At the MTV Music Awards last month, Kid Rock returned from a bathroom break and got a surprise. Tommy Lee, Rock’s nemesis — the ex-husband of his ex-wife Pam Anderson — was sitting at Rock’s table. “I was like, ‘That’s it!'” Rock recalls. “He knows how much he has disrespected me through the years, and I’d told him he had it coming. I was left with no choice.” Rock remembered what his older brother taught him — “you’ve got to hit first” — in the fourth grade. “I was going to be a bitch or be a man,” Rock says. “And I’m not a bitch. Never have been.”
It’s early morning at Kid Rock’s bachelor pad in Malibu. The place is an uncluttered, Mediterranean-style oasis he bought for a cool $12 million last year. Lubed up on vodka-sodas, Rock holds court behind the large island in his state-of-the-art kitchen, telling stories that involve an unlikely cast of characters. There’s the one about meeting President Bush during the Kennedy Center Honors in 2004. “When I first joined a band, I just wanted to make some good tunes, get some pussy and buy a new car,” he says. “But I get to go meet the president, and he slaps me a high-five while I’m having a Jim Beam and Coke with Rumsfeld!” Another story ends with Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler telling him, “When I was in rehab, I used to spin in circles just to get a buzz.” In between these tales, Rock riffs on the Emmy telecast playing on a flat-screen TV. When actress Jaime Pressly collects her prize, Rock smiles and says, “Been there, done that.” And when sixty-two-year-old Helen Mirren appears, Rock relishes the opportunity to rip on his ex-wife: “Hey, is that Pam?”
Pretty soon, Rock, 36, is describing how he popped Lee a week earlier in Las Vegas. It was his right hand — open- I faced yet close-knuckled — that connected with Lee’s left cheekbone. “It was a full swing,” he says. “I don’t got big guns, but I know how to throw a punch.” The drama goes way back, related to their mutual ex-wife. Rock says that the final straw came last December, after his divorce from Anderson, when he received text messages from Lee, who had hijacked Anderson’s cell phone. “This motherfucker starts e-mailing me from her BlackBerry, saying, ‘You’re a fucking bitch, she’ll always be with me, nobody wants you,’ ” Rock says. “It was not easy. It was a very hurtful time in my life, because I was in love with her. I wanted to roll on him right then, but I didn’t see him until the MTV Awards.” On his blog, after the incident, Lee called Rock a “wuss,” and when reached for comment, Lee says, “My family and I want nothing to do with this unfortunate situation.”
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Somehow, with all of the MTV cameras around, the punch wasn’t caught on tape. Still, the scuffle vaulted Rock back into the spotlight at just the right time. After four years, he has a re-cord to promote, called Rock N Roll Jesus. Even Larry King wants a piece of Kid Rock now. “If I knew how much press this was gonna get,” Rock says, “I would’ve come back with a left.”
Rock N Roll Jesus is Rock’s most honest, eclectic and soulful record to date. It’s his State of the Union address, a deeply personal statement that looks at racism in America, empathizes with soldiers in Iraq (Rock visited the troops last Christmas) and also lays bare his tormented relationship with Anderson. During their breakup, Rock assumed a low profile, focusing on his music for the first time in years. Initially, he teamed up with producer Rick Rubin, who gave him a much-needed jolt of confidence. “I told him, ‘There are no classic American rockers right now, none,’ ” says Rubin. ” ‘You can fill that gap. There’s no competition, just get in there and do it.'” Rubin also encouraged Rock to step up his lyrics. “I said, ‘Don’t say your name in every song. You already covered all that “I’m Kid Rock, suck my dick, let’s get drunk” shit.’ ” Rock immediately wrote what he considers his best song ever, “Amen,” in which he points his middle finger at “scumbag lawyers and wolves-in-sheep’s-clothing pastors.” “When I played that for Rick, I was like, ‘How about this motherfucker?’ ” Rock says. “He said, “You fuckin’ nailed it!’ ”
By February, when Rock had recovered from the hangover of his divorce, he teamed up with another producer, Rob Cavallo (best known for Green Day’s American Idiot), back in Rock’s Michigan studio. “From there, I could do no wrong,” he says. “I was just on fire.” Without sounding forced or contrived, the songs on Rock N Roll Jesus glide through Rock’s favorite musical genres: country, rock, punk and hip-hop. “All Summer Long” is as evocative of an adolescent romance in Michigan as Bob Seger’s “Night Moves.” Cuts like “New Orleans” and”Don’t Tell Me U Love Me” draw on the I classic rock and country he heard ? ( at his parents’ parties. Rock uses his trademark lyrical boasts sparingly, saving up for lines like “I fuck hot pussy until it’s cold” and “I take strippers out to breakfast.”
