The Low Times and High Life of Kid Rock

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I'm going platinum," Kid Rock bellows on the title track from Devil Without a Cause, a sentiment that his record company considered inadvisably cocky and tried to make him remove. At the time, it is important to remember, Kid Rock had three albums to his name. The first, Grits Sandwiches for Breakfast, came out on Jive Records in 1990. He was a foulmouthed white rapper with a flattop who had the misfortune to release an album in the year of Vanilla Ice's To the Extreme. Kid Rock's album quickly went nowhere. He grew his hair out, entered his druggiest period and moved to an indie label to make The Polyfuze Method. (The title was from "that Hair Club for Men commercial: 'Our new polyfuze method fuses top human hair with . . . ' We were stoned, saw it on TV.") By the time of his third album, Early Mornin' Stoned Pimp, he had to release it on his own label, Top Dog. His second and third albums were modest local successes but very far from platinum.

"The whole record's a fucking forecast," Kid Rock says of Devil Without a Cause. And it is true: When you listen to it now, it is hard to remember that the album was made by a man largely untroubled by an overabundance of money, fame and attention. The record assumed these things and predicted them, and they came to be. The most interesting example is the ballad "Only God Knows Why," which Kid Rock began to write in jail. He spent the night there with Kracker, Jason and some other friends after their celebrations on the day they were signed to Atlantic Records mutated into a bar brawl. In the cell, he started singing the first verse – "I've been sittin' here/Tryin' to find myself/I get behind myself/I need to rewind myself" – and afterward he finished it: a strange, haunting song about the pressures of a success he was yet to taste. "Everybody knows my name," he sang. "They say it way out loud/A lot of folks fuck with me/It's hard to hang out in crowds. I guess that's the price you pay/To be some big shot like I am."

"It wasn't hard to fucking hang out in a crowd when I wrote that song," he reflects. "No one knew who the fuck I was. I just knew that was what it was going to be like." He laughs. "Pretty good prediction. Nostra-rockus."

We sit on the balcony of his penthouse room overlooking the bay. It's dark. Bats fly round us, and he worries that one will get in the room. I ask him whether he's ever been on vacation to somewhere like this before. He says he went to the Cayman Islands on a family vacation when he was about twelve, and winces. He doesn't really want to talk about it. It wasn't a good time. He had a little fun – he remembers breaking into the bar one night with some other kids – but not much. "I didn't really like being around my dad when I was young," he says. "We're friends now, we get along great. I didn't really like him. It wasn't like he beat us – well, we had the paddle and shit like that like any other kid did back then – but I didn't really like being around him, because he was kind of a dick; he couldn't separate his business from his home life. He was always good at making you feel stupid in front of people." He wants to make sure I won't make too much of this. "It's the same shit I'm sure a lot of kids have gone through," he says. "It's no tragic story. I'm not screwed up in the head from it. I'm not going to write songs about it for the rest of my life."

One account of Kid Rock's relationship with his father can be found in his song "My Oedipus Complex," first released in 1996. He wrote most of it on Highway 80, driving back and forth between Detroit and New York, rapping to himself alone in the car: "You never loved me, you never held me tight . . . You tried to make me think your ways were best/When all I was was an outlet for all your stress." He concludes, "All you ever gave a damn about was money, see/So now fuck you, man, you ain't shit to me/And it's the day that I die of this hate that I'm free." Then, just to twist the song one notch weirder, Kid Rock acts out his father replying to his son, apologizing in a way, explaining how he grew up poor and worked his ass off, and how he's always loved his son and wishes his son didn't resent him so.

After he recorded it, Kid Rock didn't send his father the song. "My brother is the biggest fucking instigator in the world. He couldn't wait to run that in: 'Listen to what Bobby wrote!' My father was obviously upset about it, and I'm sure he's not ecstatic it's going on the new record."

The new Kid Rock record, The History of Rock, is largely made up of songs from his second and third albums, some as they originally appeared and some, like "My Oedipus Complex," updated. But updating applies to the music only. Kid Rock is keeping the lyrics exactly as they were, whatever upset it causes. "I want to keep the feeling the same," he says. "That's how I felt, and that's what it was."

