. Sixties idealism, Schulman argues, gave way to middle fingered realism, which spawned a right-wing variant which sprouted in the Seventies and eventually blossomed into the bellicose conservatism of Limbaugh and the “Nuge” of the Nineties.

Nugent also provides a useful frame for other aspects of 1970s tensions. Undoubtedly, musically, the Seventies remains famous for the seemingly contradictory proliferation of both arena/corporate rock and punk. Granted, punk drew far fewer followers, but its reverberations persist today. One can also argue that the Peter Framptons of the world have simply been diversified — not only ethnically and racially but also musically (aren’t the Black Eyed Peas a modern day equivalent?). Both punk and new wave rejected the arena style trappings of Kiss or Jethro Tull, and while both genres promoted an anticorporate point of view they seemed to represent different classes. American punks represented “high school dropouts in a Queens garage”, or shitty surfers bumming around SoCal localities like Huntington Beach. New wave was equally anticorporate and ascetic — all skinny ties, suit jackets, leather coats, and jeans — but probably more intellectual (think the Talking Heads).

Again Nugent surfaces to both challenge and reify this viewpoint. While certainly arena rock-like, Nugent’s music seems more jagged, angry, confrontational, and working class than 1970s peers like Frampton and more American than the Who or Zeppelin. While Nugent failed to turn into a 1980s yuppie financier or lawyer, his political rantings of the past two decades have kept him in the public eye as a kind of musical Rush Limbaugh. Sure, punk and new wave rejected arena rock and corporatism, but what about acts like Nugent? He was definitely not new wave or punk, but in his own twisted way anticorporate and even ascetic (the man used to perform in a loin cloth). Nugent provides a puzzling “third space” to Schulman’s dichotomy. At once both a reflection of and a challenge to 1970s culture, Nugent surprisingly reveals the complexities of the “me” decade.

The most obvious marker of the Seventies sensibility – its signature in literature, film, music, politics, advertising – was a kind of double identity. Seventies performers produced works that were a parody of something – a biting, knowing satire – and simultaneously the very thing itself. (157)

Straddling the line between winking knowingness and self indulgent reality stood as one of the key aspects of 1970s culture. One can pinpoint this “double identity” in Ted “the Nuge” Nugent. A “Wildman” who rampaged across the country, the Nuge seemed to be both crazy motherfucker and right wing moral scourge, arena rocker and hardcore provocateur. Artist and worker. Dumbass and… well, less dumbass.

In a 1978 Virginia Pilot article on a recent Nuge concert, journalist Sean Brickell unknowingly illustrated the very dynamic that Schulman argues defined the 1970s. “Ted Nugent, the wild man of rock ‘n roll is onstage assaulting the auditory senses. His fans are being driven to a frenzy by his high octane guitar riffs.” Can you feel the Nuge? A man scared of nothing and no one, until, “then a firecracker explodes on stage. Clearly Nugent is angry.” How did the Nuge respond? “Hey, damn that’s uncool. I don’t dig firecrackers, and the next time one of you out there sees somebody throw one, you can have my permission to chew his eyes out for me!” Ouch. Isn’t this the same man who following the Columbine Massacre suggested all that was needed was more armed students? Scared of “firecrackers”? Really? Some Wildman. (Sean Brickell, “Fireworks rile concert rockers,” Virginia Pilot, May 28, 1978)

Ironically, the firecracker issue proved to be a real problem for concert promoters in 1978. A 1977 Supreme Court decision regarding the Greensboro Coliseum ruled that searching concertgoers for such paraphernalia violated constitutional rights, resulting in a firecracker laden 1970s. As Frank Roach, then assistant director of the Hampton Coliseum noted, most of the time Frisbees and beach balls dominated such acts. “We get lots of Frisbees and balloons tossed around, but no one seems to object to that.” Uhh, yeah. Of course, in today’s world this seems downright laughable. If only firecrackers were our only concern. Yet, even the scourge of nefarious “roman candles” and the like deserved the attention of arena security, though the solution might strike us today as a bit, naive. Steve Goudis, a spokesperson for local booking company ENTAM, Ltd related to the Virginia Pilot, “before a concert we announce that anything that hits the stage will” result in the show’s cancellation “without refund.” Goudis elaborated that authorities tried to be “clever” by asking people in the upper echelons not to “throw stuff because the people below can’t throw stuff back.” Though Goudis testified to its effectiveness, we can agree, not exactly TSA standards.

Still, this points to the kind of double identity Schulman explores: the idea that a corporate rock show at an arena remained beyond the purview of authorities to truly secure. We want our corporate rock, but god damned the state trying to make the safest of rock safe. Anyone who followed the punk movement of the late 1970s knows performers were subject to gobbing (heavy spitting – see Westway to the World or The Filth and the Fury for further evidence – gobbing was truly disgusting), sharpened quarters, beer bottles, and countless other dangerous projectiles. This is not to say throwing firecrackers was or is a good idea, but isn’t it funny to see the Nuge, a right-wing gun nut and bow hunter wigging out about bottle rockets?

Back to the Nuge. In the 1990s, now-elder statesmen the Beastie Boys provided hipsters and urban bohemians with the finest stew of irony, hip hop, rock, punk, and aesthetics in their all too brief publication Grand Royal. Though the magazine resulted in only six issues, Issue #2 provided a glimpse into the 1970s archetype Ted Nugent. In perhaps the funniest and most hostile interview ever conducted, Bob Mack (a B-Boy confidant) laid waste to the Nuge. Here are a couple of  juicy snippets that we can expand upon in a moment:

On “super group” Damn Yankees:

Bob Mack (BM): Okay … everyone was disappointed with that –
Nuge: No, they weren’t.
BM: Yes, all your old school fans were!
Nuge: We sold four and a half mil – that’s a beautiful thing my friend. Don’t be jumping from edge to edge – The Damn Yankees was genuine, a musical adventure.