The music reflects a newfound clarity in Kid Rock’s life that can be attributed to one thing: He’s single again. In addition to getting over Pam Anderson, his dalliance with Danish model May Andersen has ended as well. “I don’t want any of that ‘I love you, I love you too, where have you been, you didn’t call me, you don’t care’ bullshit,” he says. “I’ve moved on, and the stars have aligned. Everything in my life is perfect.”
For the benefit of the women of the world, Rock has unabashedly resumed life as a man-whore — he hooks up with anyone he damn well pleases. Back in Malibu, during the three days I stay with Rock, he imports strippers from Arizona and, on another night, gets a late-night servicing by a hot brunette in his walk-in shower. The luminescent stripper pole in his living room also gets a nice polishing from a blond professional. Rock says that he is “the luckiest human being on the face of the Earth.”
It helps that Rock is filthy rich, having sold more than 20 million records on top of lucrative touring and merchandising revenues. He owns the spot in Malibu, a three-story condo in West Nashville and a thirty-acre spread in the Detroit suburb of Clarkston, Michigan, which is home base for Rock’s fourteen-year-old son, Bobby Junior. (Rock’s sister Carol watches Junior when Rock is on the road.) The place is like a rock & roll theme park, featuring dirt-bike and go-kart tracks, basketball and ten n is courts, recording studios, a man-made lake and two swimming pools. The property’s many garages house custom motorcycles and a Dukes of Hazzard golf cart, as well as Rock’s limited-edition Ford GT race car, and his latest indulgence, a white V16 1930 Cadillac gem that cost more than half a mil. “Oh, my kid’s grandchildren are set for life,” Rock says. “But I also tell my son, ‘You see how your dad is, if you think any of this is going to get left behind, you’re nuts, because I’m going out with a bang, buddy.’ ”
Whatever you want to call him — Rock & Roll Jesus, the Detroit Cowboy, American Badass, the Early Morning Stoned Pimp or just plain Bobby, as he’s known to his friends and family- Robert James Ritchie was born on Super Bowl Sunday 1971. “He came in two ounces shy of ten pounds out of his hundred-pound mama,” says his dad, Bill Ritchie, on the deck of his lakefront Michigan home. “He wanted to be a big deal right from the get-go.” Financially speaking, Bill Ritchie was a big deal himself, the overlord of two Lincoln-Mercury dealerships, and a tour of Kid Rock’s childhood home in the town of Romeo debunks any lingering myths that he grew up in a double-wide.
In his Mercury SUV, Bill and I ride from the lake to the 8,000-square-foot home, which is painted white and sits on a hill overlooking a pool and tennis court on land that was formerly an apple orchard. Bobby was the third of four children: Older sister Carol handles Rock’s books; his straight-laced younger sister, Jill, is an actress (she played Charisma in Herbie Fully Loaded) who lives in Los Angeles; Rock’s older brother, Billy, who lost his right leg at age six in a tractor accident, has struggled with drug addictions and is now studying to be a yoga instructor. As a child, despite his injury, Billy played football and was a competitive skier. Local TV news channels documented Billy’s struggle, and a full-page article on him appeared in the Detroit News. “All the attention was always on my brother,” says Rock. “He’d be on That’s Incredible! — because he was incredible. Rut that’s why I’m such a show-off.”
