Todd Snider Interview: Singer-Songwriter Talks New Book, ‘I Never Met a Story I Didn’t Like’
Todd Snider‘s new book is required reading for anyone who’s a fan of his left-of-center, observational style of songwriting.
The singer-songwriter — whose work is so eclectic and original that it ultimately defies easy categorization — has developed a unique stage persona over the years, sharing long, rambling stories that have become almost as much a part of his live set as his songs. In ‘I Never Met a Story I Didn’t Like,’ Snider uses some of those stories as a springboard to share hilarious — and sometimes very serious — anecdotes about his fascinating journey through the music business, as well as his life offstage.
Part autobiography, part modern folklore and all purely entertaining, the book gives personal glimpses into such diverse personalities as Garth Brooks, Jimmy Buffett, Kris Kristofferson, John Prine and more, as well as an assortment of colorful characters that Snider has met along the way.
The book also sheds a unique light on the music business, songwriting, drugs, groupies, religion and more, in a largely irreverent tone, but treating all of the various and sundry people who’ve been part of Snider’s life with respect. The only character that Snider seems to see in an unsparing light is the character of Todd Snider, who takes the brunt of his own harshest self-assessment throughout.
The Boot caught up with Snider recently to discuss the book, his music, his warped view of the world and more in one of the most unusual, unvarnished and entertaining interviews we’ve ever published.
What gave you the idea for a book of stories like this?
Well, I always — like if I’m drunk or something — tell people I’m gonna write a book someday, but I’m not the only guy doing that around town. A lot of people do that. And it was mostly an empty boast, not something I would say sober. And I have a manager — when I was a kid, everyone used to say, “You’ve got to get a manager you like,” and I never understood what they did. I went through like seven of them, and this cat that I have now — one day you just sort of meet this person that is your friend or whatever.
To make a short story long, you finally meet this person who’s in this line of work, where they’re supposed to do their thing and they’re good at it, but after five, it’s completely the kind of guy you’d get high and listen to records with.
This f—ing guy is the guy that comes up with all the s— I do. I don’t do f— all. He’s the one who’s always like, “Dude, you could make a movie.” I had all these songs a few years ago, and I threw them all out. I was like, “I’m sick of politics, I could give a f— about war. I don’t know why my heart’s always telling me it should be over, when it’s never been over. It’s a dumb thing to say.” And he was like, “Well, why don’t you put them all out together, so it’s just completely dumb?’ [Laughs.] “What about calling it ‘Peace Queer’?” And it was like, “Well, now we have to do it.”
So he was the one — we were in New York, and he just said, “I want to introduce you to somebody. Are you gonna tell some stories tonight?” And I said yeah, because it was a small, quiet place, and I said, “I’m sure I will.” If it gets quiet, I get nervous and start bulls—ting. And he had brought a cat who’s a manager for people who make up books, and that cat said, “Can you type?” And I said, “Yeah, but I can’t spell or punctuate.” And he said, “What if somebody helped you, do you think you could turn all that s— you say into 90,000 words?”
Essentially you have to make a 90,000-word ‘Alice’s Restaurant.’ And it didn’t strike me as an artistic idea, but I like glory and money, too; I don’t like to pretend I don’t like those things. So I thought I could probably get some pats on the back, and people would call me an author. There’s a lot of different options for me fashion-wise now, like I can put patches on a jacket and it’s solid.
How did you decide what stories to put in, and what to leave out?
When you called, me and my tour manager were making a list, because we’re supposed to try to make another [book] now. But when they asked me if I could get someone to type, I have my friend Ben Greenman, who writes in New York, and then my friend Peter Cooper [from Nashville’s Tennessean newspaper], who lives down the street, and is a bigger disaster than me. And we hang out all the time, and he types as fast as I talk, which is really fast. And he comes over a lot, anyway.
So it was kind of like a lot of our days, except for I did all of the talking, and I would leave it to him — I really trusted him. I would go, “Hey, man, we could tell about the time I . . .” and he would say, “No, don’t tell that.” [Laughs.]
Or sometimes he would say, “What about Kristofferson? Tell me about Kris.” Or he’d take the stories he knew — I’d type out the show stories, but without punctuation or anything, so he’d take those and ask some questions about them. So he kinda wrote the book, and he even put riffs in, too. He was cruel enough to make observations while I talked, and then kind enough to let me use them if I wanted them.
It was two or three, maybe four sit-downs, where he’d come over and we’d get some coffee and shoot the s— for about three or four hours, and then he’d come back in a few days with that all typed up, and we’d do it again.
