Day 2: Between a Rock and a hard place
It turns out I am an emotional eater. I end up spending nearly $30 on hot dogs, pretzels, and other breaded things as I counted the minutes until I could leave what I have already coined as my Pizza Pizza Prison. Underscoring the nexus of crass corporate interests at play here, I find poetry in spending $7 on a single slice of pizza (cleverly marketed as a "super slice") from a chain that built its empire on the $5 Hot-N-Ready.
"Two hours and thirty-five minutes of pleasure remaining," I mumble to myself as I lick spilled beer from my fingernails. It is here that I take note of an on-duty black cop who seems to be having the time of his life — or at least more fun than I was having. Drunk Kid Rock fans ask for fist bumps, photos, and even a few polite requests to be arrested, holding their wrists out, with pleas of, "I'm just too lit, officer." The officer plays along and instantly seems like someone that might be able to lift my mood. I linger a few feet away as I calculate the best entry into conversation. Lucky for me, he did all of the work.
"Any girl that makes Beavis and Butthead look good is alright in my book," he said, referring to my shirt, closing the gap between us. Then, a more blunt overture: "You're a sexy little thing, aren't you?"
While I found his introduction sort of totally gross and inappropriate, I laugh, shrug and rest my hand on his arm. "I do what I can."
"Are you having fun?" he asks. He insists I don't look like I'm enjoying myself, and I admit that this isn't exactly my scene. When asked if he's having fun, his face lights up.
"I'm making money, girl. I feel good," he says. "You know somebody asked me, 'Are you a Kid Rock Fan?' I said, 'Well, he's human, so yes, but I don't know anything about his music,'" he admits.
I point out that I haven't seen any black people in attendance and suggest that whether unfairly or not, Kid Rock appears to have become a poster child for white supremacy, so it makes sense as to why that may be true.
"No, no. I think he's just confused," the officer says. "Kids aren't born like that, you know. Racism is learned. Somewhere that person learned that attitude, so it's up to us to change that."
We shake hands here and swap names. I casually suggest that perhaps someone like Kid Rock is a symptom of that very issue.
"This is how I look at it: It's up to me to let other people know that I'm a nice guy," he explains. "I'm going to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Every fight and argument, there's always someone who's got to step out first, right? So I'm going to step out first and say, 'Hi, how are you?' And if you've got a problem at that point then it's you with the problem."
He tells me that as a police officer, that is the one thing he can control.
"I wasn't at the protest. But the key is to say, 'Hey, I hear you and I respect your opinion,'" he says calmly, waving his hand in front of him as if smoothing the air between us. "As a sergeant, I teach my rookie officers to treat everyone with respect until they prove to deserve to be treated otherwise."
I stop pressing him with questions because, well, he's a police officer and I have nine unpaid parking tickets and there's at least three joints worth of loose weed in the bottom of my purse. I thank him for his service and for keeping me company... and I silently thank him for his candid ambivalence.
I did not think my seat could get any worse but on night two I am proven wrong and might be able to touch the ceiling if I had cared enough to stand up. Again, without any deviation from the script, Kid Rock trolls us with his own apparent fake news by means of the same fake stump speech and again, firing up thousands of real people who are taking him very seriously without any real promise of running (or not running) for office.
Is this how James Franco's character felt in that movie 127 Hours? Cutting my own arm off would do no good here, but as I approach my perch with my own "Fuck Tank" nearly empty, I consider it.
On with the fucking show. All two hours of it.
Day 3: Same as it ever was
Day three feels a lot like day two in that I am hungover and totally fucking over this whole thing.
Considering Kid Rock's carefully constructed image as a no-fucks-given rockstar, one would assume his set would be full of surprises (especially when giving six shows in a row). The truth is, Kid Rock performs the same set, each night, verbatim. The only discernible difference is his announcement of what day of the week it is, and what show we were on. Everything else is the same, from his "is-he-or-isn't-he?" stump speech to his introduction of his underwhelming special guest Uncle Kracker.
In fact, he has even recycled his "spontaneous" moments from his previous tour two years ago, thus widening the gap between performer and provocateur. The words are the same. The show is the same. I'm losing hope that he is ever going to say something worth listening to. What have I signed up for?
