Rocker Ted Nugent Still Has Plenty to Say
Detroit — You don’t so much interview Ted Nugent as jump in and hang on tight.
It’s a lesson that has been driven home in recent years even to old pros like Piers Morgan on cable news, where the fiery Detroit-born rocker increasingly has become a go-to conservative panelist and debate opponent.
Nugent is long known around these parts for his no-holds-barred takes on guns, hunting, the military and American red-white-and-blue.
But the gun-control debate that flared up after December’s Sandy Hook shootings became Nugent’s news media moment. His head-to-heads with Morgan, in particular, turned into YouTube sensations, tallying hundreds of thousands of views. Nugent’s fellow gun-rights defenders cheer his rambunctious happy-warrior approach (for his part, Nugent has come to call it “going Piers Morgan on somebody”). Detractors dismiss him as an oafish loudmouth, and try to look away.
That’s been hard: As the gun-control debate has gotten louder, so has the 64-year-old Nugent, and his public profile has been higher than ever these past couple of years. He even attended February’s State of the Union address, the guest of a Texas congressman.
“Don’t think any of this is removed in any way from the music,” says Nugent. “This kind of passion is the source of all my best music, for sure.”
The guitarist, back in the headlines recently in the wake of the Trayvon Martin case, talked with the Detroit Free Press about his growing role as a de facto conservative spokesman.
Question: What was your emotional response to the Detroit bankruptcy news?
Answer: It’s a tragedy, but I think I was over it a long time ago.
I visit Detroit every year, I spend half of my year in Michigan. I’ll always be a Michiganiac. I’ll always be a Detroiter.
I take my kids and my grandkids downtown and show them this magnificent architecture, and this beautiful river — the No.1 walleye and bass fishery on the planet — and I show them the glow of my old neighborhood that doesn’t glow anymore. But I try to tell them how perfect it was when I was growing up, and show them this idyllic — what was that movie with Jim Carrey, where he was fooled into thinking his world was perfect? (“The Truman Show.”) I really did live a Truman thing. It was awesome. And then Mayor Coleman Young pulled down the screen.
Q: Where do you see things headed for the U.S.?
A: I’m afraid we have not seen the lowest of lows yet. . Not only don’t those liberal Democrats live within their means, but they’ll probably punch you right in the nose if you recommend saving for a rainy day. … I’m fearful it might erupt into ’67 type riots, ’68 type riots. I pray it doesn’t, because for an American to attack a fellow American is the epitome of insanity, when we really are the last best place. We really have unlimited opportunities. …
Like I tell my guys in my band: “You better not drink and smoke and get high, because you know what your sick day is? Your sick day is me taking your paycheck and hiring someone who’s not sick.” (Laughs) Because I’ve got to play that night. Because I’ve got a crew and drivers and overhead, you know? This is how real productive entities grow — hire more people, generate more revenue, grow.
We’re doing a rock ‘n’ roll interview, and I have to say this kind of stuff in 2013. Isn’t that a tragedy?
Q: But it seems you’ve really embraced this spokesman role. You’ve always been in the spotlight in one way or another, but the media focus recently has grown so much. You seem to regard it as kind of a duty now.
A: I instinctively understand what an experiment in self-government is, and I think we all have a certain role to play. I think we have a moral obligation to remain in touch and connected to the American way. So that’s an instinctive, just fundamental understanding of my duty as a citizen, as a neighbor, as a leader of a household, as an entrepreneur, to fight for policies that enhance the quality of life for my family, my employees and America overall. Ted Nugent is solidly in the asset column. My band, my crew, my management. I don’t know anybody who would come in for a job interview and ask for how many sick days they get. My people will just come charging in, and they’ll probably just go ahead and fix your fence and then come in and go, “Hey, how’d you like to hire me? I can do this every day.” …
So yeah, I’ll never hold back. You know I’ve never held back anyhow. As the abuses and corruptions get worse, I believe that we the people have to turn up the heat and demand accountability, demand answers and demand constitutionally driven representation. And we certainly don’t have that now.
Q: Does the rock ‘n’ roll thing give you the leeway to say things on the air that maybe other conservative talking heads hold back on?
A: That’s a great question. Because the answer is a very loud, almost distorted, feeding-back yes. Nobody can fire me. I don’t have to worry about placating my enemies in some feeble attempt to get their support, i.e., votes.
And not only that, but honesty is honesty. And if you’ve got a big booger coming out of your nose, I’m your best friend, because I’m not going to look the other way and let you go around town. I have been brutally and virtually uninhibitedly honest about the things I believe in.
It’s the gun thing. You’re on the phone with the only guy who has spent an entire lifetime around guns, in all the proper ways, all the legal, safe, the good ways you can be around guns. I know the nomenclature, the terminology, the ballistics, the history. So when the gun debate started coming around, the typical conservative head was terrible at it. They just didn’t know all this stuff. So the anti-gunners were able to weave in all these accusations that were just scientifically false.
I’m the only guy who’s lived with guns all my life — and the only guy who was thrust into that gun debate as early as the late ’60s, when I was attacked for being an NRA supporter. And it came about in the most natural, organic, instinctive away.
Jerry Lubin back at WABX would ask me, “Where does the inspiration for this intense music come from?” And I’d go, “Well, I was just deer hunting with my dad last weekend, man, it’s just the campfire, the family all together, chopping wood, shooting guns, having a little contest.” And so my lifestyle of guns would come into the conversation as an honest answer to a genuine question. So that just continued to grow, because I was the only rock ‘n’ roller who would give an answer like that. I was the only one who came from deer camp. …
It was fascinating to the DJs, but eventually they would start to inflect fault with the weekend of guns with the family: “Well, you know, a lot of people are hurt with guns.” I’d go, “What’s your point? More people were hurt with cars going to the movies last weekend.”
They started falling into this leftist, hippie-inspired, academia infestation, this presumptuousness, this ridiculous fantasy of peace and love, and if we could just get rid of the guns, Bambi would live forever and no one would ever get hurt. You’d go, oh my God, so that’s what happens when you smoke dope and take LSD.
So I just trounced ’em. I was going Piers Morgan on the Piers Morgans around the world as early as ’67.
It wasn’t mean-spirited. I kept it upbeat and buoyant. It was fun. There was more laughter than there was anger. Nobody else can do to these anti-gunners or anti-hunters or pro-welfare people or pro-dependency people — nobody can do to them what I do to them, because I don’t mince words. Because I’m not afraid of the outcome. I’m very proud of causing idiots much pain and suffering. I don’t want to, but if the truth brings it about, have a nice day.
Q: We know what to expect out of a Nugent show these days, but is there anything to point out about this summer’s tour?
A: Just the fact that the band is so passionate. Derek (St. Holmes) has never sung better, and his guitar playing is just incredible. And Nick (Brown) and Greg (Smith), they really think they are the Funk Brothers. I’m just the luckiest guitar player in the world. I’ve got to tell you, the politics have really fanned the flames of enthusiasm for the music. There is not a disconnect between them. There’s an enormous connect. The energy level, the positive spirit is at an all-time high, we’re dancing like idiots up there, and I just thank God every day, man.