My neighbor Frank was a bit younger than my dad. The two men shared a love for family, friends, their Michigan home and rock & roll. Frank would always call into radio stations under different obscene handles like Craven Morehead and request the songs by artists from Detroit. His characters often got air time – they were all obviously Frank, and they always got a laugh.
I remember being invited over for winter grill-outs. Dad would share stories about Viet Nam, the radio would play oldies and Frank would look on with respect in his eyes. If he ever came over to see us when no one was home he’d leave a few bottles of beer on the stairs. I often heard Frank playing his drums late into the night, as people out in the country are able to do, and I remember one evening in particular when I stepped onto the back porch and heard the audio from a porno being blasted from his outdoor speakers. It was loud, it was Frank, it made sense.
I always sang my heart out on the swing set in my back yard. I wish every kid could feel the freedom of singing at the top of their lungs without having to worry about a thing for miles.
Kid Rock was a sound and a brand he believed in so he made you a big part of his life. Eventually the beer bottles he’d bring over had your own BadAss label. He attended a few parties where you showed up and surprised locals, after which Frank replaced his usual Christmas card greeting with photos of himself smiling ear to ear beside you and a busty ex-blonde.
As for me, I started to look over from my swing set to his house, wondering if I shouldn’t sing so loud anymore because you never knew: “Kid Rock might be over there and I wouldn’t want him catching me singing anything uncool.” You became a unique, unknown-but-present part of my life. That was nearly ten years ago.
Today I got a phone call from my family back home. They said that Frank had been walking his dogs when he suffered a sudden heart attack, collapsed onto the ground and died. The news was unsettling. I’d gotten used to the sound of distant drums into early morning hours and the idea of grilled steak in the snow. I thought he’d always own the hilly driveway that I had coasted down on my bicycle – that he would permanently be one house away and perhaps, even, at my own dad’s funeral.
Now it is all suddenly gone. And I realize, with much regret, that it means you are, too. You will never “possibly” be next door again.
Goodbye, Mr. Rock. I am going to miss you both.