The Low Times and High Life of Kid Rock

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Questions occasioned by puzzling or provocative moments in the Kid Rock lyrical canon, Number Five [with particular reference to "Cuz it's blackjack, and I've got two aces" – "Pancake Breakfast," 1993]:

That lyric troubles me, logically. Two aces isn't a particularly good blackjack hand.
[Nonchalantly] Yeah, it is. Double down on it.

Well, yeah, but it's far from the best hand you can have.
Which record is it from? Polyfuze. [Shrugs] OK. I was so high when I wrote that record.

So when you wrote it, you thought it was the best hand on earth.
I probably did

At 5:58, Kid Rock looks at his watch. "What's the time?" he asks, and answers himself. "Beer thirty."

Junior comes to the banister, shyly.

"Got that homework done?" his father asks. Junior smiles bashfully and returns to work.

Kid Rock plays and sings along to some of the latest ZZ Top album – "The best record I've heard this year." He plays two songs he did with Run DMC, "Know What I'm Saying" and "School of Old," then an old song of his own, "Warm Winter," which sounds more like Nine Inch Nails than anything else and which is going to be on the sound-track to Crow III. "I did it five years ago, just fucking around," he grins. "I think I got about $450,000, with trailer rights and everything, from a song that I did five years ago that was sitting in the fucking trash bin." (It's not just as it was. "Spent another hour on it," he concedes.)

Junior asks to join us. "Do I have to take a bath first?" he asks, Daddy says that he does.

David Allan Coe, who played an afternoon show in the Detroit suburbs, turns up. Kid Rock plays him "American Bad Ass," and Coe laughs when his name comes up – "David Allan Coe and 'No Show' Jones" – in the list of artists Kid Rock pays respect to. Junior returns, bathed, dressed as Spider-Man and eating a banana. Kid Rock explains to his son about bellybuttons. "You've either got an inny or an outy," he says. "I've got an inny. You've got an inny, too."

"You're a good-looking boy," Coe says. "He's a cutie."

"He's past his bedtime," says Kid Rock. Junior goes off to bed.

Coe picks up Kid Rock's acoustic guitar and plays some beautiful new songs. "That's fucking really, really good," says Kid Rock after a gently devastating one called "Time Stood Still." Another, "Nothing Good About Goodbye," includes the couplet "and you'll get the children/that we had together." "Uh-uh," interrupts Kid Rock, shaking his head.

Kid Rock takes the guitar. "I'll tell you what," he says. "If Johnny Cash don't take this song, I'm giving it to you." And he sings a song he's written for Cash, "The Man in Black."

"See," Coe reasons, "we could change that and say, 'I'm not the Man in Black.' Do the comparison thing. We could put that together in fifteen minutes."

Kid Rock starts playing a simple boogie rhythm. "Take this job and shove it, up your ass," he sings. ("Take This Job and Shove It" – no ass references – is one of Coe's most popular songs.)

Coe borrows my pen. "I got an idea I can steal from Kid Rock."

"Well," Kid Rock says, "he's here and he doesn't mind."

"I said it so many times, and you know I love it," sings Coe. "I still stand firm, you can take your job and shove it."

"Up your ass, I got plenty of class," Kid Rock immediately continues. "But in your schools there were rules, and I ran right past."

All of a sudden they are writing a song, and there is no stopping them. For the second verse, they trade lines back and forth until they settle on "You can brag about your money and your prison past/But I've been there and done it just like John R. Cash."

"We done a song, damn near," Kid Rock declares. "It ain't that hard."

Each chorus introduces one word of Coe's name. "I'm David Allan Coe, don't mess with me," suggests Coe as the song's culmination.

"Don't fuck with me," corrects Kid Rock, who knows about these things.

"Yeah," agrees Coe.

Coe says he's never felt able to sing "fuck" on a record, because of country radio. (Instinctively he has taken the word shit out of his version of "Only God Knows Why.") "We're not going to be able to get anything played on country radio anyway," Kid Rock points out, "because all they play is bullshit. New country sucks my ever-loving ass. They're scared of you. They've always been scared of you. So, fuck, let's scare the shit out of them."

Questions occasioned by puzzling or provocative moments in the Kid Rock lyrical canon, Number Six [with particular reference to lyrics including, "Just like a little fuckin' fag/He always wants to get high but never has a bag" – "The Cramper," 1993; "It ain't shit to me just to beat a MC down who look like a dick/Jumpin' round like a homo on a pogo stick" – "Pancake Breakfast," 1993; "Spreadin' like a cancer, a virus/While you're lookin' really gay, like fuckin' Billy Ray Cyrus" – "E.M.S.P.," 1996]:

It would be also fairly easy to point to a strong streak of homophobia in what you do.
Ahhh, no, I don't think so. I think it's just more something fun for me. I'm definitely not homophobic. But at the same time, I definitely don't want a dick anywhere near my ass. I guess in a sense maybe people would deem me homophobic for the way I talk, but that's the way they'd deem me a lot of things because I use straightforward words, you know. I'm not politically correct. I don't use the term African-American. I don't use all these terms that are supposed to be right. I say black, white, fag, shit, goddamn, fuck, pussy-lickin' finger-fuckin' ho-assed cunt, you know. It doesn't matter to me. It's something that's kind of fun to me: "Never gay, no way, I don't play with ass/But watch me rock with Liberace flash" ("American Bad Ass," 2000).