Considering Kid Rock's image as a no-fucks-given rockstar, one would assume his set would be full of surprises. The truth is, Kid Rock performs the same set, each night, verbatim.
It was here, on my final lap to my seat that I encounter an enticing macaroni and cheese bar where two voices shout quite possibly my least favorite question in my general direction: "Oh my god, what high school did you go to?"
"We knew it!" a woman says. "You've changed so much but I knew that face." As for me, I did not remember this couple. Not even after they told me their names. But that doesn't stop me from pretending. "OMG, yes, totally you were both there... in high school."
Brandon and Amanda were separated by one graduating class, and though they did not know each other then, they are married now, with twins, and never left our hometown of Harrison Township (except for when Brandon was deployed during their first year of marriage). We swap our six degrees of separation, which drunkenly lead me to offer up way too much information about my ex-boyfriend and our break-up — and holy shit was I happy to talk about something other than Kid Rock.
"Thank you both for being... so nice to me," I say. "I was sort of a total loser in high school so this... this was nice."
I suddenly feel like the cool kid. After all, going to six Kid Rock shows is akin to how I felt in high school: alone, unable to relate to anyone, and, ultimately, surrounded by pizza.
My unexpected #FlashbackFriday moment drew me to reflect on my first 10 Kid Rock shows as I aimlessly wander through LCA. It was easier to socialize with strangers two years ago at DTE Energy Music Theatre — LCA's enclosed, casino-like layout does not lend itself to intergroup mingling. But the venue layout wasn't the only difference between then and now. I am reminded, as I bump into a man donning a Confederate flag shirt that appeared almost vintage (meaning, it had been worn... a lot) that I hadn't encountered the image much this time around.
During three days at LCA I have seen a total of six garments sporting the controversial image. This came as a bigger shock than the 50-plus flags I saw — per day — at DTE. People had fashioned capes, bucket hats, and overalls collaged with the flag like some podunk edition of Project Runway. Maybe deaf displays of white supremacy felt a little more comfortable 35 miles north of Detroit in 2015.
Or maybe times have just changed.
After my spontaneous high school reunion, I find it oddly apropos that my single seat is located next to an older couple that resemble possible parents of friends I might have had in high school if I had friends. I bounce in my seat with a prescribed enthusiasm and just as planned, they can't help but ask me why I'm alone and where I'm from.
"Oh, I live in Hamtramck," I say, still sort of bouncy. When asked if they were from Detroit, she says yes. When asked where in Detroit she says St. Clair Shores.
I ask her what they thought of "Senator" Kid Rock.
"We hope he runs for Senate. You're sitting next to a couple of Republicans," she says, crossing her arms abruptly with authoritative emphasis. "I think people are fed up and taking matters into their own hands."
When asked about his use of the Confederate flag, she cuts me off. "I don't think for a minute that Kid Rock is a racist. There's nothing wrong with it. It's America," she says. "Every nationality, every race has dealt with oppression in the history of the world. So don't think you're special. Everyone is oppressed."
She continues. "You're young. I'm older. Your generation puts up with a lot more and that's the difference," she says, wagging her finger in my face. "I think there's black and white and right and wrong."
I am admittedly caught off guard by her choice of words and wonder if she understood the weight of what she was implying. My guess was that she did not. Hell, I am still concerned that she didn't know the difference between St. Clair Shores and Detroit.
I nod with disbelief and say nothing before I am once again assaulted by the sound of an engine revving and Kid Rock's Fuck Tank.
As a millennial in a stadium filled with mostly baby boomers celebrating a white guy singing a song about being "Born Free," I can't help but feel maybe she was right about one thing. My generation does put up with a lot.
Day 4: Mock the vote
Some might call this the "home stretch." I, on the other hand, consider show No. 4 the point of no return. I am weary, uninspired, and disenchanted. Regardless, I am ready for my life to return to normal.
Before the show, I sit outside at a picnic bench in front of the Made in Detroit restaurant eavesdropping, hoping that someone would accidentally inspire a meaningful trajectory for the day because I am struggling to see the point of any of this.
