Op-ed: Confessions of a Former Ted Nugent Fan
Yes, it’s true. When I was a teenager in the 1970s, I was a big fan of Ted Nugent. I was not only 20 years pre-transition, I had all of the political and social consciousness you’d expect of a 15-year-old.
I had all of Nugent’s albums, posters of him on my bedroom walls, and I even saw him play live with Aerosmith and Journey at the old Giants Stadium (the one legendary Teamsters union president Jimmy Hoffa was supposedly buried under). Nugent’s songs were about sex, girls, and rock n’ roll, and he could make that Gibson guitar sing. For me and my friends at that age, that was more than good enough.
Even when I got into punk a few years later and those KISS, Who, and Aerosmith albums began collecting dust, I always had a soft spot for the Nuge. In his own way, he was pure. You knew exactly what you were getting when you picked up a new Ted Nugent album because it was always pretty much the same as the last one.
Had I possessed the social and political outlook I do today, I’d have probably found Ted Nugent offensive just based on his sexual objectification of women. As a teenager with raging hormones, though, Nugent’s perception and celebration of women and sex was much like my own.
Over time, I outgrew the '70s hair bands almost entirely, but every now and then I’d still throw one on the turntable just for nostalgia’s sake if nothing else. I’d long since moved on to Joan Jett, the Ramones, The Clash, and the Sex Pistols. But like KISS, Aerosmith and a few other bands I’d listened to in my early teens, Ted Nugent still occupied a significant space in my LP collection. (Yes, that’s right, we’re talking actual vinyl records here.)
By the time the '90s rolled around, Ted Nugent was a has-been. The only time I ever heard his music was on the extremely rare occasions he popped up on rock radio. Like most music fans, I’d pretty much forgotten about Nugent until 2007, when he started making his politics and bigotries known onstage. He called then-potential Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama "a piece of shit, and I told him to suck on my machine gun.” Regarding Hillary Clinton, Nugent said "Hey Hillary, you might want to ride one of these into the sunset you worthless bitch," while showing off his weapons. He also invited senator Barbara Boxer to suck on his machine gun and called her a “whore.”
Nugent didn’t stop there, though. Where once he had celebrated women as sexual objects (as sexist as that is), now his rhetoric and his music were virtually dripping with misogyny, often going so far to the extreme that I’d rather not describe them here.
Once I learned about Nugent’s hate speech, I found I could no longer stand to hear his music anymore. I literally could not be in the same room while his music was playing because of the revulsion for him I felt as a woman, as a queer person, and as a person with a progressive social outlook.
Now bear in mind, I have a pretty strong tolerance for this kind of thing. I was a punk rocker and there was plenty of misogyny, racism, and homophobia in punk rock. There were conservatives in punk bands too, like Johnny Ramone. New York Dolls guitarist Johnny Thunders was also a major league misogynist and homophobe. Some of Thunders’ most well-known solo singles were titled “There’s a Little Bit of Whore in Every Girl,” and “Who Needs Girls.” Thunders even went so far as to label all British men faggots in “London Boys.”
With punk rock, much of the hate was arguably tongue-in-cheek. I could deal with it on that basis, as performance art, because the positive aspects of punk rock and the punk movement, community unity, individuality and freedom of self-expression, social and political consciousness, are so much a part of the woman I became and still am today that was able to take what I liked and leave the rest. I could look past the occasionally hateful lyrics of punk rockers like the Sex Pistols and Johnny Thunders and just enjoy the music, but I wasn’t able to do that with Ted Nugent.
Nugent publicly parades his hate onstage and on the radio, celebrating and even reveling in it. He’d taken his politics and bigotry out of the realm of artistic expression and placed them center stage, where they couldn’t be avoided or ignored, and for me, that made all the difference. It just wasn’t rock 'n' roll anymore. Ted Nugent was now nothing but hate music to me. Old Nugent songs I’d once enjoyed and played on a near-daily basis took on a new stench, my perception of him and his music now completely overshadowed by his ultra-conservative politics and his open disdain for women.
Nugent goes out of his way to promote his hateful views as the core of who he is as an artist. Not content to simply hold such views, Nugent wants his fans to celebrate his hate with him and that’s a place I, and many people my age who once bought Nugent’s albums and attended his shows, just aren’t willing to go anymore.
And yet, perhaps even to my own surprise, I’m thankful Ted Nugent is still out there. By being as outspoken and unbridled in his hate speech as he is, Nugent is forcing music fans of my generation to pick sides. He's making people decide if we really want to take a trip down a Memory Lane fouled with an infestation of hate and right-wing extremism, the decaying refuse of homophobia, the cloying stink of misogyny, and the pervasive rot of racism.
For many, the answer seems to be “No thanks.” Nugent’s bookings for upcoming shows at Indian-owned casinos have been cancelled, with spokespeople for the venues citing Nugent’s politics, and specifically his open racism as the reason for the cancellations. Nugent responded by calling those who sought the cancellation of one of his shows in Wisconsin “unclean vermin.”
Socially, culturally, and politically, America is constantly evolving, inching ever closer toward a more progressive, and more inclusive ideal. Dinosaurs like Nugent who unapologetically spew the kind of unabashed hate speech that was so common in the popular culture of the 1970s and '80s are welcome in fewer and fewer public spaces as time goes on, much in the same way as once-popular blackface minstrel shows became seen as racist and distasteful in the mid-20th century.
I don’t feel guilty about being a fan of Ted Nugent when he used to be all about the music. The real shame for me, as a trans woman, as a lesbian, and as someone who considers herself a proud progressive, knowing what I now know about him and about myself, would be to look the other way and support someone like Ted Nugent with my attention and my money, and it seems I’m far from the only one who feels this way.
America is moving on, leaving cultural anachronisms like Nugent behind. Music is an important and integral part of American culture, driving it forward even as it reflects it back to us. Nugent may maintain a following among hardline conservatives for a while, but he’s apparently fading from cultural relevance even more quickly than the right-wing extremists who still define themselves as his fans.
Truth be told, I pity Nugent. He was great once, a true 1970s guitar god, and a near-legendary rock ‘n roller. He hasn’t been a real rock star in a long time, though, and now he’s proven that he’s not only become culturally irrelevant, he’s not even a decent human being.
That’s a long way for anyone to fall, but this former fan won’t really miss him at all.
REBECCA JURO is a journalist and radio host who writes about media for Advocate.com. Her work has been published by The Bilerico Project, The Huffington Post, Washington Blade, and Gay City News. The Rebecca Juro Show streams live Thursdays from 7 to 9 p.m. Eastern.