Bill Ritchie leads me to a barn next to the house, where he and his wife, Susan, Rock’s mom, used to throw parties every Friday night. “This is a big part of Bob’s history,” he says. Ritchie — who sometimes refers to himself as Daddy Rock — is a dominating presence with a wicked sense of humor. At one point during the conversation, he took a leak off the side of the porch. Ritchie doesn’t look much like his son, but the two obviously have a lot in common — including a predilection for partying. “The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree,” says Mrs. Ritchie, pointing at her husband of forty-three years.
“I was one of those guys that worked sixty, seventy hours a week, and when Friday came, we let loose,” says Bill. “I built this party room and I was the disc jockey, and I’d blast Sixties rock it roll. I’d blast heavy country-western: Johnny Cash, Waylon, Hank Jr., Merle Haggard. I blasted the shit out of it!” If neighbors complained about the noise, Rock’s dad would tell them, “You’re not supposed to sleep! Get up and come to the party!” The barn also became a venue for Rock’s first performances, when he was about six. “He stood there,” his dad says proudly, pointing to the top of the bar, “with his little cowboy boots on and a fake guitar singing ‘Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.’ ”
When Rock was a kid, his father put him to work, planting trees around their property and mowing their massive lawn. For spending cash, Rock would gather apples in a nearby orchard for thirty-five cents a bushel. His father’s favorite mantra is “any idiot can earn a dollar, it takes a genius to spend a penny,” but Rock resented his father’s tightfisted grip on the family finances. To this day, nothing pleases Rock more than to wind up his father with tales of exorbitant purchases, like the massive Civil War cannon that greets visitors at Rock’s Clarkston estate. “I told my dad that the guy wanted $70,000 for it, but he was such a cool motherfucker, I gave him seventy-five,” Rock says. That kind of business sense makes his father “screw into the ceiling.”
When the breakdancing phenomenon swept the country in the early Eighties, Rock hopped on the wave. After he saw the Fat Boys perform on late-night TV, hip-hop became his obsession. “I would sit there scratching records all day long,” he remembers. In middle school he gravitated toward the black kids, and in eighth grade he began dating a black classmate named Kelley South Russell. The relationship continued off and on for ten years; she’s the mother of Rock’s son. “At the time, it was very weird to have a black-and-white relationship,” he says, adding that after years of drama, he and Kelly are on good terms. Another black schoolmate, Christina Bailey, witnessed Rock’s scratching skills and invited him to parties at her cousin’s house in the Detroit hood. Before he was old enough to drive, Rock had become a hit novelty act. “It was unheard of: a white guy DJ’ing like a black guy, and having the pizazz to rock a black party,” says Rock’s old friend Chris Pouncy, who offered Rock the opportunity to DJ at basement parties in the mostly black working-class suburb of Mount Clemens, Michigan. “It was almost like a freak show at first.”
“That’s when everything started,” Rock says. “A crew full of black kids would come pick me up and take me to Mount Clemens.” Says Pouncy, “That was our first encounter with a mansion. We were like, ‘Man, you rich!’ ”
Rock ran away from home several times during high school, often spending weeks at a time with friends in the Mount Clemens projects. “I must have been fifteen, and shit would just hit the fan,” he says. “My parents didn’t understand what I did. I wanted to be where the action was. I didn’t want to be at home, picking apples in the orchard, I wanted to sell dope on the streets, make my money and go buy Paid in Full so I could spin it at the basement party that weekend.” (Rock didn’t cut all ties with his family during this time — his mom remembers picking him up from the projects to take him to the orthodontist.)