"They're literally to my thighs if I take my bra off," someone says. "I smell the wacky grass," someone else says, and "Fuck Google. They're fascists."
I am having second thoughts about this whole thing. "There are psychological repercussions with doing something like this. For a second time," I text my editor while leaning against a display of Red Wings memorabilia. "Listen, no one said you had to stay the whole time," he responds. "Let's be honest. No normal person could survive six back-to-back shows, not even a Kid Rock fan."
By this time, LCA has lost its new stadium smell. The whole damn place reeks of pizza, almost as if they were pumping pepperoni through the ventilation system. I upgrade my concession vices from beer to liquor, from soft pretzels to an artisanal burrito bowl, and I decide to redirect my focus on something other than my own misery.
The key to maintaining sanity during a project as tedious as this is the development and maintenance of rituals. By show No. 4, I have many.
For example, I have subconsciously deemed Kid Rock's uninspired rendition of Rod Stewart's "Maggie May" (a little less than half-way through the two-hour set) the perfect time to pee and buy another beer. During this particular break, I can't help but eavesdrop on the conversation between a bathroom attendant and an usher.
"You can't be racist if you have a black baby. You just can't," the attendant says, referring to Kid Rock's son. I flush and hope this conversation is still happening by the time I go to wash my hands.
"There have been black people here. Tonight I saw a black man with a white lady," the usher says. "Wednesday I seen a white lady with a black man. Tuesday, I seen one black couple and she said the only reason she was there was because her husband helped build this place. They got free tickets."
A Detroit resident of 40 some years, the usher, a black woman in her 60s, says she says she's worked every Kid Rock show since the stadium opened.
"Child, we ain't goin' to no damn Kid Rock, are you crazy? It's a music thing, it's not about race," she says. "Where the hell did all these damn white people come from? White people coming by the charter buses, sweetie."
She is out of breath here and leans her back against the bathroom wall. "Every night has been packed. But tonight... tonight it's white people to the damn ceiling."
I suddenly recognize her as my usher from earlier who helped me to my section. And I remember her clearly for her uproarious cheering during Rock's Senate speech.
I ask her what she thinks of Kid Rock's politics.
"Money talks, honey. Times are changing. Donald Trump paved the way for anyone who's got any money to run and if you've got enough you can win," she says. "He's probably the first person to say he's not qualified."
But she reminds me that it's our duty to pray for him. "After all," she continues, "he is our leader."
She says her daughter lives in Charlottesville. "Before Trump got in we saw twenty-some trucks drive by, had a whole parade, all of them had the Nazi flags on the trucks," she says. "It's like they were campaigning for him. I was shocked. My daughter said, 'Don't worry, mama, we see this all the time.'"
But she says she thinks things are different post-Trump, and post-Charlottesville. "Even if Trump gets out of office, they already out," she says, referring to white supremacists. "They're not going to just go back in. They're empowered now."
She says she worries about her children and her grandchildren. "I done made it through, you know," she says. "But the kids? They don't stand a chance."
When I ask if she would vote for Senator Kid Rock, her answer surprises.
"Based on tonight? Yeah I would," she says. "I don't know why. I don't know if it was the Jesus thing or what he said about the transgender thing, but I might."
Day 5: Here we are now, entertain us
I had all intentions of going to show No. 5. I really did.
You know when your life starts falling apart so you Google if Mercury is in Retrograde or not and when you find out it is in retrograde you feel a bit better knowing everything is sort of out of your control? This week, Kid Rock was my Mercury in Retrograde. From a broken laptop and my growing discontent with a dead-end job to an ever-depleting bank account, and sleepless night after night, I did not have it in me to subject myself to the circus and Fuck Tank and Uncle Kracker, or what is appearing to me to be empty, political theater.
I was depressed, and starting to doubt the wisdom of this assignment, and I had little reason to believe this night would be any different than any of the other nights. Why would someone so calculated and scripted officially announce his Senate bid (if he had intended to at all) on show 5 of 6? It didn't make sense. And if it did, on this night I just did not care. I had apparently hit my (Kid) rock bottom.
So I did what anyone in my position would do. I went to the Father John Misty show, instead.
