Ted Nugent’s recent appearances in the news have dredged up an old feeling in me that I haven’t felt since my teenage rock-and-roll band days. The late, great Peter Ivers called this feeling “rock-and-roll embarrassment.”
Back in my three-chord period, whenever stories would hit the news featuring boozing, hotel room-destroying, paternity suit-defending rockers, I would get defensive about my hoped-for profession and play it off on “the bad apples” to parents, teachers and anyone I thought might be looking down their noses at my treasured rock music.
I wanted to shout to the world “Hey, not all rock-and-roll musicians are miscreant winos!” I would always try to counter the impact these stories had on my parents by explaining that people who played rock-and-roll music -- good rock-and-roll, that is -- were very talented, hard working and disciplined professionals who provided a useful service and often created magnificent art. The scandals only involved a small percentage of the rock-and-roll work force, I said, pretending I actually knew, one way or the other. Of course, once I became a full time musician, I discovered that many of those hard working, dedicated professionals also happened to be miscreant winos. I learned to live with my embarrassment.
But now, ever since Nugent resurfaced in high-boor last April at an NRA convention, grunting his opaque threat against the President, “If Barack Obama is reelected, I will either be dead or in jail,” my rock-and-roll embarrassment is back with a vengeance -- each new piece of Nugent nonsense threatening to nudge my mortification meter all the way to eleven. I haven't been in the music business for years but I want to shout to the world even louder than before, “Hey not all rock-and-roll musicians are clownish, animal-torturing blockheads!”
In fact, most musicians I’ve known are pretty darned smart. High achievers, goal oriented and dedicated to learning how to create better music. What they are not -- as a rule -- is political. Activists, such as Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, Graham Nash and Jackson Brown represent a tiny minority in the pop music world. That’s why it’s such a shame -- as well as a disservice to conservatives -- that one of the most political rockers ever and one of the very few rocker conservatives is such an oaf.
I suppose the best thing you can say about Nugent-as-activist is that he seems to be up on his current events and, if you can get past all the name-calling, bravado and saliva in Nugent’s delivery, you see that he does have an ideological point of view. That's a good thing. Though I can't help wondering if he and others who consistently slather the headlines with outrageousness, such as Donald Trump and Sheriff Joe, believe in anything but publicity.
Nugent’s characterizations of Nancy Pelosi and Debbie Wasserman Shultz as “brain-dead idiots” (italics his) and comments suggesting that Obama “suck on” Nugent’s “machine gun” and that Hillary Clinton is a “worthless bitch” who should “ride” that gun “into the sunset” are look-at-me words born of attention starvation, recklessness and a pathetically childish desire to shock, rather than any desire to add to American political discourse.
If Nugent does believe the tripe he dishes out, he is a perennial child, locked into a world-view fully formed by the ninth grade, impenetrable by common sense, intelligence, compassion and reason.
Whether he believes what he says or not, his trigger-happy temperament and comments probably reinforce similar views held by a larger-than-you-may-think number of people who mistake loudness for passion, debasement for wit, and celebrity for knowledge. I hate to think what his more violent themes might suggest in the tangled-vine minds of the less-hinged segment of his audience.
Nugent’s political beliefs are not what make me cringe. Personally, I couldn’t care less what he thinks. Rather it’s his -- for lack of a better word -- style. Nugent has taken the great attitude of rock-and-roll -- the brashness, the loudness, the in your face-ness of it and turned it into hot wind with a cowboy hat.
Fortunately, at the State of the Union, where Nugent-the-president-threatener sat in the gallery as a guest of Texas (where else?) Congressman Steve Stockman, there was no microphone anywhere near Nugent. If there had been, he would have found it.