Where are the harpoons on this motherfucker?” Kid Rock inquires.
He wants to catch a shark. A shark would be good. “Can you get ’em stuffed?” he asks. “I need them for my wall of shame.”
The captain of the Jamaican fishing boat nods. All possible.
“Bob Marley, yeah,” the captain agrees.
“You know Ted Nugent?” Kid Rock says, grinning. “He’s from Detroit.”
Sixty-five dollars a head is handed over by Kid Rock and his Detroit buddies (including his DJ and best friend, Kracker; the rest of his band stays on land), two cases of Red Stripe are loaded (“When the beer’s gone,” Kid Rock swaggers, “the trip’s over”), and the boat slips past the cruise ships in Ocho Rios harbor, straight out to sea. Kid Rock – shirt off, sunglasses on – takes the chair from where the biggest deep-sea catches are reeled in, a central raised throne bolted to the back of the deck, and watches the coast of Jamaica recede. He looks happy and comfortable. These days, Kid Rock is used to being the king of it all: the king of old-school partying and take-no-prisoners boasting; the king who has cut through the false modesties, nervous ironies and uncertain melodies of our times with his own clever, crude, anthemic upsurges; the king who predicted his each and every triumph while recording Devil Without a Cause, the album that then went on to crown him. And now – on this blustery, sundrenched Wednesday in Jamaica, beer in his hand, sharks on his mind, his freshly braided hair swinging in the wind – he assumes his position as the king of the sea.
Up and down, up and down, the boat pushes through the waves. It’s his hands that change first. When he first sat down, Kid Rock was holding the armrests with the assurance he brings to most actions, large or small, as though it were the armrests’ privilege to be supporting his forearms. Now he is simply holding on, and his fingers desperately grip for a kind of control the armrests can’t supply. After twenty minutes, Kid Rock gestures to the crew. Turn around. They laugh. They think he is a crazy American joker. He repeats the message more forcefully. Then he reaches for a plastic bucket and begins vomiting.
Though he is the only one to need the bucket, most of us are feeling rough, and no one says much until we clamber ashore. “Awww, that sucked my ass,” Kid Rock laughs and shakes his head. “Fuck. Now I got to go and eat again.”
Questions occasioned by puzzling or provocative moments in the Kid Rock lyrical canon, Number One [with particular reference to “Start an escort service for all the right reasons/And set up shop at the top of Four Seasons” – “Cowboy,” 1999]:
What are the right reasons to open an escort service?
Awww. That’s just a silly line. There’s no deep thought process behind it. To get paid. To make money. Isn’t that what everything is the right reason for?
I fucking hurled, man,” Kid Rock chuckles. It takes about ninety seconds ashore for him to start talking of his sea adventure as a funny story about something that happened once. It also takes about ninety seconds for him to be approached by a hotel guest.
“Will you take a picture with me?” she asks.
“Of course I will,” he says. “I thought you’d never ask.”
Kracker looks amused. “Smell his breath,” he advises the girl.
Kid Rock and his band are in Jamaica to play a lucrative spring-break show (partly organized, as it happens, by Rolling Stone), but they have taken the opportunity to enjoy a week’s rest in the sun. Days mostly involve drinking around the pool. Right now their boombox blares “No Woman, No Cry,” turned up to drown out the hotel’s Eurodisco. Kid Rock is talking about his show-stealing performance at the Grammys, which began with him alone at the piano singing “Only God Knows Why.” It was the first time he’d ever played a piano in public, so he was shitting himself, but the song quickly merged into the stuff that doesn’t scare him at all: rock and rap and fireworks and American flags and a motorbike with his three-foot-nine sidekick Joe C in the sidecar, and a medley of “Bawitdaba” and Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re an American Band,” the latter with revised Kid Rock lyrics: “We come into your town/We pull your panties down/We’re an American band.” “That whole song is perfect,” he says. “It just says nothing except, ‘We’re coming to your town, throwing a party, we’re going to tear it down, bye – we’re an American band.’ That’s badass.”
He says that award ceremonies always seem to go the same way for him. “I always come and rock their award shows better than anybody else, don’t win anything and get stupid people to present me who make fun of it,” he explains. “At the Grammys, I was, ‘Once again I won’t get an award, and I’ll be the most entertaining thing there.'” He considers this for a moment. “Well, except for Elton John – that was pretty fucking good.”
