Written By: Anton Sawyer
Given my history in music journalism, along with enjoying the writing of the various pieces debunking political nonsense, a review of the Kid Rock song “Don’t Tell Me How To Live” was inevitable. From the music itself to the lyrical content, no stone will be left unturned when it comes to this modern-day anthem of “rebellion.” But before we dive into this musical monstrosity, I must give you a brief rundown of what makes me qualified to broach such a topic.
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Before starting “The Indie Truther,” I spent four years as a music journalist as well as moonlighting during the last two of those years as a public relations specialist for a few national touring bands. During my writing tenure, I've had over 250 articles published in various publications ranging in size from countywide, to statewide, to a national level. I reviewed over 100 albums, along with the performances of over 300 bands with musical styles ranging from funk to punk, blues to black metal, goth to grindcore, classical to country, and all points in-between. I was also given the pleasure of interviewing/working with artists with gold records (US), silver records (UK), Grammy-nominated and winning artists, Spellman Award winners (Norway), and many others. Basically, I’ve forgotten about more music than most people will ever hear in their lifetimes.
This resume does lead to the question of why I haven’t kept up with the music business as a career?
I was putting together a book on how underground/up-and-coming artists could survive off their music through various touring and merchandising models. Once Covid hit, it set the entire music industry back years. National promoters like Live Nation completely overhauled the model of how artists are paid for live events, which trickled down to the local promoters and venues, which then led to me being directly back at square one. And here we are.
In today’s examination, I’m going to start by reviewing the music itself. Afterwards, I’m going to look at each line of the lyrics to call out any inaccuracies in what’s he’s saying and provide a factual rebuttal.
If you haven’t heard the song “Don’t Tell Me How To Live” by Kid Rock, you aren’t really missing much from a musical standpoint. With that being said, I completely understand how someone could fall in love with the main riff to the song. It has the right beats per minute and is utterly drenched in a recognizably de-tuned southern-fried rock motif that immediately wraps the listener up in a blanket of familiarity. This is also where my problem with the main musical message of this tune comes from: it isn’t anything I haven’t heard done before and done better.
Imagine something like a more-remedial version of the song “Black Age Blues” by Goatsnake combined with something along the lines of a warmed-over Nashville Pussy guitar lick, and you’ve got a good idea of what you’re dealing with. Vocally, it’s Kid Rock, you know what you’re going to be getting. I do think that the addition of the late-90s growling-yarl provided by Monster Truck bassist/vocalist Jon Harvey does allow the track a little more accessibility with some of Rock’s older fans, but it does nothing to bring in a new generation of listeners. Overall, it’s a song that is “commercially correct”—if it was 2001. The only positive I will say about this song is in its bridge when Harvey stops his attempts at sounding like a tougher version of Scott Stapp from Creed and puts on a clean voice. The melody isn’t bad and is a needed respite from the rest of the miasma.
Yes, there needs to be a caveat before delving into the lyrics as well.
As someone who believes in the concept of putting your own thoughts, ideas, and personal experiences into a song for it to truly touch you like a piece of art, Rock has never been one to allow such things to flourish for his listeners given the bluntness with which he lays it out there. Because of this, I’m going to take a lot of these words at face value.
Something you’re going to see throughout this breakdown is an asterisk* next to the word “rebellion.” This is a reference to faux rebellion or trying to use that angle somehow to promote a specific image. For me, true rebellion isn’t about telling everyone how rebellious you are. If you have to point things out like how little you care about someone’s opinion, or just how much of a rebellious spirit you have, it shows weakness of character and oftentimes detracts from the overall message you convey by looking like a poser. The greatest example of true rebellion I can think of in the world of rock is Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead.
When he was alive, he never made it a point to tell anyone how cool he was. He never boasted of his grand escapades fueled by sex, drugs, or general debauchery. When he was asked about certain points in his life where he almost died due to these exploits, he would always shrug it off and matter-of-factly tell the story. His legend propelled his badass aura, not the other way around.
Finally, to keep things clear, the Kid Rock lyrics will be in bold, while my responses will be in italics.
Fuck all you hoes!
Detroit 'til I die, motherfucker!
Talkin' all that bullshit!
Ain't nobody gonna tell me how to live!
Pretty standard intro for any Kid Rock song. Spit some rage, tell the people where you’re from. Paint-by-numbers so far.
I'm a moonshine sipper, straight slippin' in the darkness
Far from heartless, I'm more like the sharpest
Tool in the shed, no, I've never been the smartest
But make no mistake, I hit the fucking hardest
To be honest, this is the section I hate the least. As a writer, I can appreciate how he plays with the meaning of “sharpest tool in the shed” and twists it in such a way to pertain to violence and not intelligence. Again, not brilliant, but I can respect the effort.
Devil without a cause, you heard me scream it
And twenty years later, bitch, I still fucking mean it
Bucka bucka, you ain't never met a motherfucker like this
Kiss my ass, then you can suck a dick
This entire section: *rebellion
Sideways, my way or the highway, listen up
Ain't nothing changed here, I still don't give a fuck
So what the fuck's up with all the backlash?
