Rolling On With Kid Rock Backstage

John & Kid Rock Backstage
John & Kid Rock Backstage
Every time I speak with a music fan, the live concert experience becomes more meaningful and significant. And with this story, my beliefs about the healing power of  live music grew deeper and stronger.
Back in January, I spoke with my wife’s uncle John O’Donnell about his adventure in Las Vegas, when he accomplished his ambitious goal of meeting Kid Rock backstage before a show. Now, John’s quest isn’t like the usual fan wish of meeting their favorite artist for a brief meet-and-greet before for the show.  John’s backstage quest has a much more compelling story. His story showed me how the live music experience can be more than just a moment of escape, but also a deeply satisfying  and emotionally healing experience.
Last August John was diagnosed with Stage Four brain cancer, and a few weeks prior he had started listening to Kid Rock’s latest album Rock N Roll Jesus. After the diagnosis the album started talking on a deeper significance for John. I’ll be honest. I would never have thought that a Kid Rock album could  have such an impact, but by learning about John’s experience, I was reminded that you should never underestimate the healing power of music in a person’s  life.
Through conversations with family members I learned that John was a longtime music  fan who loves everything from blues to soul to rock and also plays the harmonica. So when he returned from LasVegas in January, I sat down with him at his home on Chicago’s southside to get the full the details about how he celebrated his 53rd birthday with a backstage  chat and live concert with Kid Rock. It was great to hear John talk about his love for live music, too. During our talk he recounted some of his most memorable concert experiences, including seeing Black Sabbath in 1971  in Chicago and Jethro Tull in Iwakuni, Japan in 1973 when he was stationed there as a U.S. Marine.
Much thanks to John and his family for taking the time to tell his story and for providing the pictures and Jack Matson’s charcoal “Roll On” drawing.
Kid Rock’s Roll N Roll Jesus has had a big impact on you. How did you first hear it and how did it become such an inspiration to you?
At first I thought the album was some of the most audacious stuff I’ve heard in a while. I was surprised at this guy calling himself a “rock ‘n roll Jesus.”  At first I just listened out of curiosity because I’m a music fan and I’m always curious when I heard a musician saying something as crazy as Kid Rock was saying.  As I listened to him I didn’t understand the real meaning, when I bought the album in August. Then on a Friday at the end of August I had a bad headache and I had already had a couple fender benders, so on that Friday I went to the hospital with a splitting headache. Then the doctors told me I had a mass in my head that they couldn’t treat.
Then the following Saturday evening I was back at the hospital. They let me bring one piece of music with me to spend the night so I brought Rock N Roll Jesus. Then on September 7th I was diagnosed with brain cancer. From that point on, the album took on a different meaning. I bought four copies and it was everywhere [chuckles]. It was all we listened to; in the car  and in the house. I couldn’t get the album out of my head. I had to listen to it all the way through. Even when I was by myself listening on my Walkman I tried to hold it together but I couldn’t. I cried many times during the album while listening to it. I was amazed how Kid Rock, who’s 20 years younger than me, was singing about all these profound things that really made me think.

Why were you so amazed?  What did the album make you think about?

I was amazed because listening to the album after my diagnosis made me appreciate life more. It also made me think about how I used to love going to the Chicago Amphitheater to see Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. I saw every group from 1968 until 1973 when I joined the Marine Corps. During a four day leave I went to Iwakuni, Japan to see Jethro Tull. I knew they were playing because I saw a concert poster but it was in all Japanese and the only thing I could read was Jethro Tull. So I went there by myself. Paid 10 bucks for the ticket. The concert hall was small and about  300 other Marines where crammed in there, too. To start the show, Ian Anderson grabbed the mic and joked, saying even though he was oversees this was still his 250th U.S. show. The show was 3 ½ hours. He played the entire Aqualung  and Thick as a Brick albums. It was unbelievable! The spit from his flute was going right over my head.

KidrockmarqeeDid you think about that concert when you were watching Kid Rock in Las Vegas?
Not a whole lot. I was really thinking about how thankful I was to have my friends and family put the whole thing together. Because I wasn’t in any financial place to do anything like this.  It was a blast and I’m truly and deeply thankful that my family and my friends did and that they were all staying at of the hotel with me.

The Kid Rock concert was suppose to be a surprise, right?
Yeah, [chuckles] but I’m a hard guy to keep a surprise from. They had a party and sold raffle tickets to help me get there.

Have you thought more about the affect of the tumor on your ability to enjoy the Rock N Roll Jesus and understand it more?
Yes, I have. I’m not a fanatic who just goes crazy over a song right away for no reason. I love music and I take time to learn it and understand and appreciate it. And I was inspired by Rock N Roll Jesus, especially the song role “Roll On.”