[Editor’s note: for those of you too young to remember, uhh no they weren’t.]

BM: Oh c’mon, it was a cash out.
Get the fuck out of here! I jam with Tommy Shaw, he played r’n’b, it hit a nerve with me.

[Another editor’s note: Tommy Shaw is from Styx, yeah “Sailing Away,” “Mr. Roboto”… so again, uhh… no. Not to mention the fact that the Nuge maintains he’s never done drugs and doesn’t drink, while Tommy Shaw has openly admitted Styx got Chicago stations to play their music in part by plying station managers and DJ’s with cocaine. Rock on Nuge!]

BM: The second album tried to cash in on the first album’s MTV success
Nuge: MTV SUCCESS? WHAT MTV SUCCESS? They played a little bit of “High Enough!”
BM: “HIGH ENOUGH” WAS LIKE MICROWAVE ROTATION … [MTV] played it 15 times a fucking day.
Nuge: WELL, FIRST OF ALL, BOB, WELCOME TO THE REAL WORLD! You know how many times I’ve watched MTV? Once in my fucking life.
BM: You gotta be on top of this Ted.
BM: Why do they have to be white? Aren’t there any black shitkickers?
BM: There’s plenty. There’s one named Russell Simmons .. [guilty giggle]
Nuge: Ain’t never heard of him.
BM: He’s head of Def Jam records. He was there when you cut that wack video with The Don. In fact, I heard that on that same day you told Russell you were a bigger nigger than he’ll ever be.
BM: Now what did you mean by that?
Nuge: I meant that I’ve got soul, that I don’t resort to fucking electronic drumbeats, and I listened to James Brown and Wilson Pickett and Sam and Dave – THOSE ARE NIGGERS! THOSE ARE FUCKIN’ SPIRITED GENUINE AFRO AMERICANS.

Okay, so it goes hysterically deeper but we’ll move on another subject that 70’s icon the Nuge objects to … NAFTA.

BM: Well .. What’s your stand on NAFTA?
Nuge: Well I – I again –
BM: That’s another one of my questions, because you stand up for free trade and all this bullshit.
Nuge: I un-
BM: But people like Perot, they don’t come out for NAFTA. They’re not real fucking capitalists. They don’t stand for free trade. He got all his fuckin’ money out of government contracts. He fucking’ computerized the Medicaid system!
Nuge: Oh my, oh my. Bob, my answer to that –
Nuge: I don’t know what you’re talking about, I could give –
Nuge: I could give a fuck …
BM: What’s your stand on NAFTA?
BM: Yeah you do!
Nuge: All I know is that it breaks down the barriers.
BM: You don’t like Mexicans coming into America?
Nuge: I don’t think they should be allowed in America.
BM: You don’t believe in free borders or free trade or anything like that?
Nuge: I don’t believe in free borders when they come over here and fuck things up and when —
Nuge: Wait a minute!
Nuge: Hey Bob, are you ready for the truth, son? You know for every –
BM: I’ve fuckin’ washed dishes! HAVE YOU?
BM: The why don’t you let the Mexicans –

Now some readers might bristle at T of M’s Nuge attack, but remember over the last two decades or so, Nugent has emerged as a prominent conservative spokesman, penning op-eds for reputable publications like US News and World Report. If anything, these two exchanges reveal the underpinnings of Nugent’s thought, underpinnings established during the 1970s. According to Schulman, the hopes of integration faded as ethnic and racial groups adopted cultural nationalist sensibilities:

The ideological shift to diversity led to a reconceptualization of the very nature of America – to see the nation not as a melting pot where many different peoples and cultures contributed to one common stew, but as discrete peoples and cultures sharing the same places – a tapestry, a salad bowl, or a rainbow. (73)

This view dominated conceptions of race relations throughout the 1970s and 80s, eliminating the possibility of an “American culture” and replacing it with several. As previously noted, Schulman’s exploration of disco’s ability to draw the ire of both black nationalists and white bigots provides a useful example regarding the rejection of integration. “Disco acknowledged dancers’ solidarity across racial and cultural lines,” Schulman writes. “It held out the allure of integration. Disco artists fused black, gay, and Latin strands and found a huge, mass audience.” (73) Suburban white kids thought disco “feminine, too gay, too black. But its hybrid form mocked ethnic nationalists dedicated to preserving distinct Black and Latino cultural identities.” (74) Of course, benefits arose from this new multiculturalism, as a cultural vibrancy arose in various venues such as art museums, music clubs, classrooms, and the street itself. Obviously, the Nuge would not agree. However, politically Schulman argues “the demise of liberal universalism and the celebration of diversity exacerbated the political crisis of the 1970s. Politics always revolves around citizenship – around defining the ‘we’ marking out an ‘us’ against ‘them’ Everyone desires good schools, good housing, roads, and health care for ‘us’; few wish to spend their hard earned dollars on ‘them.’” (76)

Ok, so T of M would be remiss if it didn’t throw props to “Cat Scratch Fever” or “Stranglehold” (one of Nugent’s best songs that may or may not be an ode to domestic violence). Still, Nugent’s train of thought and those that follow him (remember he’s become a quasi-political figure akin to Rush Limbaugh) provide a useful window into the reverberations of the 1970s, both politically and culturally. For those so inclined, Nugent’s lyrics sum this up squarely:

You ran that night you left me
You put me in my place
I got you in a stranglehold baby
Then I crushed your face

(Ted Nugent, “Stranglehold”)