You snowflakes, here's a news flash!
The snowflakes jab had to make an appearance somewhere. Now for the facts. A study published in 2011 in the “Current Biology Journal” by neuroscientists Ryota Kanai, Geraint Rees, and co-written with Colin Firth and Tom Feilden showed that when they hooked up subjects to an MRI machine and gave them certain visual stimuli to see which parts of the brain in their subjects lit up, and then cross-referenced that with the subjects’ political affiliation, Republicans scored higher in emotional recognition and emotionally based reasoning. Basically, more Republicans process information and make decisions based on their emotional core more so than Democrats. A full explanation can be found here. So though it fits Rock’s narrative, the science shows that the GOP is in fact the emotionally-driven snowflakes.
The rest of the lyrics to this section: *rebellion
Years ago, we all thought it was a joke, see
That every kid got a motherfuckin' trophy
But, yo, homie, here's the situation:
A nation of pussies is our next generation!
This section is the epitome of what a lack of self-awareness looks like. First off, I’m going to ignore the fact that within a few days of the song being released, ex-President Trump was given an honorary ninth-degree black belt in taekwondo though he’d never taken a class. But I am going to focus on two other events that reek of the “participation trophy” which occurred before the release of the song. A great example is that time Trump received the Purple Heart Award, given to him by a veteran in 2016. Or another time is when Kid Rock and Ted Nugent were allowed into the Oval Office with ex-President Trump; some could see that as a trophy of some kind. Not only that, but as a Gen X’er, it was that generation that invented the participation trophies that were doled out to the millennials and Generation Z.
And these minions and their agendas
Every opinion has a millennial offended
But this amendment one, it rings true
And if you don't dissent, bitch, then see number two
Attacking the mainstream media is also a standard, and I figured it would rear its head at some point, so this is nothing surprising. As far as the wordplay with the Constitutional amendments is concerned, it’s been done time and time again and is nothing unique or original. My personal favorite use of this wordplay is found in the Six Feet Under song “Amerika The Brutal” when Chris Barnes spouts, “I’m not afraid to speak my mind, I don’t use the first amendment to hide behind.”
Ain't nothin' new: right church, wrong pew
Get a clue, a crew, your fake news and views
Can all get the bottom of my motherfuckin' shoe
I'm the last of a few still screamin', "Fuck you!"
Again, a repeat of the attack on fake news followed by *rebellion.
Oh, I'm gonna soar like an eagle
My wings will carry me away I got the heart of a lion
I get stronger every day
To be honest, I really don’t have a problem with upbeat, self-affirming lyrics. Plus, their use here works well with the melody established in the bridge.
You'll never tell me shit, you'll never flip my script
Because I'm more outrageous than the Vegas strip
You're like Mayberry, bitch, I'm hard and crisp
High-risk hillbilly, but I'm filthy rich
You're like Milli Vanilli, kinda silly and shit
I'm like Shotgun Willie, smokin' Phillies and shit
I'm like Reverend Run or David Lee Roth
Like Springsteen, bitch, I'm the motherfuckin' boss
James Dean shit, I'm more like Brad Pitt
A little less pretty, but I sling more dick
A majority of this is all self-congratulatory nonsense intertwined with *rebellion. I will say that this section does house for me what are the most personal and offensive lyrics.
Mr. Rock is not a hillbilly. Though he would like you to believe that he was raised in a septic tank, he was raised by a wealthy owner of a car dealership in Romeo, Michigan. Given that I was raised in a trailer park and have family members that are actual hillbillies, for me this section really destroys the credibility that Rock is trying to desperately create. He is not a good ol’ boy from the Ozarks who has ever had the pleasure of dining on groundhog-salad sandwiches during a family reunion from groundhogs that were fresh shot “up on the hill” the day prior … I have. For both the blue-collar workers and street-hustlers he’s trying to impress, the thing he forgets is that both of those fanbases are predicated on authenticity and legitimacy; neither of which he possesses.
I twang more riffs, I slide through grass
I rip more lines than a ten-pound bass
Pass the mic, I'm like Sloe Gin Fizz
It ain't nobody, it ain't nobody
Though this entire section is *rebellion, the fact that he references a ten-pound bass in the song … I don’t even know how that helps any of what he’s trying to accomplish here. I mean, I guess it adds credibility to the “down-home” approach he’s trying to peddle, but it just seems like such a weird line to add to the rest of the vitriol.
And there it is. A complete dissection of the Kid Rock song “Don’t Tell Me How To Live.” I can’t really endorse listening to it, but I also know how hard it is to look away from a 20-car pileup. If you do make a choice to hear this “masterpiece” the only request I have is that you find a way to expose yourself to it without Rock or his ilk making any money from it—with his massive ego, he doesn’t need encouragement.
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