Todd Snider: Man With a Plan
“I like to see them on TV talking,” says indie folkie-raconteur Todd Snider with a twinkle in his eye, addressing modern pop culture’s kinetic charge. “I love Oasis: I don’t really listen to the music, but I love how the Gallaghers get into it. I like Courtney Love when she gets in trouble… All those little girls in Hollywood? I’m fer them.”
The hipnoscenti be damned. Todd Snider—who admits at 42, “I still read Spin and listen to the Kings of Leon”—isn’t concerned with being cool. Instead the bohemian iconoclast, who just released The Excitement Plan, has drifted through the music business making records that fit his fancy since 1994’s Songs From The Daily Planet.
“I’ve never pictured anybody sitting around listening to my records,” he shrugs. “I like to make up songs. And it’s my opinion that all these songs mean a lot to me, but that doesn’t mean I think everything needs to leave the house.”
Todd Snider’s reality when it comes to deciding is simple: “If it helps me through my life and doesn’t bore anybody in their’s,” he states flatly. “I don’t wanna bore anybody with my crap.”
Todd Snider couldn’t be labeled boring on his most beige day. A freewheeling soul and wordsmith who evokes Shel Silverstein’s wit, John Prine’s detail and Hunter S. Thompson’s convention jettisoning, Snider decided to become a songwriter before he could play guitar.
“I was gonna kill myself,” he begins, and you can tell he’s not entirely kidding. “I was sitting on this roof in Santa Rosa California—there was no college, no job, no parents to go home to… I was at zero, 18 or 19, trying to make a plan and people were trying to get me to come down.
“Really, I wasn’t gonna kill myself, but it’s just this idea when you’re where I was: if you’re gonna fail, you can fail at anything. I’d never sung for money in my life, couldn’t play anything, I just had poems. It’s almost punk rock, though, where you decide to form a band and figure the rest out.
“I drifted around. Went to Austin, where my brother said they had lots of live music. I saw Jerry Jeff [Walker] alone at Gruene Hall and I knew: that was what I was going to do.”
He pauses, flashing that tilted smile again. “Within a year, I was making a living playing guitar. Of course, you gotta be willing to live on that! And I was. I actually thought I’d get old that way, and I was into it.”
Happy to grow old at Memphis’ Daily Planet—“figured I’d play for the kids of these people sitting there—“fate brought Snider to Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Records, major tours, a whirlwind and voice of the moment status.
“It all happened so fast, I thought I’d never struggle again—even though I didn’t know what any of it meant… To me, never struggling meant being able to get out of Memphis, play Nashville, Oxford, Jackson, Austin. You know?”
In that quixotic trunk of songs, Snider swerves from baseball games pitched high on LSD during “America’s Favorite Pastime,” troop support in “Bring ‘Em Home” and raggedy bottom rung gunmen “Unorganized Crime” to create a cast of characters as offbeat and unlikely as the man conjuring them. It is a series of images, postcards, moments that offer much greater insight.
“When I was a kid, it made me feel better than anything,” Snider says of his will to write. “What makes somebody paint? Why does some man sit in his backyard and carve those bears? They’re 40 of ‘em outside some little shop… I think it’s the same thing.
“Because it’s really simple: guys who make up good poems and get their chance… Some get on to their t-shirts and that stuff; some get on to being guitar players. It’s music or business. Me? I wanna be a better guitar player in 10 years—and I mostly listen to the Stones, Dylan, ‘50s rock & roll, JJ Cale, Jerry Lee [Lewis], Jerry Jeff and Prine. But not even as much as picking up my guitar in the house and playing their songs. Kristofferson, too.”
There’s no apology, no justification here. Snider looks out over the loose-hanging tie and vest with the serenity of a man who knows which voice to listen to. His company is called Aimless Inc. He seems incapable of conjuring the next right Move—and yet somehow he’s still here.
“When I think about it, I just don’t think about that kind of stuff,” Snider allows when the success-mongering “Money, Compliments, Publicity” comes up. “The same things I value about this now… it hasn’t changed. It was never something I’d hoped for or was after. I’ve never had a master plan, and I’ve never really had anything, so that makes it pretty easy.
“This time… I wanted to wait ‘til I had 12 songs I knew were unique. So my goal was to be even more patient with the songs than ever. It’s harder than you’d think sometimes…”