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Rock Is Dead … Long Live Rock

If it’s possible to learn anything about a man from the homethat he keeps, then the first thing you should know about Kid Rockis that he has two of them.

Fortymiles northwest of Detroit, far from the electronic traffic signs thatadvertise your distance from the now-famous 8 Mile Road, beyond theSilverdome, past the Ford and GM factories, sits a sprawling suburbanestate. From outside its fences, all one sees is a towering flagpoleflying a bedsheet-size American flag and two houses: one at groundlevel, modest and welcoming; the other elevated on a hill, imposing andsolitary. And despite what any FM-radio DJ might have told youpreviously, this is the place where Rock lives.

If youring the buzzer in front of the iron gate, the lord of the manorhimself, Robert James Ritchie, may roll up in a golf cart and give youa grand tour of the grounds, its pools, its BMX bike tracks, itsimpromptu shooting ranges. “This is my Waco,” says Kid Rock, one giantgrin packed into a pair of blue jeans. In a few hours, the compoundwill be teeming with his minions, but right now, on this infinitelyclear September day, with the place to himself, he’s perfectly happybeing a cult leader without a cult.

The morning’s first destination is the smaller, single-storystructure, dubbed “the Roadhouse.” It’s precisely the abode you mightbuild for yourself if you were a self-styled trailer-park kid who grewup to sell 18 million records. The walls are adorned with themultiplatinum certificates for Rock’s 1998 head-banging hip-hop hybrid,Devil Without a Cause; framed pictures of him beside his idolsHank Williams Jr. and Steven Tyler; and old magazine covers portrayinghim in his middle-finger-waving ascendance. A garage contains hisshrine to The Dukes of Hazzard, including his very own GeneralLee (signed inside the trunk by John Schneider), as well as his Harleyand an arcade novelty called the Hot Babes Photo Booth. Down nearlyevery hallway are guest quarters for, well, whomever, and almost everypath ends at the kitchen, where the refrigerator is packed with cans ofCoors Light. “You know what it tastes like to me?” Rock asksrhetorically. “A million bucks.”

Follow a different sequence of rooms and you end up in Rock’s studio. It was here that he recorded 2001’s Cocky, a sort of Devilredux that sold four million copies, largely due to one song: thecountry duet “Picture” with Sheryl Crow, a sad and uncharacteristicallyhumble ballad about a couple who just can’t get their act together. “Iknew it was a hit,” says Rock. “When I got done writing it, I laminatedthe lyrics.” Released as a single in November 2002 (with Allison Moorerassuming the vocal duties of the woman done wrong), the song eventuallywent to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, though many radio stationspreferred to play the album version with Crow. But Rock claims hislabel, Atlantic Records, didn’t initially share his enthusiasm: “Theytold me it would kill my career,” he says.

His feeling of redemption after the song’s success hasn’tmade it any easier for Rock to finish his forthcoming self-titledalbum. He’s certainly got the material for it?more than 40 songs, mostof them recorded during an insanely fertile streak in August. “It’slike you’ve got 42 kids,” he explains, “and you can only keep 13 ofthem. The rest of you little fuckers gotta go.”

Spin: Your album is due out soon, yet you’re still working on it. When does it have to be done?

Kid Rock: Soon. But I’m not going to rush it,because I’ve really got something good here. I’m not going to polishit, overedit it, all that shit. I want it to sound raw, but I don’twant to sacrifice anything for the sake of getting Christmas sales. Youcan pay me now or pay me later. Doesn’t matter — just pay me.

So there’s no chance of a double or triple album?

I wanted to put out a triple disc, and it would say Kid Motherfucking Rockwhen you open it up. “Kid” would be the country shit, “Motherfucking”would be my hip-hop, and “Rock” would be the rock shit. There’d be tensongs on each one. But there’s so many logistics, with publishing,money, and bullshit. I’d like to sit here and say, “Yeah, I don’t givea shit about any of that stuff.” But I do.

Do you think fans are ready for a triple record?

It’s like this: Take the Zeppelin box set?one of the greatestbox sets ever. I’ve never sat down and listened to the whole thing inone sitting! I think a ton of shit would get overlooked. Maybe peoplewill hate me, because it’s kind of like me calling the public dumb,like they won’t get it. Or maybe I’m the one who’s dumb for not doingit.

