Take, for example, this summer's Ted Nugent/Bad Company tour.
In the late '70s, these bands were at the top of their form -- huge, HUGE stars jetting around the globe, dazzling glassy-eyed youth with simpleton lyrics and bombastic guitar chords. Now they're a previous chapter in a post-boomer world, where people reminisce not about Nixon or Kent State, but about such burning memories as "Feel Like Makin' Love" crunching out of a pair of Jensen triaxial speakers. Gee, was it an Olds Cutlass 442, or a Chevy Blazer? Did you yack out the window?
My friend Marc and I feel compelled to seek our generation's nostalgia one recent Thursday evening at the Concord Pavilion. Why not? We both grew up listening to Nugent and Bad Company -- rocking out in a carful of guys, heads spinning from ragweed and cheap beer. This will be an important moment! We enter just in time to discover Nugent halfway through an earsplitting "Just What the Doctor Ordered":
"I found the cure for my body and soul/ I got me an overdose of rock 'n' roll-L-L!"
It's the Nuge! Same familiar mane of hair, teeth bared like a gibbon, black Converse sneakers, ripped 501 jeans and untucked work shirt -- a stripped-down '90s version of the loinclothed maniac with a Bowie knife. Armed with a Gibson Byrdland and original vocalist Derek St. Holmes, he sounds as tight as ever.
Despite a half-capacity crowd of 4,000, the "Motor City Madman" remains an energetic showman, acknowledging every seat, flicking guitar picks, and doing the splits. While a black backdrop screams the "Ted Nugent" logo, video screens show 20-foot close-ups of fingers and mouths yelling raunchy lyrics:
"When in doubt, I whip it out/ Got me a rock 'n' roll band, it's a free-for-all!"
It may be a free-for-all, but after three songs you're already feeling like Mr. College Boy elitist asshole. What are you doing here in this greasy, beer-gut goulash of tattoos, speed-freak furrows, and T-shirts with slogans like "Clearlake Bowfishing Championships." This isn't you, this is Ted's tribe -- the people who never left town, the guys who spell America with a capital M. Any minute now, some gearhead's going to smell your fear, take you out behind the concession stand, and beat the piss out of you with a chain. The opening chords of "Cat Scratch Fever" shoot a big, scary thug up to his feet like he's been electrocuted, fists to the sky, screaming: "WHAAAAHOOOOO!!!"
Sprinkled around the pavilion's outer lawn are biker mamas on the far side of 30, squeezed into halters and too-tight jeans, dancing alone in some frenetic Nuge-induced trance. You can imagine the phone conversation the next morning:
"Fremont Backhoes, Randy speaking."
"Yeah, this is Fat Bob. Listen, the old lady ain't gonna make it into work today."
"Oh, yeah, the Nugent concert last night. How was it?"
"Oh, she threw her back out dancin' to 'Wang Dang Sweet Poontang.' We got some ice on it now."
"No problem. Hey, d'he play 'Stranglehold'?"
Between tunes, Nugent shouts, "Now if this [next song] doesn't got any soul, I will SUCK YOUR DICK!"
During one such motor-mouth diatribe, Nugent cleverly slips in the proud admission: "And I'm the only rock 'n' roller ever to be on the board of directors of the National Rifle Association!" The California crowd pauses a microsecond, not sure how to respond. Perhaps some are remembering that Nugent dodged the Vietnam War draft by refusing bathrooms for a week, living inside pants caked with his own excrement. Perhaps not.
True Nugent fans could care less if he shits his pants, stumps for the Michigan Militia, or teaches an 8-year-old how to impale a squirrel with a crossbow, as long as he keeps playing the hell out of that gih-tar.
J.O. works as a dryer operator at a wallboard manufacturer in Antioch. He's a crew-cut 52, already wearing the new Spirit of the Wild album T-shirt, a full-color photo of Nugent performing in Indian war bonnet. He first saw the Nuge in 1975 in Spokane, dragged to the show by his stepkids:
"I never seen anything like that before onstage, man. They had kids down there with gals on their shoulders, and ol' Nugent, he's screamin', 'Man, you guys are stupid here in Spokane. You got the girls turned the wrong way. They're lookin' at me!' I couldn't believe it."
I can't believe J.O. and I are at the same concert, having a conversation.
Bad Company is now being introduced, a quintet of guys with receding hairlines and leather vests, resolutely fanning the embers of ancient '70s riffs. Like other oldie acts such as the Temptations, few original members are left, making them sound like just another bar band doing cover tunes. Thoroughly depressed, Marc and I slink back to the parking lot of Harleys, Power Ram pickups, and IROC-Zs, serenaded by the once-profound lyrics:
Good lovin' gone bad, bad I say
Baby, I'm a bad man ...
Sometimes it's better just to remember the turd the way it was.
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By Jack Boulware