He is not joking. “It’s hard to fuck with Elton John,” he says. “Elton John has got a fucking great voice, and you just can’t deny it. He can sing his ass off, and he can play. I love all his shit, man – ‘Bennie and the Jets,’ ‘Daniel,’ all his slow shit.”
“Daniel”! The sappiest song ever.
“Well, I’ve got a nephew named Daniel,” he mutters. “My cousin that killed himself, that’s his boy.” Then he puts on a sappy voice. “I cry too, believe it or not.” Laughs. “Write about how sentimental I am – I’ll get more chicks.”
He points out that he also enjoys Elton John’s Lion King song cycle (“I used to watch that with my kid every day”) and the Princess Diana version of “Candle in the Wind.” “I can relate to that,” he says. “I sang at my cousin’s funeral. I sang ‘I Saw the Light’ – Hank Williams. Certain songs fit certain occasions.” He tells me about his cousin Paul. He died about five years ago. Put a shotgun in his mouth. “The only thing I want to bring up about it is it’s not worth it. We’ve all thought about it at times, most of us have. And if I have any sort of influence over kids at all, I would say it’s very un-fucking cool. A cool-ass motherfucker wouldn’t do it, and I’m Kid Rock, so don’t kill yourself.”
A few days after his cousin shot himself, Kid Rock got the tattoo on his left shoulder: Paul. “I was fucked up when I got it,” he says. “I got drunk and shit, and I was thinking about it, feeling all emotional.” Sometimes, especially before he became famous, people would shout out “Paul!” to him in the street, as if it were his name. It was annoying but didn’t make him sorry he had the tattoo. “Because you always say you’ll think about somebody every day after they die,” he says, “and you know that fades away sometimes. But I do, I really do. I’m glad I got it, to this day.”
He has one other tattoo, the Detroit Tigers D on the inside of his right forearm. The whole of his Twisted Brown Trucker band agreed to get them one day last year in Chicago, just as Devil Without a Cause was taking off – all except their drummer, Stephanie Eulinberg, who couldn’t get past the fact that she was from Cleveland, and Joe C, who is hooked up to a dialysis machine for eight hours each night and, consequently, has no desire to spend any of the day with someone sticking a needle into him. Kid Rock told the band members he’d give them $1,000 each for getting the tattoos, and when Stephanie got her tongue pierced instead, he gave her the money anyway. “It was, ‘Let’s all lock this family in – we’re going to be together for a long time,'” Kid Rock says. “This is who started together, right here. Let’s remember where we were when we got these, at what level we were, how happy we were.” He purses his lips. “Hopefully, some day, this could save our band.”
As he noted in one of his early songs, Robert James Ritchie – the man who would become Kid Rock – was born on the same day as Thomas Crapper: January 17th. Sometimes he thinks about this. “What if I had invented the toilet?” he says. “People would be like, ‘Man, I’ve got to take a ritchie.'”
It was 1971 when he was born. Bobby, as his parents have always called him, was the third of four children. His parents met at Michigan State University. Bill Ritchie was just graduating, at the top of his class, as a business major. His wife-to-be, Susan, a freshman and a cheerleader, dropped out when they got married. She was still in her teens.
His parents liked to have fun, and they would often host barn parties on Friday nights. “Just crack open a keg, and hear Bob Seger jamming all night,” Kid Rock recalls. Those evenings were fine, unless the adults got drunk and asked Bobby to start jumping around, lip-syncing Jim Croce’s “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” or Seger’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” to entertain their friends. During the days, he would listen to their big stereo and imagine that the people he heard – the Stones, the Beatles, Marshall Tucker, Johnny Cash – were little people jamming right there inside the box. Bobby tried to learn the guitar, but back then it didn’t take. Instead he got a drum machine and, later, some turntables. Other sadder, less musical events also inspired him. His older brother, Billy, lost a leg at the age of seven. The two of them were clowning around on the back of their father’s tractor, and Billy fell. It’s hard to grow up in the shadow of that, and not just in the most obvious and compassionate sense. “He was always the center of attention,” Kid Rock confesses, “so I’m sure I was always trying to: ‘Hey! Look at me!'”
In high school, he put together a break-dance crew; they would play weddings and got sponsored by the local Burger King. “They’d move the salad bar out of the way,” he recalls, “and we’d get down.” He could do most of the moves – “head spins, windmills, knee skins, the worm, the wave, poppin’, lockin’, the funkateer” – though he always had trouble with the “1990” spinning-on-one-hand move. He started rapping introductions for the members of his crew. They were called the Furious Funkers. “I was never good with names,” he says.” When people started calling me Kid Rock, I thought that was cool.”