Day 6: No alarms, no surprises
Today marks the very last time that I will ever attend a Kid Rock show. Then again, I've said this before. But tonight is also different for another reason: Instead of the $20 cheap seat, we sprung for a main floor ticket on StubHub. I felt like Charlie with his gold-plated candy bar. Despite my weariness, truthfully, I was excited. Thrilled, even.
It was much easier to be happy from 28 rows back.
I waited for the Senate speech with bated breath. Surely, if he was truly running for Senate, he would reveal it one way or the other tonight.
Instead, Kid Rock does what he does best: He gives the people what they wanted, even if they had no idea what that was.
Not a single word out of place, the speech remains the same. There is no major announcement, no revelation, and no deviation from the scripts from the previous shows. Once I realize the joke is on me, on all of us, I grant myself permission to submit fully to Kid "the Bullgod" Rock. Good one, Kid. You really had me going.
Maybe the truth was right in front of our eyes all along. As this was the first time I was close enough to the stage to be able to really hear the audio and see the big screen backdrop, I finally notice the video interlude introducing "Born Free." Narrated by Kid Rock, the video shows images of small town Americana, praising the military and blue-collar workers. The line that sticks with me the most on the final night was one I missed before:
"The only party that matters is the one we're having tonight."
Then, once again, the black piano rolls out and a digital waving American flag fills the screen and Kid Rock belts out "Born Free," on time and on cue.
It is here that I manically laugh to myself and scream into the air. I'm fucking done. I'm fucking done!
As it turns out, Kid Rock and I have something in common. We are both free.
For an entire week, all eyes were on Detroit.
While deadly hurricanes ravaged the south, the Midwest suffered its own almost-disaster. A slew of headlines containing the words "Kid" and "Rock" and "Senate" topped the likes of Rolling Stone, Forbes, Pitchfork, and The Washington Post, among others.
Perhaps it was much ado about nothing. The day after Kid Rock's final show, a poll is released, showing him trailing behind his would-be rival, Democrat incumbent Debbie Stabenow, by double digits. "Kid Rock would have an uphill climb against Stabenow if he were serious about getting into the race," Media Research Group president Tim Shields said in a statement. "His popularity as an entertainer is not transferring to the ballot." Citing an unnamed GOP source, a Deadline Detroit article reports Rock never intended to run. "It's publicity 101," he says.
Bob Young, one of the highest profile Republicans to join the Senate race so far, recently confirmed as much. "Those who know both Kid Rock and his father say that this was a joke that kind of got away from him," he told The Detroit News.
So was this it? Was this always, from the beginning, a calculated publicity stunt, a distraction, and, very generously, an attempt at artistic expression?
I was forced to care. We were forced to care, because there was more than a slight possibility that this was far greater than an elaborate ruse. People could have gotten hurt. Crazier things had happened... and we had no choice but to be there in case something did.
I can't help but feel this was the true crux of this disorienting journey into the cynical redevelopment of the 'Merican dream. Night after night, Kid Rock delivered hollow bombast to thousands of his fans — from my direct experience, a collection of the most earnest people I have ever met. OK, they do not seem to have a nuanced understanding of politics, current events, or Black Lives Matter. All they want to do is crack a cold one to "All Summer Long." And who can really blame them? Because, yeah. I like to be entertained, too. The only difference is that I know the difference.
But whether Kid Rock for Senate is real or not doesn't matter. They were entertained either way.
The only real nod to any sort of serious political effort came in the form of voter registration booths, interspersed among the Little Caesars pizza $7-super slice stands and Kid Rock's merch booths in the arena's looping concourse.
During one of the previous shows, I ask one of the booth's attendants, a cheerful volunteer with a nonpartisan organization whose focus is voter registration, if she thinks Kid Rock was serious about the whole Senate thing.
Her once happy-to-answer-my-question-smile flattens and her energy deflates. "I don't think he'll run this upcoming election. I think it's strategic, but I can't be sure," she says.
She then leans closer. "Listen, he'll either wake up and say, 'I'm going to fucking do it. Or he'll wake up one day and say, 'I'm not fucking doing it. But at least I took all their money.'"