By Jim Schutze
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After conquering America by selling more than 7 million copies of 1998's Devil Without a Cause, the only question that remains about 30-year-old Detroit native Robert James Ritchie--that's Kid Rock to you and me, and Bob to his pal Carson Daly--is not why you shouldn't wretch at the sight of this seemingly bastard offspring of the Grand Ole Opry's Mother Maybelle and David Lee Roth, but why you don't have any of his albums already. Don't lie, it's probably true. Chances are you think Rock is a lower life form who got his name by crawling out from under one. You'd rather fold your hands and walk like a peasant than listen to Rock wax poetic about a 30-pack of Strohs and/or hoes. You'd rather stand by your Creed with your arms wide open than watch Rock rock around the block inviting women to strike a pornographic pose. You'd rather go down, down, baby, your street in a Range Rover than stomach Rock's "Bawitdaba" and its great white north country grammar. Or you'd rather raise a longneck with respect to the true Texas sounds of Pat Green than giddyup with a cowboy from a state that's closer to Canada than cowpoke. Let's face it: You're an educated sort who would never stoop to patronize a man who looks as though he can't even spell SAT, much less take one.
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Unfortunately, Rock's for real. He's from the blue-collar berg that's given birth to such misfits as Iggy Pop, Ted Nugent, techno cut chemist Carl Craig, and soul's first sole provider, Berry Gordy. But unlike his city's brethren, Rock's not doing anything new. In fact, he's doing everything old, and he's doing it all at once. He knows it, too: In "American Bad Ass" (which is little more than Metallica's "Sad But True" with new lyrics), Rock confesses that he likes "AC/DC and ZZ Top/Bocephus, Beasties, and the kings of rock/Skynyrd, Seger, Limp, Korn, the Stones/David Allan Coe and No-Show Jones"--and then he reduces himself down to his two obvious roots when he admits that he got his "rock from Detroit" and his "soul from Motown." That's his shtick. He is, like him or not, that most American by-product of a melting-pot society: a mutt. He's a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll. He wanted his MTV and got his license to ill. And now he's big pimping, roaming the streets like a stray marking his territory.
Fortunately, Rock doesn't take himself too seriously. His act has a big bark but little bite, and the only way he can live large is through exaggeration. Why else would he choose as his sidekick a pint-sized thug with a Little Rascals voice and ghetto-boy attitude? Joe C., may he rest in peace, was less Flavor Flav to Rock's Chuck D than court jester to Rock's interim despot. This Kid king knows his golden reign is the unforeseen result of a boom economy, a fruitful era that believes anything is possible and makes everything permissible. He's well-versed in this tell-all, talk-show age of couch-potato decadence. He knows that even esoteric music connoisseurs, those hoity-toity minds who find a way to insert phrases such as "Glen Branca" or "electro-acoustic" into casual conversations, instantly recognize "You Shook Me All Night Long" at its opening guitar lines. He knows that even church-going, yuppie, weekend dance-club warriors occasionally sneak a peek at naughty Web sites during lunch, if only because something called ultradonkey.com raises more curiosity than shame. And he knows that the secret to remaining the king of rock is to give the people what they want.
Perhaps saying he "knows" all of the above is giving too much credit to a guy who started his career peddling rhymes with frat-boy punch lines and titles such as "Balls in Your Mouth" and "My Oedipus Complex" (both from 1993's The Polyfuze Method). Though he's certainly spoiled by his success, he's not deluded by it. Sure, his boasts are the most basic and obvious--sauce, spliff, and stripperific women--but he's not so blinded by his rock-and-roll lifestyle as to assume his career is not a fluke.
And it's in concert that Rock thrives. A Kid Rock show is an endless barrage of money shots--Rock milking extended versions of his hits, Rock trash-talking about his life and exploits, Rock soloing on every instrument in his band. Is it in any way artful? Hell no; Rock's barely artifice. But when this musical mutt struts his stuff, he's got a little something-something going on that's a far-too-accurate mirror of today's life and times. That may be a tall order for a skinny white guy who can't open his mouth without cussing or saying "strip club," but nobody ever said that a strong America was a pretty one.