Questions occasioned by puzzling or provocative moments in the Kid Rock lyrical canon, Number Two [with particular reference to lyrics including but not limited to: “And because I do so much pimpin’/One day I’ll probably walk with a limp . . . But for now rap’s the occupation/But one day, watch, I’ll be pimp of the nation” – “Pimp of the Nation,” 1990; “Cuz there’s no contest for the pimp, I’m the pimp of the nation/So fuck college and a good education” – “Killin’ Brain Cells,” 1993; “I be the early-mornin’ stoned pimp/Straightlimpin’ Boone’s Farm-drinkin’/At the party big booty pinching” – “E.M.S.P.,” 1996]:
In which ways are you a pimp?
Because I’m smooth with the ladies! Because I’m . . . it’s an alter ego, a persona kind of thing I like to have fun with. It was always kind of funny for me to do stuff that was kind of, not shocking, but . . . to wear a hat, go round in a big Lincoln or a big Caddy with spokes on it and have a few girls on your arms or have people dancing. It wasn’t some sort of serious-pimp “I sell girls for money” kind of thing.
How is an early-morning stoned pimp different from a regular pimp?
It’s not that he gets up early – it’s usually he’s still up and it’s early, and he’s stoned, and he’s still pimping. It’s that one scene of a couple of girls without a lot of clothes, hanging out; a few guys you don’t know, sitting in the corners of the room with their hat low, and the sun’s coming up.
And, in the midst of this, the early-morning stoned pimp is . . .
Sitting on his throne, right on his bed, sipping a Budweiser or something, feeling mighty fine.
And this is a situation you’ve found yourself in many times, or imagined yourself in?
Both. [Laughs] I don’t really want to go into detail. I really don’t.
Driving in a minibus to Kid Rock’s Jamaican show, Kid Rock’s older sister, Carol, undoes the braids in her hair. As she does so, she talks about it and happens to use the word crimp. Kid Rock’s ears light up.
“It’s another word that rhymes with pimp!” he declares. “Put that in your article, so I can remember it.”
It’s midafternoon, and they perform in the blazing sunshine. They play their hits and a few covers: Sublime‘s “What I Got,” a medley of Creedence Clearwater Revival‘s “Fortunate Son” and “We’re an American Band,” a Detroitcentric version of country renegade David Allan Coe’s “Son of the South.” The crowd is small, but it all works well enough. “When they come to my shows, it’s a release,” Kid Rock says. “There’s nothing to think about. There’s no country to save, no donation to be made. It’s for personal self-healing. You come and let it all out. Show your tits if you’re a girl, drink some beers if you’re a guy.”
After the show, Kid Rock goes out to meet a gaggle of overeager fans.
“I want a topless picture – would it be top much?” a girl in a Confederate-flag bikini asks. Kid Rock is already topless; she means herself.
“OK,” says Kid Rock. “Twist my arm.”
She slips down her bikini top; Kid Rock holds her left breast and faces the camera. Her friend asks for the same, so he stands behind her, cupping both breasts. “Thank you,” the friend says. “That was so sweet.” (Later, I ask him what he is thinking at moments like these. “Man, I’ve got a really cool job,” he says.) Another girl comes up and starts stroking his bare stomach, over and over, only pausing to flick her fingers through the fluffy whiskers on his chin. The stomach-stroker says to him, “I’ve got naked a hundred times at your shows.”
He smiles, “Thank you for participating,” he says.
A Jamaican man interrupts. “I’m Jamaican, I listen to reggae, man. I’ll be honest, I never heard of you, but dat one – ‘I’m a cowboy!’– that’s a good one. I don’t lie . . . I’m in the music business, too. You should give me your number.”
“I probably should,” Kid Rock replies. “And the chance of me giving it is probably slim to none.”
The guy grins, slaps his hand. “You’re not a typical white guy,” he says.
One girl asks why Joe C isn’t here.
“They wouldn’t let him in,” he says. “He was too small.” (Joe C prefers not to travel much.)
Behind me, the stomach-stroking girl, clearly in a bad mood because her attentions have not produced more concrete results, mouths to her friend, “I want to fuck him.”
Some of the girls – but not her – ride on the bus back to the hotel. One of them hands out Skittles and talks about her homework. A girl says, apropos of nothing, “I’m not a girl who takes off her clothes and shoves a beer bottle up her crotch.”