It was easy, I thought. Then we sent it to DeCapo Press, and they made some changes, too, because you can’t tell stories about somebody breaking the law if they didn’t get caught. So some names got changed, and I also think some self-indulgent kind of s— might have gotten taken out.
So yeah, I had a ton of help with it, and mostly I just talked, and typed some.
A lot of the book is about the different kind of experiences you’ve had at labels, and just kicking around the music business as people do. Now that you’re sort of independent, looking back on it, which do you like better — working with a major label, or do you enjoy your independence more?
I like them both a lot. I feel lucky in that when I look back, I can honestly say that everybody that worked for me, everybody that I asked to do something for me did it, and did it well. I also, my experience is slightly different because when I was on . . . this cat named Bob Mercer, who’s in the book, got me on a major label, but I wasn’t a normal person. It was kind of like a brother-in-law deal. I don’t think anyone thought I was gonna have hits or anything. I think they just thought, ‘Well, this guy’s cool, we like his songs . . . s—, he could sing at the office parties.’ That’s more what it felt like, and I loved that idea.
So when I was with a big label, nobody ever said, “Do this, do that.” Everyone just said, “Do whatever you want, and we’ll try as hard as we can.” And that is what happened.
"I don’t know why my heart’s always telling me [war] should be over, when it’s never been over. It’s a dumb thing to say."
Also, it really was just Jimmy Buffett’s family and John Prine’s family bouncing me back and forth, and staying friends with me. That’s kind of all I really perceived it to be. When I was really young, I got in with some Buffett guys, and they sort of navigated everything for me while I didn’t pay any attention to it.
Even when I was young — I won’t let them in if I don’t want to know what they think. If I don’t want to know, “Hey, should I leave this verse, or not?” If I don’t want to ask you that question, I don’t care how much money or how famous you say you’re gonna make me. I just don’t give a s—. I don’t care enough. I care about having some good times, and I like it when I go to the bar and someone knows who I am or whatever, but not so much that I would change this thing I do.
And if I sounded like some cat who could win ‘American Idol,’ I would change what I do. I’d get the best songs, and I’d sing the s— out of them, and I’d buy a boat, and none of you would ever see me again. I would probably go build a bar someplace and sing eight-hour sets a day for four people.
That’s funny. It’s true for everybody, so much of this is dictated by what you can and can’t do.
Yeah. When I was young, I just wanted to tour and play. And I like the idea of albums just being art — that’s nice. There are loggers who want to punch people when they say the word “art,” and I don’t dislike those guys. But I like albums, and I really like getting to tour and be feted, and read my poem and get free wine for it. So I was into that, and still am, for some reason. And all those cats in the music business I’ve ever met, I haven’t met a shark yet. Not that I can think of. They might be out there, but they avoid me.
You’ve kinda got to smoke pot to get into my house or my dressing room, and people who smoke pot don’t tend to be bean counters. They don’t tend to need trophies and s— like that.
Really, you have to write the kind of songs that people can exploit for money before they can try to exploit you.
Right! And that’s what my buddy Mercer and I used to say. Really, you could almost call this “not music.” What the f— is this thing? I don’t know, but what else is this kid gonna do? I have my own company now — I don’t “have” it, but I can do stuff, and all my people will help me do it.
"All those cats in the music business I’ve ever met, I haven’t met a shark yet. Not that I can think of. They might be out there, but they avoid me."
You’ve talked about another book. What would that be like?
I have this song called ‘Mission Accomplished,’ and there’s a line in it that says, “Will Rogers said he never met a man he didn’t like.” And it ends up by saying, “But he didn’t say he liked every man that he knew.”
So this book is called ‘I Never Met a Story I Didn’t Like,’ and if I get to make another one — which I think I get to — I’d like to call it “I Never Said I Liked Every Story That I Knew.’
People have been telling me that these stories are kind of embarrassing and make me look kinda like a burnout, and I’m like, “Well, wait ’til you hear the ones I don’t want other people to hear.” [Laughs.]
It’s true that in this book, you’re generous to everybody else, and hard on yourself.
I think it’s a fair assessment, though. I don’t think I . . . it’s just because most people are . . . better? I don’t know, at least more together. I don’t think it’s because I’m being self-depreciating. I don’t know, maybe that’s not true. I don’t know.
I hope people dig the book, that’s all. I hope if somebody gives a bunch of bread to get something that they take home, I hope they enjoy it, at least.