BRIDE OF THE MOTOR CITY MADMAN: James Parker reviews Shemane Nugent’s memoir (Arthur, 2003)


by James Parker

Originally published in Arthur No. 6 (Sept. 2003)


Married To A Rock Star

by Shemane Nugent

197 pages

The Lyons Press

$19.95/$32.95 Canada

As something of a haunted carnivore myself, hearing the groan of the abattoir every time I bite into a burger, I’ve always respected Ted Nugent for killing his own meat. No flinching from reality there, no insulation from the dripping fact; every day he eyeballs his naked lunch. Then there’s his music, his killer dinosaur rock, with the big bones and the tiny gem-like brain, ancestor of nothing, an influence on nobody, awesomely stranded in time. And then—for which I most esteem him—there’s his MOUTH, his stupendous verbal barrage. Between songs, the freaky preacher-babble; on air and on the page, comic rant-power. Here he is in 1977, telling High Times why he doesn’t use effects pedals: ‘When the fuzztone first came out, I fucked around with that. When the wah-wah came out, I fucked around with that. I fucked around with flangers and phasers. But my ears are the man in charge, and I just like a powerful guitar sound through an amp.’ Undeniable—the champing rhythm, the build, the final resolving chord. Heavy metal speech!

The Nuge has always hunted, always barked about guns and freedom: this strain of Amerimania has always been part of him, like the militaristic guitar-drum tattoo–POM-POM-POM-POMMM!–that suddenly rears up, tumescent with martial pride, from the psycho-murk of ‘Stranglehold.’ In his middle age the arteries have hardened and instinct, as it tends to, has become ideology: he’s officially gone Republican. His seat on the board of the NRA, his campaigning with the Ted Nugent United Sportsmen of America—banging out articles for Razor and The Wall Street Journal, gnawing at the mike in his radio studio—the Nuge-ian agenda advances in step with this country’s ruling party. But he’s still the NUGE, punk. Metal fans have always ‘got’ him better than anyone else: his sly bombast is part of the metal vocabulary, and ears sophisticatedly attuned to monstrous overstatement will have no problem with Nuge-isms like ‘whack’em and stack’em’, ‘rape o’the hills,’ ‘I am the most intense human being who ever lived’ etc. Voters, on the other hand—and one day soon it will come down to voters—are, like the innocent fawns of the forest, easily startled. Act too loud and they’ll prance away in terror, never to return. So the Nuge, now going mainstream, coming in from the grizzly Right with his message of clean living, fresh meat, family values and guns for all, has been toning it down. Hence, we must believe, the publication of Married To A Rock Star, this book by Mrs Shemane Nugent, his ‘veteran rock wife’ of 14 years. Graciously blurbed by all the Right people—Charlton Heston reaffirms that ‘Ted is one of the good guys,’ Sean Hannity of media duo Hannity and Colmes promises the reader ‘a renewed sense of the morality and faith that underlie the important institution of marriage—Married… is soft-focus, vaseline-on-the-lens Nuge: something for the lady electorate.

It’s not a great book. It is, unforgivably, a boring book.

For a start, Shemane writes much too nicey-nicey to be interesting about her man. To wit: ‘His wild and crazy antics always make me laugh, and I do believe that laughter is one of the best medicines…’ Surely ‘THE best medicine’? Anyway, shielding our eyes from this blast of insight, we stagger on, to learn that ‘From the moment our eyes met, Ted and I had an undeniable chemistry and bond. Ted was witty and fascinating.’ And so on. What might we have hoped for from a book by Ted Nugent’s wife? A glimpse of the inner life, the inner Ted, everything negated by the endless exterior bluster and blowing-hard of the Motor City Madman? Weak Ted—impotent Ted—speechless Ted—Ted squalid, sorrowful, scuttling, abashed—a flash of wet fur, cringing teeth, the underside of a man—but no. Mrs Nugent raves dewily about her jackpot hubby: his brains, charm, manliness, ‘bold, dynamic presence’ etc. 

I should point out that Married… advertises itself as a fearless tell-all; the Nuge himself, in his intro, gruffly shares his doubts as to whether this ‘expose’ is ‘the right way to go.’ Shemane’s tale is one of marriage under pressure—the she-snake Groupiedom snickers and writhes around her man, and young women climb upon their boyfriends’ shoulders to flap bare breasts at him. Can the Nuge, buffalo stud, to whom the Seventies were one limitless rutting-ground, keep it in his trousers? Can he abide by his vows? Well, not perfectly. A chapter called ‘This Side Of Hell’ is about marital breakdown. They got through it. Good for them. But the larger part of Married… is a bland boost for Nugent-ism, especially in its political aspect; the ‘vibrant authentic wildman’ is now tempered with a certain world-historical grandeur. He has ‘colossal presence in the media’ and has touched thousands of lives with his oratory. ‘We meet all types of people who stop Ted to thank him for speaking out about the Second Amendment and hunters’ rights – Navy SEALs, cops, marines, fighter-jet pilots, farmers, mechanics, welders, military heroes… nearly every type of person, tall, short, big, little, African American, Asian, Native American, acknowledge [sic] his hard work.’ This is the point, of course. Mrs Nugent is announcing that her husband, this god, this bone-dry Dionysus, unmoistened by any drug, high on America itself, is ready for office.