“Pull over, captain!” shouts Kid Rock’s manager.
From listening to Kid Rock’s records or reading his interviews, these girls may imagine that this bus journey is going to lead them to a land of intimate Kid Rock depravity. He is, of course, used to these temptations, expectations and invitations. “I think I was pretty ugly a year ago,” he tells me, “but after 7 million records, I’m a sexy son of a bitch.”
But their timing is off. He doesn’t do that anymore. These days, Kid Rock has other thoughts, other priorities. Kid Rock has a girlfriend. He is dating model and actress James King. She will be arriving here tomorrow. They met two years ago at a taping of MTV’s Fashionably Loud, only she had a boyfriend, he had a girlfriend. This year they attended the Grammys together, but just as friends. He concedes that during that evening together, he was beginning to wonder. “It’s going through your head,” he says. “It’s kind of that weird thing: ‘Hmm . . . ‘It’s like you want to slip someone a note: ‘I like you – do you like me? Circle one – yes/no. Return.'”
When he got back to Michigan, he realized he was missing her a bit. He’d rather keep the rest private, but at some point the note was returned, with yes circled. The next week they were seen out together in Detroit.
Does this mean you’ve taken a vow of monogamy?
That’s not the Kid Rock they know and love on the road.
No, but, you know . . . whatever. That’s the way it is. I kind of think I’ve done all that, and I did it about as good as you can do it. I had a lot of fun, man; nobody got hurt, I’d like to think.
And you can just switch that off?
Yes, that’s the type of motherfucker I am. Totally.
So earlier today in Jamaica, in the dressing room, Kid Rock formally passed the torch to Jason, the younger of Twisted Brown Trucker’s two guitarists and the one who handles the metal riffing. “Yep, Bob passed me the torch,” Jason later reflects. “I guess I get the key to the stabbing cabin. That’s the back room of the bus. It was going that way anyway.”
Questions occasioned by puzzling or provocative moments in the Kid Rock lyrical canon, Number Three [with particular reference to most of the Kid Rock catalog]:
From your songs, there are plenty of reasons for people to think that you can be pretty disrespectful and sometimes even hateful to women.
Sometimes I can. Sometimes I am. It’s no secret.
Why do you think that is?
Because I’ve met some really nasty women in this lifetime, and those types of women I have no type of respect for. And I’ve met the same type of woman a few times, and it might be my own fault for jumping into that situation, but it’s still a nasty fucking type of woman. It’s a fucking life-sucking bitch, and there’s quite a few of them out there. I know some guys that are bitches, too. What characterizes that to me is someone who is a liar, that is manipulative, deceitful, has an agenda. Two-faced, you know.
And if someone interprets, from the way you sing about those people, a generalized hostility toward women and is offended . . .
[Laughs] That’s their prerogative. But I’d say a good percentage of the times they’re probably one of them women.
That’ll definitely calm the waters.
It’s true, man. That’s my first instinct – a girl that listens and goes, “All he talks about is woman and bitches,” well, she probably is the fucking biggest bitch on the face of the earth. Because a real woman listens to it and she’s, “Whatever, I know who I am.”
But, to clarify, you don’t agree that as a general rule you’re hateful toward women?
No, of course not. I mean, I live. I’m a nice guy. So, no, not at all. [Shrugs] I really don’t give a fuck if someone thinks I am. They can suck it, too.
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”?
[Immediately] Oh, the good one would probably be, “The outskirt living/You know I’m fly/ Gonna get paid/ When my parents die.”
Punk Rock! The Clash! Boy bands are trash! I like Johnny Cash and Grandmaster Flash!”
In his hotel room in Jamaica, Kid Rock plays me a demo of his new song “American Bad Ass,” shouting along with the parts he loves the most, grabbing his crotch. He wrote the lyrics two days before coming to Jamaica, over the riff of Metallica’s “Sad But True.” The song is the centerpiece of The History of Rock. He hollers loudest of all when he reaches the lines, “I won’t live to tell! So if you do! Give the next generation a big fuck-you!”
He plays me some other, very different songs on his boombox. There’s a raucous, rapped-up cover of Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page” and a beautiful country version of “Only God Knows Why,” sent to him by David Allan Coe. Aside from “American Bad Ass,” the best new song he plays me is “Lonely Road of Faith,” a sad, piano-driven Southern-rock ballad with a beautiful, wordless chorus. Singing it, he sounds somewhere in between Paul Rodgers from Bad Company and Axl Rose. “I’m really good at writing that type of shit,” he notes as it finishes.
