Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Kidding around: the three levels of Rock

I first really got to know Kid Rock on a random weekend during my junior year of college in Madison. It was Saturday, there was weather, and we didn’t have anything better more fun to do so me and my roommates were drinking beer and grilling brats in the backyard we shared with our neighbors. I don’t really remember who, why, or how it happened, but “Cowboy” came over the iPod that was furnishing the soundtrack to our cookout. It’s not like everything stopped, but I think we all had a moment not unlike the first time you drink a beer out of a pink lawn flamingo. It might not make a lick of sense, but it’s awesome nonetheless. For the rest of college that song remained our anthem. It had all the right ingredients: it was badass, it sounded good, and we were the only ones on the block that knew it.

Now I live in Michigan and everybody here at least has a working knowledge of the musical stylings of Robert James Ritchie, as Kid was formerly known.* Not only do people love his music out here, they do things like this. The uninitiated however, need to know that there is more to a Kid Rock song than drinking and boating or having a moshpit at a trailer park.

*I imagine this is what it must feel like to grow up a Prince or Replacements fan in Phoenix and then move to Minneapolis.

Kid’s lyrics are more nuanced than public perception gives him credit for. To help people keep track, I’ve separated Rock’s rhymes into three different categories:

Category 1: that sounds about right
When Kid Rock sings “my thoughts were short / my hair was long” America is ready to believe him. There is no dearth of hoes, drugs, and booze-infused imagery in Kid’s repertoire. Each one of these lines directly plays back into Rock’s cultivated image as a sleazy party-animal pimp. These are some of the choicest:

Every line in “Lowlife.” Every. Single. One.

Got more money than Matchbox 20
Get more ass than Mark McGrath
- “Cocky

Start an escort service for all the right reasons
And set up shop at the top of the Four Seasons
- “Cowboy

Where you at Rock? Where you at?
Over here to the rear with your girl and the forties of beer
Where you at Rock? Where you at?
Over there with the bad attitude cause I just don’t care
- The aptly named “Where you at Rock?”

Category 2: well played Rock
Just as you get lulled to sleep by the references to drugs and women or the rhyming of Steve Yzerman with Heineken, Kid throws you a changeup to keep everyone on their toes. It could be a clever cultural reference or a surprisingly heartfelt critique of how the world is but the bottom line is these lyrics make it clear that Rock’s got more going on upstairs than replays of porn scenes and hockey fights:

I don’t bring much – ain’t got a lot to say
But I got more Time than Morris Day
- “Wasting Time
Bonus point for sampling Fleetwood Mac and including the lyrics “I’m a pimp, you can check my stats / I’m rolling to Fleetwood, that’s how I Mac” - not sure what category that one falls in. Double bonus points for the Purple Rain reference.
Kid Rock, meet The Kid
I’m not born again, but if I was
I’d ask to come back with a little more love

Young crones don’t test the boss
Cause I got this sewn like Betsy Ross
- “Forever

Category 3: wait…what?
Some singers seem to make a living filling theirs songs with pop-culture references. That ending rap bit in “Dreamer’s Disease” or a good chunk of Barenaked Ladies songs come to mind immediately. Of course, there’s also Craig Finn of The Hold Steady and Lifter Puller. Finn somehow referenced Twin Cities punk band Dillinger Four and American writer Nelson Algren in the same line. He wrote an entire song about the suicide of University of Minnesota professor and acclaimed poet John Berryman. Until recently, his line “And you’re drinking / and you’re driving / and your friends are calling you and me the Chappaquiddick kids” from Lifter Puller’s “Lonely in a Limousine” was my favorite. It was totally out of left field and fit in perfectly with the mood of the song. I say was, because a few weeks back on the drive back from a weekend of Jin’s Chicken, Spotted Cow, and the Terrace, I noticed this gem from Kid Rock:

For the grits when there aren’t enough eggs to cook
And for D.B. Cooper and the money he took
- “Bawitdaba

If the Chappaquiddick reference was a stretch for a 90’s kid to catch, D.B. Cooper would have flown a mile over my head. According to an extremely well-timed Wikipedia odyssey, Cooper highjacked a plane in 1971 and after receiving $200,000 in ransom money took a parachute and bailed out of the rear of the Boeing 727 midflight, never to be seen again. Nobody knows who he really was, just like this examination of Kid Rock’s lyrics may have some questioning whether they really know the man behind the music. So who was D.B. Cooper; who is Kid Rock?

You can look for answers
But that ain’t fun                                     //very insightful, definitely a level 2 lyric
Now get in the pit
And try and love someone                       //back to level 1, sigh

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