How so?
I’m not an emotional guy. So I started to wonder and ask the doctors if the tumor—that was the size of a racquetball— might’ve unlocked some areas inside my head that would’ve made me feel certain emotions that  I hadn’t felt before, or maybe express certain feelings in new ways?  I started to think about the truth Kid Rock was saying when he says “you know it’s real when you can feel it.”  My friends at the tavern thought that I was a little crazy listening to that CD all the time. I’m definitely not a fan of womanizing or the rockstar lifestyle either. I just wish Kid Rock would utilize his talent in a more positive way. If you take two songs out of the album, I know most catholic high school choirs would be singing those songs like angels. Again some of his lyrics I’ve dismissed, but for the most part, his words really drove me on and inspired me to keep going. I’ve never been a big fan of country, but now I listen to it for the story instead of just listening to the beat and melody.

"Roll On" by Jack Matson
“Roll On” by Jack Matson

You had sent emails to Kid Rock’s PR and fan club, you had your doctor right a letter and you had a charcoal drawing that you planned on giving Kid Rock. So how did all this help you meet him in Las Vegas?

When we got there we hadn’t gotten an type of confirmation from the emails or calls we made. All I knew was that somebody told me was  he there at the Palms hotel. So I thought maybe that I could run into one of his contingent people. I went to the concierge and showed them the drawing and told them that I wasn’t trying to sell anything. The staff of Palm’s really tried to do all they could hook me up with his people so at about 7:30 this guy with an earpiece comes up to us. I told him I had a charcoal drawing to present to Kid Rock and I was refusing to give that drawing to anybody when they said they would take it  to him on my behalf.

So this guy took the drawing and told me to stay there and that he’ll come back. Two minutes later Kid Rock’s backup singer came up to me. She asked me if I was John and she told me to come with her. So I stood backstage with the two other backup singers as we waited to see  what would happen.

So a few minutes later Kid Rock comes from behind the curtain and he shook my hand. I asked him if he had read any of the letters, he started to say yes, but I knew that he didn’t. But I did know he definitely looked at the charcoal drawing. I asked him if he had a photographer here. He said no. and I said ‘what you don’t have a professional photographer with you on tour?’  So I had the backup singer go and get Cindy’s camera.

What did you guys talk about backstage?
I told him what I thought about the record and that if you cut a couple songs off it would be a great one for kids, too.  He was really friendly and asked me if I was okay, or if there was anything he could do for me. I said no, and that I was just here to thank him. He asked if I had ever seen him live before and I said no. I wasn’t looking for anything, but he upgraded our seats to the main floor which was very nice of him. He did give me a wink and waved to me during the show, too.

It was great way to spend my birthday. Even if I didn’t get to meet him, I felt that as long as I tried that’s all that mattered to me. It always better to try than to not try at all. But I had a feeling that I was going to meet him.

What was it like for you during the concert? What was going through your mind?
I hadn’t been to a concert in a long time.  We were on the main floor about fifteen feet away from him. I was amazed at the musical ability to saxophone players. The backup singers were was amazing, too. Such powerful, soulful voices. At one point it felt a little bit like a Catholic ceremony because Kid Rock had a moment where he stopped the show and encourage everyone to shake hands and say hello to people around you. He really encouraged everybody to have fun. It really showed how he has a good heart. His music reminds me in a way of how Marvin Gaye and Bill Withers were everyman inspirational to me.

You mentioned you hadn’t been to a concert in a long time; what was the last concert you went to? Do you have any favorite concerts?

I think the last show I went to was Pink Floyd, about 15 years ago, when they played at the old Rosemont Horizon their last time around in Chicago. I’d have to say some of my favorites are seeing Black Sabbath in 1971  is was one of my favorites.  They played the Arie Crown Theatre at McCormick Place. 2000 people. I’venever forget. I was 15 or 16, and Paranoid had just come out. The show started. The lights went out. And then came my first experience of seeing big clouds of smoke from all the pot smoking.
I started going to concerts in 1968. My friends and I did every trick in the book to get in to shows for free to see it all the acts we wanted to. From 1968, until I joined the Marine Corps in 1973, I saw everybody I could. Frank Zappa, Deep Purple and Alice Cooper put on some great shows.

unclejohnphoto1So how have people responded when you tell them how you accomplished your goal of meeting and thanking Kid Rock?  How has the experience helped you “Roll On?”

People are really amazed when I tell them about the Kid Rock story and they’re also surprised at how well I’m doing even though I have Stage Four brain cancer. Everyday I see new meaning and the bigger picture of having brain cancer and meeting Kid Rock.  When my family asked me what I want to do for my birthday,  I told them I wanted to be with my family and see Kid Rock. So that’s what I did. I’m really thankful that I had the chance to do it on my birthday and that my family was there with me.  I know most guys would think I was crazy for getting this into a Kid Rock album. But then again, most guys are too busy in their lives to think about these things, or to really listen to the message in the music and really let it soak into their heart and mind.

This is the first Live Fix fan interview and more are to come. If you would like to tell your story please contact Chris.

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