Rock says he was the only white kid in an all-black neighborhood. Cops would ask if he was lost or if he needed a ride home, but Rock would respond, “No, I live up here.” The one time he got hassled by some kids on the street, he retreated to his friend Flo’s mother’s house. “Mrs. Flo had no teeth and she was drinking Colt 45 out of a fruit jar,” Rock recalls. “I told her what happened and I told her not to make a big deal out of it, but she grabbed her gun, ran outside and screamed, ‘Who fuckin wit da white boy?!’ ”
After barely graduating from Romeo High School, Rock moved back to the Detroit ghetto for the next ten years, sleeping on friends’ couches in the Colchester projects, in Pouncy’s basement and in Grosse Point Park, on the run-down corner of Jefferson Avenue and St. Claire Street. He worked at a car wash, slung crack and earned extra scratch through his DJ gigs. To growing acclaim, but no big payoffs, Rock released three records, Grits Sandwiches for Breakfast (1990), The Polyfuze Method (1993) and Early Mornin’ Stoned Pimp (1996). Though his name was worthless outside Detroit, and the Vanilla Ice-inspired revolt against white dudes in rap was in full effect, Rock says he was making progress, winning DJ battles and rap contests, upping his profile. His father encouraged him to sideline his musical aspirations and take over one of the family’s car dealerships, but Rock rebuffed him. “I knew that making it on my own terms, and having my dad be proud of me, would be the ultimate freedom,” he says.
Rock’s mom helped raise Junior, and she brought food down to the White Room studio, in the heart of downtown Detroit, while Rock and his band began slogging away on his Atlantic debut, Devil Without a Cause. With huge hits like “Bawitdaba,” “Cowboy” and “Only God Knows Why” (which he wrote in jail after a bar fight, on the same day he signed to Atlantic), the album would eventually sell 11 million copies. When he was signed to Atlantic, Rock also made a genius business decision, taking $40,000 out of his advance to buy the masters of two of his previous records from the faltering Continuum label. When Devil Without a Cause blew up, he sold the masters to Atlantic for a $3 million advance. “Somehow,” Rock says, “I always win.”
The next morning, in Malibu, Rock is hung over, sitting on a circular daybed by his pool wearing just a pair of board shorts and one of his ever-present fedoras. Cobra, a gentle Samoan giant who’s one of Rock’s closest buds, floats at the edge of the water. Rock’s runningjoke today relates to his upcoming appearance on Larry King Live and King’s tentative grasp of pop culture. “Next up: funnyman Chris Rock!” Rock says in his best Brooklyn accent, then, “So what went wrong with your marriage to Louie Anderson?”
Enough time has passed that Rock can kid about his brief and disastrous marriage to Pam Anderson. But mostly, he says, “I just want to get past it. After this, I’m done talking about it. If anyone asks me about it, I’ll tell them, ‘Go fucking read Rolling Stone.’ ”
The two first met backstage at New York’s Radio City Music Hall in April 2001 during a VH1 Divas Live tribute to Aretha Franklin. “It was right around Easter — the next day she sent me Easter eggs and a ton of shit,” Rock says. “I was like, ‘Why don’t you come to Detroit?’ ” Anderson came. “It was fun, it was crazy, it was fuckin’ rock & roll. It felt like I was doing exactly what I should have been doing, following the rock & roll handbook.” Within a year they were engaged, but problems piled high: The prenup caused headaches, and Anderson balked at moving to Michigan. They broke off the engagement in 2003.
“I dropped all contact with her,” Rock says. Then, in July 2oo6, a mutual friend of Anderson and Rock invited him aboard a yacht in the South of France. “It was after I played the Montreux Jazz Festival for Ahmet,” Rock says of his label boss and dear friend, Atlantic Records found-r Ahmet Ertegun, who passed away last December. (Rock N Roll Jesus is dedicated to Ertegun.) “I jumped on a helicopter and bussed through the French Alps. I get on the boat, and who was there? Pam.” The two rekindled their torrid love affair. “A week later,” Rock says, “it was like, ‘Let’s just fuckin’ get married and get it over with.’ ”
Anderson’s relationship with Rock’s mother and his older sister was already strained from their first go-around. When the couple tied the knot at a ceremony in Clarkston, Rock’s mother — well aware of Anderson’s intense support of PETA — arrived in a full-length fur coat.
