His 1998 Devil Without a Cause proved the devil doesn’t need a cause to get things done. The disc went diamond with sales exceeding 10 million. And now Kid Rock’s (Bob Ritchie’s) forthcoming follow-up, Cocky, is one of the most anticipated rock ’n’ roll records of the year. Only his plush pairing with Pam Anderson gets more buzz, as the trail of envious male drool spreads among the ranks of Playboy subscribers everywhere, right up to Howard Stern.
Well, it’s all fine and good to see a hardworking homeboy backin’ it up and, in fact, exceeding his own claims: “Devil without a cause/ I’m goin’ platinum.” That is, until you realize getting a real interview with Rock is about as doable as sharing a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich with Elvis. But then superstardom always feels less like a party and more like an alien abduction.
Sounding a bit dizzied and unsettled by the explosiveness of his own success, and equally thoughtful about his future, Rock told an interviewer for Rolling Stone’s People of the Year 2000 issue that he felt he’d been overexposed and that his plan for 2001 was simply this: “Put out a new album. Find out if people are sick of me yet.”
The magic of his first-person rants from a closed-circuit worldview might wear an expiration date after all. Kid Rock, the low-culture, high-power pop icon, may have been born out of reckless idealism and raised on too many stoned nights spent in search of new ways to tell youth’s same old truths. But there’s a big difference between making rhymes that shoot straight to the heart of Midwest white-trash aesthetics and being an international celebrity (read: running a career).
As the modes of self-consciousness shift over a long history on tracks such as “My Oedipus Complex,” “Black Chick, White Guy” and “Only God Knows Why,” Rock’s not just narrating a story; he’s acting it out, living it. So what’s left to say to some expense account-funded note-taker from Spin? At best, the latest scoop on which legends he’s making music with (Snoop Dogg, Sheryl Crow, etc.). At worst, confirming or dispelling rumors that Pam is pregnant or more courtroom dish about his ex keeping up with her $25-per-week child-support payments.
In 2000, the History of Rock CD showed that Detroit’s persistent Top Dog was serious about letting all the 14-year-olds shoplifting his product from the racks at Wal-Mart know that his mega-success was more than just a few radio hits deep. Yet not everybody could get their minds around why it was so important for him to lay down a yearbook-full of early hip-hop/rap-oriented snapshots for millions of new fans under a grandiose title that spoofs as much as it tries to boast ownership.
Some reviewers were naïve enough to call that field trip to the “old school” (mostly archival remixes) amateur, which missed the point entirely. History was nothing more than “American Bad Ass” stirred up with some raw proof (piss marks on the sidewalk) that Rock was around long before his pal Slim Shady hallucinated his first leprechaun.
Even Rock thought some of those old History tracks were corny. But if such remix redemption could be considered reckless self-promotion, it stopped there. Now Rock is living large but laying low.
No press interviews. And nary a new CD review should find its way to the printed page before Cocky hits the stores Nov. 20. Atlantic Records says, “Sorry, no advances.” If you want a peek inside the next full-length installment in Rock’s half-fantasized, half-realized ongoing pimpography, you’ll have to shell out your 15 bucks like everyone else. Or steal it from Wal-Mart.
That’s not to say the wait for Cocky has been a complete shutout, especially not for the 5,000 or so hometown fans/hopeful extras who rocked the Michigan State Fairgrounds all day long Saturday, Oct. 29 for the filming of the “Forever” video. The event, a cross between a patriotic monster truck expo and a college tailgate party, nearly stayed true to the laid-back beer ’n’ barbecue bash Rock promoted on local radio days prior.
Well, except for the motorcycle gangs working security. As one of the more astute minds on hand in the scattered backstage cluster of journalists, anxious label types and goose-fleshed strippers observed, “I think there’s a precedent for this. It’s called Altamont.”
Damn, yet another utopian rockfest dream shattered.
Admittedly, hearing Rock break into a Rolling Stones tune soon after he hit the stage made the above insight seem a little creepier. Even if the song was “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”
Rock and the fine-tuned Twisted Brown Trucker band performed “Forever” again and again while authoritative-sounding guys with microphones tried to direct the crowd to step back, step forward, cheer, throw beer cans at the stage and other things video producers might imagine wildly enthusiastic fans do at outdoor concerts held in 30-degree weather.
Despite the imaginative and theatrical effects of his dress-up game — cowboy, gangsta, pimp, bullgod, devil, etc. — Rock is still Kid Rock. Only now the momentum of his rocketing stardom peels back more of the white rapper label. And truth told, we see a pretty talented, incredibly driven and idealistic musician gussied up in his satin Roy Rogers duds and mink-trimmed pimp fantasies. Being more market-savvy Midwest vaudeville than musical virtuoso works for Rock, even as he rewinds his “Here I go, turn the page” career play-by-plays under the blinked-out marquee of increasingly prevalent classic and Southern rock influences.
Rock wears it all proudly, from his big fat American eagle tattoo to the long-standing Top Dog Records credo, “If it’s real, you’ll feel it.” And while the Rolling Stone interviews may be on hold, that won’t keep Detroit’s foul-mouthed darling from channeling the details of a whacked-by-design life into hook-laden music for as long as the party lasts. And you can bet your grits sandwich, Rock’ll be the last stubborn motherfucker to empty his 40 and go home.Norene Cashen reads rock 'n' roll the riot act for Metro Times. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org