But just to use the word 'fag,' which is not just a neutral descriptive word . . .
We got a call from the fucking Irish something in New York since I said the word Mick ["Cuss like a sailor, drink like a Mick" – "Cowboy," 1999]. I'm, "Fuck you." If someone doesn't like being called a fag, sorry I called you a fag. But you know what – I'll probably do it again. If you take that much offense by it . . . one of my really good friends is gay, a guy in Detroit. Excellent friend. Really, really close friend. He's always said, "I don't give a fuck what you call me; I laugh and keep going, I know who I am."

But even if you're confident that you're not homophobic, there may be plenty of people buying your records in whom you may be encouraging the most rampant homophobia.
I don't know. I'm not going to take that responsibility, man. I'm not going to have that weight put on my shoulders by anybody. You get that call every day from somebody: "You're influencing a lot of people." I was doing the same shit when I wasn't influencing people. I don't know – I'm not good at this type of shit. I didn't get into music to, no offense, but to answer my thoughts and views on being homophobic and everything. I don't know enough about it. It's not something I have a problem with, but I speak my mind. If fag rhymes with bag, I'll probably end up using it in a song. I know who I am. I'm not a killer, and I'm not a fucking a goofball. I'm fucking a good father and all these things. But I'm not going to change all my shit around because someone might take it the wrong way, because I might start a spark. I'm here to start sparks. But there's already some gasoline in the room if it ignites, you know what I mean? I'm not fucking Jesus Christ here. In case you haven't noticed. We look the same, but it's not me.

The next afternoon, Coe, his band and Kid Rock's band get together in a studio to do some recording. By the time Kid Rock arrives, they have already recorded a new version of "Only God Knows Why" and a kind of funked-up Chuck Berry-style boogie stomp of Coe's called " '59 Cadillac, '57 Chevrolet." Kid Rock listens to the second song, fiddles for a second on an acoustic guitar, then tells Mike Bradford, his bass player and engineer, that he has a new guitar part to add. He doesn't confer with Coe, or anyone, before or afterward; he just puts it down, sure and confident that it is good. ("I hear shit, and I know the shit that I hear in my head sounds good," he'll tell me later. "Even that little guitar thing, that little part right there that's the candy part of the song, that makes the song, and it's all my part – I designed it and I fucking built it and I played it, I put it together. I mean, why fuck around? I know what's good. And until I lose that . . .")

In the next song, "Reckless," Coe is left by a woman and blows his brains out. Kid Rock sits at the keyboard, possessed, going through all of the preset sounds – cars revving, dogs barking, crowds cheering – finally settling on a banjo sound. "That sounds kinda sweet," he says. He asks Bradford to roll the tape and adds an entirely realistic banjo part, played on the keyboard first time through. Triumphantly, he raises his arm. "You're all fired," he declares.

The session is over, but the night goes on. Coe picks up the guitar, sits on the sofa and performs. He plays Jimmy Reed songs, Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," and tells Kid Rock all about John Prine.

"I've got the title for a song you have to write," Kid Rock tells him. "'I'm So Miserable Without You, It's Almost As If You Were Here.'" (Later, he tells me it was suggested to him by someone at his record company.)

"Write that down," Coe instructs. One of his band members nods and says, "That's better than 'I Hate Every Bone in Her Body But Mine.'"

The following morning, I find Kid Rock sitting in one of the armchairs in his bedroom. On the floor is today's mail: a signed picture of James Brown on which Brown has written, "I like your style." He and Brown were going to do a version of "Sex Machine" together for an IMAX movie, but Brown pulled out. His diabetes or something like that, Kid Rock mutters. Kid Rock tells Junior, who yesterday got only a fifty on his test, that he has to do his spelling over. If he slips at his schoolwork, Nintendo privileges are withdrawn.

Kid Rock, who even when he's fired up comes across in person as a rather sweet and gentle man, is in a more reflective mood today. I ask him when he is happiest, and he says, "I'm happy a lot. Obviously, doing special stuff with my son – teaching him how to ride his motorcycle, stuff like that . . . You see yourself in a lot of ways, and you kind of wonder. You know there's half of you in there." He tells me how proud he was when Junior started singing Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" one day in the car.

He goes on to mention that he recently took his guitar to Junior's school for career day. Junior's classmates asked him questions – "Is your job fun?" "Do you travel a lot?" "Do you help people?" – and drew a picture of him. He played "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" and some George Jones, but it was "Proud Mary" that really got the first-graders going. "I was, 'When I sing rollin'! I want everyone to participate,'" he says, and shakes his grinning head. "It was a riot, man."

This story is from the June 22nd, 2000 issue of Rolling Stone.

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