It seemed inconceivable that the music of Ted Nugent, the Motor City Madman, and his rock group, “Damn Yankees,” could have cultural connections to old mother agriculture.
Accustomed as I was to the song of meadowlarks, hard rock music reminded me of the noise that would ensue if you dropped a hound dog into a barrel with a couple of raccoons and clamped the lid down tight.
The thought that I might ever attend a rock concert was too ridiculous to contemplate. But by and by I did just that, and although what happened after the concert was more important in finding the agricultural connection to it, the whole affair proved to me that agrarianism still has an artful hold on society even where and when it is least expected.
Before the concert, I had found the four members of the band to be gentlemanly, cultured, friendly almost to a fault, family-oriented, and even, with the exception of Mr. Nugent himself, subdued. On stage now, they had apparently all gone insane, prancing and dancing like a bunch of calves turned out on pasture for the first time in spring. They were screaming out their hit song, Coming of Age. I bowed my head, shoved a finger in each ear, and awaited death by sonar ray, like in those old Flash Gorden epics. I was old enough to have fathered Ted Nugent, who was no spring chicken, and it occurred to me that here in the final moments of my life, I was the one “coming of age,” not all those stomping, arm-flailing, young people in the audience. I was experiencing a mind-blotting, physically painful eclipse of intellect as well as extinction of what remained of my eardrums. (They had been ruined in my childhood when I had to drive our mufflerless old tractor for days on end.) One of the guards in front of the stage, seeing my predicament, stepped forward and gave me waxed sponge plugs like he was wearing.
The noise did not much bother my eyes, however, and so close to the performers, I was dumbstruck by the awesome physical energy that they poured into their work and the total lack of rationality that they exhibited. I tried to remember the backstage Ted Nugent, now riding his guitar around that stage like a crazed witch on a broomstick. He had been holding his baby daughter, arm around his wife, sipping water, a far, far cry from the creature up there on the stage. What he had talked about, backstage, was the blessed peace of his thousand acres of farm and forest in Michigan where he lived. I remembered again what he had said. “There, at least there on my land, wildness and solitude will reign as long as I live.” Again, the agrarian solution. He had gone on to say that although he did not farm any of his land himself, he did hunt avidly and regularly and in that way provided almost all the meat that his family ate.
Even Michael Cartellone, an urban boy if there ever was one, glistening now with sweat rolling down his naked torso, periodically breaking hickory drumsticks over his drums and tossing the pieces to the crowd, was not unaffected by agrarian roots. He and his brother, Joe, my son-in-law, (that’s how I happened to be in the front row) had charmed me earlier with a glimpse of their family history. Their grandparents, immigrants from Italy, practiced the same kind of subsistence farming that my countryside ancestors had, but on their urban lot behind the house! “On a quarter acre lot in Cleveland,” Michael said, “they grew all their fruits and vegetables, and grapes for wine, and chickens and goats for eggs and milk and meat. Several neighbors might share a barn.”
But now in front of him was another world — people who needed the noise of rock to feel alive. The music boomed. The performers shrieked, leaped, slid, tumbled, jerked, and rolled spasmodically around the stage. The fans screamed applause and tried to imitate the dancing, prancing, clomping, stomping, thumping, humping on stage, pounding at the air with their fists. The heavy beat rose out of the floor, growing like some reptilian vine up the agitated legs and into the yearning groins of the young people in the audience. I could feel it myself, a visceral explosion sending these spectators into frenzied abandonment. They kept extending their arms toward the stage, reaching out, reaching out for more.
More of what?
I felt intellect slipping away. I tried to fix my attention on a little white hole in my mind through which I could see beyond this enclosed maelstrom of noise into a faraway place where meadowlarks sang. What drove all these people to turn their backs on meadowlark song in favor of sonar, electronic pulsations of technology?
But was that really the case? Underneath the craziness was there a rationality I was missing, and underneath that rationality another kind of craziness called art?
I was about to find an answer. The end of the concert was not really the end of the concert. That came as the crowd, which by now I had named Throng as if it had an identity apart from the people in it, filed out the exit corridor. As fifteen thousand rockers tried to work through the narrow passageway, physical gridlock occurred. The people in front slowed to barely a crawl while the crowd in back pressed ever forward. Bodies squeezed together so tightly that individual space and action became impossible— a traffic jam of human flesh. For the individual, there was no stopping, no turning back, no speeding up, no place to turn aside— the worst level of Hell that a solitary farmer could experience. A child or old person, falling, might have been trampled.
An electric tremor of uneasiness flashed through the bodies globbed together like maggots in carrion. I thought of how a colony of sawfly larvae raised their heads from their eating in unison to resemble a pulsating wave of hairs standing on end. I could feel the anxiety surging through Throng, and saw that feeling reflected in the eyes of people around me. Little flashes of pushing and shoving and angry words broke out as the people behind continued to press forward when there was no forward to be gained. I had the sinking fear that with even the slightest provocation, Throng might turn vicious and whip its tail like a dragon, mashing bodies into human hamburger through the iron grillwork that flanked the sides of the exit corridor.
But from somewhere behind me, deep in Throng’s womb, came a human voice, bellowing like a cow. Throng quivered with the beginnings of laughter. Bawling cow noises now rose from different places. The idea caught on. Sheep blatting sounds joined in the chorus. Then came scattered donkey-like hee-haws and crowing like roosters . A concert of barnyard music filled the air. Intellect had realized that Throng was like a herd of cattle. To protect itself, to transcend animality, intellect was aping animality.
Tension drained from Throng. The crisis passed. I had a sudden illumination: That’s what rock concerts were really about. Sounds of unreasoned animality relieving the tensions of rationality. Art enfolding.
From afar I thought I heard a meadowlark.
Gene and Carol Logsdon have a small-scale experimental farm in Wyandot County, Ohio.
Excerpt from: The Mother of All Arts: Agrarianism and the Creative Impulse (Culture of the Land)
Gene’s latest book: The Last of the Husbandmen: A Novel of Farming Life
Image Credit: Wikipedia