Well, OutKast are doing it.

They can’t do it like I could do it. ?I don’t want to sound like I’m tooting my own horn, but beep-beep.

If it’s that easy, why not make another rap record of your own?

I didn’t really know where else to go with hip-hop. That’swhere I started out, and that’ll always be my first love. But hip-hop’severywhere nowadays, no matter what station you hear it on — it’sright there in your face. It’s not always good — a lot of times it’swatered down and crappy.

It’s the only thing that’s selling.

[Grins] Country. Country’s up 12 percent this year.

As the Kid kicks up his Ozzy Osbourne slippers at a MacintoshaND begins to preview his new tracks, it becomes apparent that the?quantity of country material in his own music seems to have increasedby a much greater percentage. Sure, there’s one song that’s flat-outcalled “Rock and Roll” (“Break out the whiskey and a bottle of wine /Take your shirt off, bitch, and chop me out a line”) and a blissed-outcover of Bad Company’s “Feel Like Makin’ Love.” But otherwise, it’s anarray of straightforward, almost boilerplate country songs aboutfaceless, hard-workin’, hard-drinkin’ men, isolated and unlucky inlove, constantly on the move and ill at ease when they’re anywhere thatisn’t home.

“Cold and Empty,” cowritten with country star KennyChesney, has Rock remarking to an unnamed ex, “I guess loving a musicman wasn’t really in your plans.” “Do It for You” opens with himcontemplating “another lonely night, another empty glass.” Even thechorus of “I Am,” in which he defines himself as “everything thatHollywood wants to be,” finds him asserting, “You’ll never put yourfinger on me.” If one “Picture” was worth a thousand words and millionsof record sales, he seems to be asking, what can he get for a wholealbum of them?

Whatever happened to the man who once flipped the bird to the world and declared, “I am the bullgod”?

“He got old,” Rock answers quietly.

Itwould seem odd, even a little delusional, for Kid Rock ?to comparehimself to Big Boi and Andre 3000, artists whose music has becomeincreasingly experimental, while the Kid’s seems to have grown evermore traditional. But just as OutKast continue to play with their ownduality, Rock seems to be similarly torn between cartoon playa andsuburban cowboy. He wants his music and persona to reflect his identityas a humble but hard-partying man of the people (he wouldn’t even buy ahome in the upscale suburb of Bloomfield because he felt the houseswere “too gaudy”). Yet he knows this is impossible if he stays in therap-rock genre he helped invent, a fading format he’s just not intoanymore. “I haven’t heard anything that influences me,” he says.

Nashville, however, would be happy to welcome a would-beoutlaw trying to grow up. “The thing about country listeners is, ifit’s real, they’ll accept it, and if it’s not, they’ll detect it prettyquick,” says Rock’s close pal Chesney, with just a tinge of envy. “Whenthey heard Kid Rock, it was fresh — their ears were hearing somethingdifferent than the same 15 artists on the radio all the time. If Itried to do a duet with Eminem, people would say I’m trying to abandoncountry music.”

As the afternoon progresses and more people arrive –Rock’s manager, Punch; his right-hand man, Shakes; various band membersand their friends, their children, and children’s friends — Rock lookslike he could use an escape route, and he retreats deeper into hisestate. Traveling by golf cart, he pauses briefly at the future home ofthe horses he plans to purchase someday, a cavernous barn that smellsof fresh-cut timber. “I call this my don’t-fuckin’-bother-me room.”

The same could be said of his private residence, apristine, contemporary two-story home with practically more porches anddecks than bathrooms and a simple, tasteful decor. There are nostripper poles (aboveground, anyway). Other than the portrait of GeorgeWashington hanging over the fireplace, the only pictures on display arephotographs of Rock’s son, Robert Jr., a beaming ten-year-old withcocoa skin and kinky hair.

By design, none of the trophies from Rock’s musicalexploits are kept in this house. Nor are there any relics of hisrelationship with Pamela Anderson, except for a Barb Wire pinballmachine in the laundry room and an idle tanning bed in the gym. “Shesaid she wasn’t getting enough sun out here,” says Rock, who bought thedevice at her request. “I was like, ‘Here’s your fuckin’ sun.'” It’sthe only time his on-again-off-again fiancee is directly invoked duringour conversation — whenever he can sense that a line of questioning isheaded in her direction, he humorously but unambiguously changes thesubject.

