Quickly now, name the first three things that come to your mind when you hear the name Ted Nugent. Wait – make that the first three things that come to your mind which you can say in polite company.
Recently I saw a bumper sticker: “Nugent for President – God, Guns, and Rock ‘n’ Roll!” Interestingly, guns was the only one of those things made my “first three things” list; how about yours?
“Rock and roll” by itself is too vague a term for the Nuge. Back when the Nuge frightened middle-America (“you’re supporting a madman, ” said Dad anxiously when he saw the cover illustration on Ted’s Weekend Warriors 8-Track – that of an aggressive Nugent playing his guitar that morphed into a machine gun – which at age eleven I just purchased at the mall record store), it was GONZO rock & roll! “Gonzo” was one of first three things I thought of.
Along with guns, obviously. “Uncle Ted” has always loved guns.
But God? Really?
Maybe for Amy Grant. Or the Pope. Or anyone running for President of the United States.
God, though, has never crossed my mind in relation to the Nuge; that is, except the guilty feelings arising from what God would say about finding Ted Nugent in my record collection.
The very first thing anybody who knows his music thinks about when they think of Ted Nugent is, of course, gynecology (remember, this is for polite company).
The first time I heard Ted Nugent was back in 1978. At age ten I sat in my hero’s bedroom. My hero was my cousin Jeff, six years my elder. Gone for good were the KISS posters of his pre-teen years; now on the walls in my rock and roll classroom were pictures and posters of Lynyrd Skynyrd (the real Skynyrd band which had ended tragically a year before, just a few miles away from Jeff’s bedroom, out in the southwest Mississippi woods), Willie Nelson (Willie was always a rocker’s country singer), and some shirtless guy with long wavy hair, an extremely thick bushy mustache, white pants with suspenders and a raccoon-tail, and a guitar three-times larger than any I’d ever seen before. The moment Jeff popped in the self-titled 1975 debut 8-Track Ted Nugent, I was hooked.
Soon I had the complete Ted Nugent record collection (post-Amboy Dukes, for the real fans out there), and I eagerly bought the next few albums up through 1981’s Intensities in Ten Cities. By then, though, the Nuge was donning nothing more than a Tarzan-like loin-cloth and swinging onto stages from a vine; Jeff (and even I) had grown bored with the schtick. Like my cousin, I would choose to stick with the wild man’s best works – the ’75-’78 years.
Ted’s love of vulgarities nearly matched that of my fellow students at the school I attended at the time. His favorite subject to sing about rivaled the sexually graphic jokes and conversations among male students (and some teachers) in the hallways, locker-rooms, and classrooms – and this at a Christian school.
Unlike Bob Dylan, Nugent never had a public conversion to evangelical Christianity; unlike Willie Nelson he doesn’t even sing old hymns; and unlike some contemporary Christian musicians, he doesn’t even re-record his classic 70s songs to bring glory to the Almighty (“Wang Dang Sweet God-Thang” anyone?). So, I’m a bit confused where “God” comes in.
A Google search revealed that ten years ago, 2001, long after Uncle Ted turned to making hunting videos and ultra-right wing political rants, he wrote a book with the very title, God, Guns, & Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Something just doesn’t fit. Maybe I’m just getting old. “Why, back when I was young, the Motor City Madman scared political and religious conservatives to death.”
I mean, when “born again” Baptist and Georgia peanut farmer Jimmy Carter was hanging out with the Allman Brothers Band in 1976, it somehow made sense. But in 1977 Ted’s fellow Michigander, former President Gerald Ford, would never have walked out on stage at a Republican rally to “Cat Scratch Fever”; and in 1980 when presidential candidate Ronald Reagan was courting Rev. Jerry Falwell and the “Christian Right, ” Mr. Reagan never would have let the Nuge swing out onto the campaign stage and lead everyone in the chorus of “Wango Tango.”
Today, though, conservatives from Glenn Beck to the so-very-proud-to-be-a-Christian Texas Governor Rick Perry love being seen with Nugent. Personally, I’m fine with their friendships even though it makes Perry and Beck seem hypocritical.
It’s the whole “God” thing that bugs me.
If by “God” Uncle Ted means some obscure god of genitalia, then everything would make perfect sense; but one would think the Glenn Becks and Rick Perrys would be more than a bit alarmed, as they should be. Lyrically, one might associate Ted more with former president Bill Clinton (just stating the obvious)…
I just don’t get it – and I’m going to quit trying. I’m just going to crank up “Free-For-All, ” sing at the top of my lungs, and then go about preparing my sermon for Sunday.
However, if the Nuge ever is elected president, don’t blame me, ’cause I voted for Willie.
Bert Montgomery is a writer, minister and college lecturer living in Starkville, Mississippi. His new book is Psychic Pancakes & Communion Pizza (2011, Smyth & Helwys).