Kid Rock excitedly cues up one more song. “This is the baddest rock & roll song I ever made. It’s called ‘I’m a Dog, Bitch.’ It’s about riding across the desert in a convertible with shotguns, with two chicks with platinum-blond wigs on.” He whoops along. “This last verse is sweet,” he shouts. “This is right on the money.”
“Live it up, sucker,” his voice booms, “because they’re saying my days are numbered. Who wants to live long anyway? I’m going out with a blast, getting some ass, smoking grass, leaving all my cash for my little boy. You wouldn’t understand, you don’t know where I come from.”
“That’s fucking rock & roll right there,” he says when it finishes.
His little boy, Junior, is six and a half. And until you understand about that, you barely understand anything about Kid Rock.
On the plane to Detroit, we talk while James King dozes. Kid Rock doesn’t plan to fly commercial too much longer. He recently had a guy over to explain the financial practicalities of private jets. “It’s not as expensive as you think,” he enthuses and showers me with details. “People don’t research these things.” It’s his new goal; he keeps the brochures by his bed.
As we fly, I ask him about his recent encounter with the President when, as recently detailed in Rolling Stone, he showed some metal in their photograph. “That’s badass, right there,” he says with pride. “Who else is going to go up to the President and show some metal? That was pretty sweet.”
True, but this encounter prompts some other questions. For instance, last year he was in the habit of announcing from stage that as political as he got was the knowledge that “Monica Lewinsky is a fuckin’ ho, and Bill Clinton is a goddamned pimp.”
Did you mention to him your theory that he’s a pimp?
No. I would love to, if ever he’s got some time; I’d love to sit down and speak with him about it.
Do you think he’d be happy about that?
Probably not. Well, I don’t know. I’d have to say that maybe behind closed doors, if me and him were sharing a Budweiser or something, it might be kind of funny – if we knew each other. But probably in public, rampin’ it out in magazines and doing it on shows, he’s probably not too appreciative of that.
What are his pimplike qualities?
He got a fuckin’ blowjob in the Oval Office! How fucking pimp is that? And then he got off! He got out of it! He’s still got his wife! The guy’s my hero.
I’m also suspecting that you didn’t reprise for Bill your couplet, “I gave an invitation to the president just for kicks/It said, ‘You’re cordially invited to suck my dick'” (“Freestyle Rhyme,” 1996).
[Sniggers] I’m pretty good with the one-liners sometimes. Setting people up and watching them fall, in a roundabout way where no one gets hurt, is fun.
Nor, I suspect, did you mention your theory that “Tipper Gore is my highest-paying whore”(“Pimp of the Nation,” 1990).
No, he probably wouldn’t have appreciated that, either.
At the airport in Detroit, Kid Rock and James King head off. He has something important to do tonight. It’s his son’s first-grade parents’ night.
The trail of truth: on his 1996 album, Early Mornin’ Stoned Pimp, Kid Rock recorded a song called “Black Chick, White Guy,” which he also re-recorded for Devil Without a Cause. It tells the story of a black woman and a white man. He was from a middle-class family; she was from a troubled background: “Her momma was . . . more like a friend/Had three different kids from three different men.” It describes how they started seeing each other at school: “Fuckin’ during lunch in the junior high bathrooms/Drinking champagne and trippin’ on mushrooms/His dick was metal, her pussy was a magnet.” In ninth grade, she told him she was pregnant and had an abortion. “It might have been right, it might have been wrong/But one thing’s for sure, it really fucked his head up.” Later, she moved to the city, still seeing the white guy on the side, but she was mostly with a black dope dealer. She got pregnant by the dope dealer; when he was sent to jail, she hooked back up with the white guy, and they started raising her son together. In the next few years they had good times and bad times, and neither of them behaved impeccably. She got pregnant again, and a little girl was born on the front seat of his car. And not long after, they had a son. Only then did he learn that the little girl he had been bringing up as his daughter wasn’t his. “Three different kids from three different men/History repeats itself again.” So he splits up with her and raises the one son that is biologically his. “And now from her he’s got a little boy that makes him laugh a bit/And he loves him/But still you don’t know the fuckin’ half of it.”