When he was about fourteen, Kid Rock was thrown out of his parents' house in Romeo, Michigan, for the first time. He went to stay in the Mount Clemens projects with a friend who was a rapper, and his wife and kid, and didn't tell his parents where he was for three weeks. "I think they were pretty freaked that I had moved into the ghetto," he says. He worked at the 76 carwash, did some DJ'ing, lived the life. "Fucking walked around drinking forties, man, eating pork rinds, hanging out at the barbershop, riding the bus to Detroit to get records, hanging out with the guys selling drugs on the street."

He went back home for the beginning of the school year but ran away again the next summer. That was when he started selling a few drugs himself. "It was great for money," he recalls. "Do you know how many records you can buy with $200 at $3.99 a twelve-inch, three for ten bucks sometimes?" He was selling crack, though not yet smoking it. "Fuck, no. It was fucking a sin to touch that shit. You touch that shit in the hood when you were selling, someone would beat your fucking ass, because crack was bad, it was fucking bad. Don't ever touch it – it'll fuck your whole life up."

So what are you thinking about the fact that you're selling it, fucking people's lives up?
Getting money. There's no way to justify it – it's wrong.

Were you thinking – about the people you were selling to – "Oh, these are a bunch of losers"?
No. Not at all. It's just a bunch of people that want it, that are going to get it from this guy if I don't sell it to them. That's the justification for selling drugs.

But you did take crack subsequently?
Later on. I had a look at it pre-Junior. Went through a little phase. It was fun.

And was it as bad as you'd thought it was?
No, not at all. They hype that shit up so big. Everything's hyped up. The only thing that's not hyped up at all is fucking heroin – that is a fucking killer. You're done, history, on that shit.

But you've dabbled there, too.
Yeah. But just dabbled, you know. Once maybe a weekend or something. Some of my buddies were doing it every fucking day and fucked their whole lives up. I had friends die. [Whistles] Bad-news brown.

What did you make of it?
Heroin? Oh, it's pretty cool. You feel all warm and mellow, man.

That's a dangerous answer.
Yeah, very dangerous answer, but you can't do it. That's the bottom line. You get fucking hooked. You look like shit. Fucking junkies with fingernails all fucking dirty – or at least my friends were. They just turned into scum. I didn't want to be like that. Thank God I don't have an addictive personality.

Questions occasioned by puzzling or provocative moments in the Kid Rock lyrical canon, Number Four [with particular reference to: "This is for the questions that don't have any answers/The midnight glancers and the topless dancers ... All the crackheads, the critics, the cynics/And all my heroes in the methadone clinic" – "Bawitdaba," 1999]:

Who are your heroes in the methadone clinic?
They were some of my best friends from high school. It's kind of them. You always looked up to them – they were real witty and real smart, and were there with me a lot of the way, until they got all screwed up on drugs.

Do they know it's about them?
I'm sure they got a good idea. That was, the whole "just finding the good in everybody" that's deemed by society to be bad. To be crackheads or to be hookers or strippers or people that go to methadone clinics – usually when you do something like that you're deemed a loser, you're terrible, you screwed your life up. And I think there's still a lot of good left in people, no matter what they do.

Which is a fundamental Kid Rock theme.

Yeah. Sure. I've got a lot of faith in people. Whether it's some kid with a trust fund that people tease because he's got a trust fund, you know. I think there's some good ones out there, just like I think there's some good crackheads out there. It works both ways. I'm not trying to say that I just lay it down for the strippers and whores and the people in the methadone clinics and the gamblers, I'm saying it's OK for a kid to have a trust fund or grow up in a nice house. As long as you're comfortable with who you are, who cares?

But the trust-fund song is probably a little ways off.
It just wouldn't be as interesting.

Plus, what are the good rhymes for "trust fund"?
Oh, the good one would probably be, "The outskirt living/You know I'm fly/ Gonna get paid/ When my parents die."

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