As Mrs Nugent–once a simple radio traffic girl, dancing in techno clubs with her best friend Misti– remembers her political arousal at Ted’s hands, Married… inevitably becomes a primer of softcore conservatism. There is much sighing at ‘our liberal way of thinking’ and the occasional diversion into religiously inflamed prudery: ‘flagrant women…sluts and whores… fornication en masse… the garbage- and bum-laden streets of San Francisco… we have become the new Babylon.’ Also to be heard is  a steady plop-plop of right-wing name-dropping, as in ‘I’ve been fortunate enough to meet people like Charlton Heston, Vice President Dan Quayle, G. Gordon Liddy, Oliver North…’ If you like this lot, you’ll love the ‘celebrities’ who swish limelit through Mrs Nugent’s pages, hobnobbing, paying court, attending grisly events like the Kurt Russell Celebrity Hunt in Hawaii (not, unfortunately, as good as it sounds.) At one point she refers alarmingly to ‘my brief tryst with the famous Nash Bridges actor Don Johnson.’ I love a good ‘tryst,’ especially with a famous person…. Eerie snobbery parades through Married To A Rock Star: ‘Only highly regarded musicians and writers are invited to an annual gathering at the French country castle belonging to Sting’s manager, Miles Copeland.’ Wow. That’s almost as classy as those fancy chocolate ads, the oiled voice assuring us that “The ambassador’s receptions are noted in society…”

But the book hits its oxygen-starved low point, no question, in an article (reprinted here in full) which Mrs Nugent wrote in the wake of 9/11. After spreading around the blame a bit—whiners, fat people, ‘illegal aliens… with evil in their eyes’—and digressing harmlessly through the school prayer debate and Clinton’s theft of the White House china, Shemane rocks us with this Nuge-ian powerchord of xenophobic affirmation: ‘Many know about my husband’s bold attitude on politics, hunting, and especially guns. Maybe you’ve heard one of his proverbs “If you can’t speak English, get the hell out of America.” Months ago, I’ll admit, I wasn’t as supportive of this phrase, but considering the events of this past week I, and now many others, will proudly share this sentiment.’ BRRRRRAAAAANGGGG!!! Very well, Mrs Nugent, share that sentiment proudly if share it you must; loyal wife, second that emotion; but consider this: what if you can’t WRITE English? Should you then be whipped from these shores, cringing with illiterate mortification? What if you write, for example, ‘the wheels are always in motions’ or ‘We will most likely have to rethink our garbage bag of priorities’? Rethink a garbage bag? ‘My heart felt a sigh of relief’—the doziest ESL teacher would put a red line through that one. And what of poor style? Flatness, repetition, dead words? Open Married To A Rock Star at random: ‘A couple of gentlemen were still sitting at a table I was about to pass and I couldn’t help but hear their conversation as I walked by their table.’ No indeed, Shemane Nugent is no protector of the English language. (In a Dickensian twist, the Nugent family has recently been forced from its country seat in Jackson, Mich. by MOLD arising from a long-unnoticed water leak. Teeming decay… seeping, proliferating damage… the core disgustingly nibbled-at: the patriotic House of Nugent done down by alien spores!)

What price longevity? I saw Iggy Pop play the other night (of the Nuge’s vintage, both historically and geographically) backed by two rock’n’roll grunts and one labouring pudding of a drummer. All business, as the idiom has it: he briefly flamed and twirled in the old style, the Ig-physique impressively flayed-looking, and gave about one-fifth of the available 500 per cent. There was dumb worship in the crowd, barbaric reverence and fan-fervor, but would he knead these elements into something special? He would not. He got through it, quick, was the best you could say. The Nuge has taken a different path. Look back over his career and it makes total sense. And now look ahead: ‘At his official hometown Texas barbecue inaugural,’ recounts Shemane, ‘President George W. Bush said, “Thanks for coming, Ted,” and leaned in close to his cheek. “You’re a good man.”’ So there we have it – the Nuge in a blush of endorsement, the Presidential breath upon him. Married To a Rock Star ends thus: ‘Each day, every day we must continue to pursue our greatest dreams and make our mark on the world. Who knows what spectacular dreams are ahead for the Nugent Tribe? Will Ted Nugent really run for Governor of Michigan in 2006?’

Take it seriously. The Nuge is coming. Better have something ready for him.

Categories: Arthur No. 6 (Sept. 2003), James Parker | Tags: , | Leave a comment

About Jay Babcock

I am an independent writer and editor based in Tucson, Arizona. In 2023: I publish an email newsletter called LANDLINE = Previously: I co-founded and edited Arthur Magazine (2002-2008, 2012-13) and curated the three Arthur music festival events (Arthurfest, ArthurBall, and Arthur Nights) (2005-6). Prior to that I was a district office staffer for Congressman Henry A. Waxman, a DJ at Silver Lake pirate radio station KBLT, a copy editor at Larry Flynt Publications, an editor at Mean magazine, and a freelance journalist contributing work to LAWeekly, Mojo, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Vibe, Rap Pages, Grand Royal and many other print and online outlets. An extended piece I wrote on Fela Kuti was selected for the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000 anthology. In 2006, I was somehow listed in the Music section of Los Angeles Magazine's annual "Power" issue. In 2007-8, I produced a blog called "Nature Trumps," about the L.A. River. From 2010 to 2021, I lived in rural wilderness in Joshua Tree, Ca.

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