Of course, he says, it’s pretty much all true: “Obviously you have to rhyme words, but about ninety-nine percent.” “Black Chick, White Guy” is his account of Kid Rock’s relationship with the mother of his child, the woman he lost his virginity to in their junior high bathroom. (She denies much of this story and has brought suit against Kid Rock and Rolling Stone for recounting it in a previous article.) It’s a delicate subject right now: Though Kid Rock has been Junior’s primary caregiver since he was tiny, his mother is now suing for custody. “I know how solid I’ve been in terms of Bob Ritchie raising his kid,” he says. “Nobody’s going to take this fucking kid from me. I got all my documents from everyone involved, neighbors to teachers – everything. It’s just ridiculous to think – the opportunities and the love that he’s had, and the home life he enjoys and the environment he’s in and schools he goes to, it’s just ridiculous to challenge it could be better anywhere.” The one thing that kills him is that the fight is ruining his relationship with Junior’s older brother and sister, whom Kid Rock has always considered . . . well, it’s hard not to notice that in “Only God Knows Why” he doesn’t refer to Junior as his son but as his “youngest son.” “I remember writing that song,” he says, “and I was, ‘Fuck it.'”
He knows that many people will take all that they know about Kid Rock and wonder how, if it is all true, he can be a fine and responsible father. “They don’t know how I live my life and what I really do with my son when the door shuts and how he’s handled and how he’s raised and how well-mannered he is,” he says. “They don’t think it’s possible to have the fucking unbelievably best time in the world, go out and party like it’s 1999 and be able to raise your kid. People can’t understand that there’s a balance there and that someone can actually do it. Someone actually is doing it.”
Kid Rock wanders out of his bedroom in Adidas pants, no shirt. Grunts an acknowledgment. Puts on coffee, sorts out the trash. There’s a Skymall catalog on the kitchen counter next to the bananas, empty Miller Lite cans and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. “I love the Skymall,” he murmurs. “I get a lot of shit from the Skymall. The bear halogen light . . . the Chesapeake Bay box.” He says he also likes to pick up home-décor stuff from truck stops. His mother is helping redecorate his house outside of Detroit, and it drives her crazy. “I show up with my Elvis phone, which I bought at the Flying J, and my mom says, ‘You’ve got a million-dollar home, and you’re going to fill it up with ten-cent items,'” he says. “I’m, ‘Mom, I pretty much haven’t played by the rules up until now – I don’t think I’m about to start.’ I like Harleys and hot tubs and convertibles and pools with your name at the bottom of them. Elvis Presley shit. ‘Cause it’s luxury shit – shit you can enjoy, conversation pieces. It’s life. It’s living. To me, anyway. That’s what I like. I like a lot of material things.”
Junior and Kid Rock’s sister Carol come in. They’re going shopping.
“I’ve got twenty-one dollars,” Junior announces.
“You’re going to tear it up at Costco?” his father asks him.
When they’ve gone, he sips his coffee and stares out over the lawn into the woods. He talks to himself. “That’s on the list of things to do this week,” he says. “Pool table and new convertible.”
The telephone rings, and he jumps over the leather sofa to answer it. He presses buttons, but the phone keeps ringing. “Don’t even know how to work the phone system,” he says. “It’s got eighteen lines and shit.” In the corner of the room, framed as if it were a platinum record, is a Speedo bathing suit that had belonged to, and was a gift from, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich.
Kid Rock shows me around. Downstairs is the jukebox that Atlantic Records gave him, crammed with his rap, rock and country favorites: Molly Hatchet, Steve Miller, Beastie Boys (Paul’s Boutique), Waylon Jennings, David Allan Coe, Hank Williams, Hank Williams Jr., Bob Seger, Run DMC, Alabama, Grand Funk Railroad, the Marshall Tucker Band, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Allman Brothers Band, MC5, Dobie Gray, Willie Nelson, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Eric B. and Rakim, the Ultramagnetic MCs. He stabs on Lynryd Skynyrd’s “You Got That Right” and says, “I’m gonna do a cover of this for the Trucker record, see if I can get Axl Rose to do the vocal with me.” Somewhere down here, in a safe behind a locked door, is his gun: a sixteen-shot three-band Ruby. On weekends when Junior is not here and he’s all alone, Kid Rock carries it with him from room to room. “I get paranoid,” he says. People know he lives here. They drive up his driveway, playing his music. Smash his mailbox. “Just stupid shit I would do as a kid,” he says. The gun’s not for them. “There’s fucking kooks out there,” he says.
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.