And you certainly don’t want to upset a man whoseprominently displayed firearms collection — with its .22-caliberrifles and Eliot Ness-era tommy guns — isn’t just for show, any morethan the bald eagle tattooed on his back, encircled by the legendamerican bad ass, is meant to promote conservation efforts in thePacific Northwest. It did not please Rock when, after performing Crow’s”You’re an Original” with her at February’s Grammy Awards, he learnedthat his collaborator was silently protesting the impending invasion ofIraq with a guitar strap that read no war (though he now concedes that”whatever you feel about it, this is America — have your views”).

Since 2001, the man who sang “Balls in Your Mouth” has beensort of unofficial successor to Bob Hope, playing USO shows for troopsstationed in Europe and the Middle East. Last summer, he joined a groupof entertainers (including Wayne Newton and Alyssa Milano) that visitedQatar, Kuwait, and Iraq; it was during this tour that rumors of hisbreakup with Anderson began to surface. The revelation hardly could’vemade him feel more comfortable about his stay in Baghdad, a city hedescribes as “just a pile of shit. Hot as fuckin’ piss. Sand blowin’ atyou from everywhere, and you’re just miserable.”

I take it your accommodations weren’t in the barracks?

No — we were in the fuckin’ Hilton.

What was your impression of our troops in Iraq?

They’re kids, man — you can’t imagine how young they are. Istill think I’m young sometimes, and I’m 32. But these kids are 18, 20,22. They don’t understand that even people in Hollywood are saying,”We’re not for the war, but we still support the troops.” They think,”Man, they’re just fuckin’ down on us.” What a godforsaken place to bewithout thinking people support you.

Were they looking for reassurance from you?

They were just curious about what was going on back home,what people thought of them. But a lot of them really thought that theywere doing a good thing, and they were.

Did you attract a lot of attention from the press corps?

Entertainment Tonight‘s running around there withtheir cameras, shoving them in your face all the time, getting in theway of the stage. Troops couldn’t see. You’re there for those kids. Itold Entertainment Tonight to get the fuck out of my face.

Do you feel like your privacy’s been compromised in the last couple of years?

Not really. If you want privacy, you can have it — it’s thatsimple. It’s not a mistake that Jennifer Lopez is on the cover of everymagazine. There’s people that calculate that shit, that figure out howto do it. Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck are in love? Who gives a fuck?

Has the national obsession with celebrity couples gotten out of hand?

It’s gay. It’s completely gay. It’s been gay since itstarted, whenever it was. It’s definitely at a point where it’s becometoo much.

Are you surprised that you’ve lasted in the music industry this long?

No. I think everybody else is, though. I’d like to think that I’ll go away when my time’s up. I’ll go peacefully.

But how will you know when it’s your time?

I won’t. That’s gonna be the hard part.

There’s no guestbook for the Roadhouse, but the list ofmusicians who have crossed its threshold in recent months is anunlikely assortment of guitar heroes, teen heartthrobs, and totaldegenerates: Metallica, ZZ Top, Aerosmith? Sure. Hank Jr., KennyChesney, Tim McGraw? Check. Outlaw-country pioneer (and genuine ex-con)David Allan Coe parked his tour bus on the premises not long ago,though he preferred to remain inside the vehicle, coming out only forpeanut butter sandwiches. Hell, even Justin Timberlake stopped by. Rockwasn’t around that day, but his man Shakes cooked a meal for J.T. andhis crew. And he’s hopeful that the White Stripes will pay him a visit.”Tell ’em that I got a little spot out here,” he says, “that they’rewelcome to come out any time they want.”

Kid Rock has this saying about his home state: “It’s a niceplace to live, but you wouldn’t want to visit here.” As he stands onone of his second-story decks, surveying his acreage, you can see whathe means, that it’s always better to stand on the inside looking out.”If there was a contest for the thickest, nicest lawn in Michigan,” hesays with pride, expertly flipping a cigarette butt onto the immaculategreenery below, “I’d win it.”