Back in college, there was a little area of shelves in the dining hall called the “Free Store” where you could offload whatever possessions you no longer wanted for one of your freebie-hunting peers to discover and take home. It was there that I found an all-time favorite piece of clothing: a 2011 Kid Rock “Born Free Tour” T-shirt. It fits like a dress on me, and that’s how I wore it — at parties, I’d pair it with knee-high boots and big earrings.
I loved Kid Rock. The problem is, as was revealed sometime around the 2016 election with his vocal support of Donald Trump, Kid Rock is fucking annoying. Potentially worse, in my opinion, he’s a total phony. That whole bit about being “straight out the trailer”? He grew up in a five-bedroom, seven-bath house with a regulation tennis court. Despite our political differences, I’m empathetic to the fact that right-wing rhetoric and values can appeal to the working class for myriad reasons. What I’m not empathetic to, however, is the fact that the right-wing elite falsely position themselves as the party of the working class when they essentially belong to a different universe. Such is the case with Kid Rock.
I now use my “Born Free” T-shirt as pajamas. But I won’t part with it. Not even when someone is hawking the same shirt for $300 on Grailed, and not even when Kid Rock continues to make headlines with asinine statements about how he can’t be “canceled” or how Trump allegedly consulted him on North Korea and ISIS.
“This is for the questions that don’t have an answer,” Kid Rock begins in the first verse of “Bawitdaba,” going on to list all the people and things for whom the song is devoted:
The Northern Lights
And the Southern Comfort
And it don’t even matter if your veins are punctured
All the crackheads, the critics, the cynics
And all my heroes at the methadone clinics
Even if “Bawitdaba” is all a lie, I don’t know another song that even mentions a methadone clinic, nevermind emphasizes the dignity of the people who attend one, as my sibling does. He highlights these themes with exuberance, presenting the song as an anthem of the every-person. As the first line suggests, “Bawitdaba” is sort of a riddle, but one we’re supposed to give up attempting to solve in favor of having fun.
“Cowboy,” on the other hand, is aspirational — it’s about the desire to head west to Hollywood and live large while hanging on to your roots. There’s a great deal of bravado to it, a macho masculinity informed by a working-class identity. It’s in “Cowboy” that he delivers his famous line about being from a trailer park:
I ain’t no cheat, I’m just a regular failure
I’m not straight outta Compton, I’m straight out the trailer
Cuss like a sailor, drink like a mick
My only words of wisdom are just ‘suck my dick’
There’s something empowering, even radical, in calling yourself a “regular failure” and clearly stating that you don’t give a fuck about it. Notably, the lyric, “I can smell a pig from a mile away,” is repeated throughout the song. And yet, despite that “outlaw” persona, Kid Rock has basically clung to the pro-cop right-wing establishment whenever and wherever possible.
Nevertheless, I’m going to keep blasting these two tracks. There’s just nothing else that compares. There are plenty of other working-class anthems, even rap-rock ones, but nobody does it quite like Kid Rock. I watch videos of his entrance to the stage at Woodstock ‘99, “Bawitdaba” rising triumphantly in volume, clad in a floor-length white fur coat in 100-degree weather, and feel proud of the trashiness of where I’m from and the people I was raised around.
He’s not one of us, but those two tracks are ours. While I do wish he’d shut the fuck up and stop hurting my heart with his bullshit, it doesn’t even matter. Kid Rock can spout whatever nonsense he wants — he’s not taking his classics or that T-shirt away from me.