Rock bought his pad in Malibu to be closer to Anderson in L.A., but the trouble continued and soon they were in couples counseling. On top of it all, Junior didn’t dig Malibu. “The first day at Malibu High School, I pick him up and I’m a little worried about him,” his dad says. “I know it’s going to be a culture shock for him, completely different from Michigan. I was like, ‘Hey, how was school?’ And he’s like, ‘It stinks, it stinks, I hate it! All these kids do here is ride skateboards and do drugs.’ So I told him, ‘Hey, look at me! Stay off the fuckin’ skateboards!’ “
By late fall, the relationship was on the skids. “She’s in Vancouver shooting a movie, and I have Lakers seats on the floor, and I’m gonna go to the Lakers game with my friend Jesse James,” Rock says. “I could tell something was up — it was like she didn’t want me to have fun when she wasn’t around. She’s trying to get me to come to Vancouver, and I’m like, ‘Baby, I got these tickets. I’ll see you on the weekend there,’ and that leads into her saying, ‘You don’t care about me, blah blah blah.’ ” The argument dragged on, until Anderson dropped a bomb. “She finally comes up with this: ‘I just had a miscarriage and you don’t even give a fuck,’ and hangs the phone up,” Rock says, claiming that he was unaware that she was pregnant. “Being the dumb fuck I am, I charter a $6o,ooo plane and fly to Vancouver. When I get there, she’s partying at this restaurant, drinking champagne, jumping on the tables. I’m thinking, ‘That’s a quick recovery from a miscarriage.’ ” Rock maintains that his ex-wife’s alleged miscarriage was a sham, one of many elaborate manipulations. In response to Rock’s allegations, Anderson says, via e-mail, “I hope his album does well. I hope he’s happy in life. We were married for four months. If he has nothing nice to say about me, then please tell him to stop talking about me.”
As the release of Rock N Roll Jesus approaches, Rock is calm and confident, considering what’s at stake. Since Devil Without a Cause, Rock’s two subsequent studio albums, Cocky and Kid Rock, have each sold fewer copies (from 12 million to 4.9 to 1.3). Jesus is “a ‘make it to the next level’ record,” he says. “That or go play county fairs for the next ten years.” He believes this is his comeback. “It’s the best record I’ve ever made, and it’s going to move mountains. I feel more comfortable in my skin than I’ve ever felt. I know I’m a great performer. I’ve done that my whole life, but now I’ve come into my own as a songwriter and musician.”
As the sun sets over the Pacific on a perfect late-summer Malibu evening, Kid Rock heads down to the beach for a barbecue with surfer Laird Hamilton. Sitting at a picnic table in the sand, the two one-up each other with ideas for next summer’s Fourth of July beach party: Hamilton suggests hiring professional stunt Jet Skiers, who will light themselves on fire, and Rock promises to transport his Civil War cannon to the sand and fire it into the ocean. Rock considers Hamilton “family,” part of his new Malibu Mile crew, which also includes John Cusack, John McEnroe and hockey star Chris Chelios. “I surround myself with good people,” says Rock. “That’s the only motto I have in life: Don’t hang out with assholes, period.”
With Hamilton’s guidance, Rock has recently taken up paddle-boarding, and Hamilton has encouraged him to start riding waves, no small feat on a nine-foot board with an oar. Rock points down the beach to a break where last week he surprised Hamilton and himself by catching his first wave. He digs his toes in the sand, takes a puff from his stogie and explains that, with music or surfing or anything else in his life, he thrives under pressure.
“When it’s do or die,” Rock says, “and I’ve had a couple of drinks and everybody’s watching — that’s when I answer.”