Todd Snider may be the most likable man in music. Technically, he’s a singer-songwriter. Or a folk singer. A troubadour. But he transcends, even rejects, all those labels. He’s also one hell of a performer, having built up a cult following thanks to nearly 20 years of concerts that double as side-splitting storytelling sessions.
Snider takes inspiration from the likes of comedians Bill Hicks and Mitch Hedberg in addition to Bob Dylan and Neil Young, with rhymes that often double as punch lines and between-song banter that alone is worth the price of admission.
His new double-disc live album, “Todd Snider Live: The Storyteller,” is the next best thing to being there in person, revealing someone who relishes telling tales of off-the-beaten-path characters. Sometimes that results in a humorous tale about Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis throwing a no-hitter while on LSD (“America’s Favorite Pastime”). Sometimes it’s a touching ode to a down-on-his-luck everyman (“Play a Train Song”).
“The songs I keep at and keep working on and keep singing are the ones that keep trying to make me cry — even the funny ones,” says Snider, 44.
The album’s centerpiece is the 81/2-minute “KK Rider Story,” a wonderfully rambling monologue that provides a perfect window into Snider’s world. It also helps prove an important point: When Snider gets going, get out of his way. So here he is, uninterrupted, in storyteller mode.
On avoiding being the folk singer who makes Important Statements:
“I don’t think there are important statements, and I feel sorry for people who do. They look like a ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit to me. Most singers are ashamed of how narcissistic and attention-seeking we are, and so they try to make it all sound or seem like some bigger, more important concern. Which it isn’t. You’re doing this for the world? I call [expletive]. Just yesterday, behind the theater in Iowa, some folk singer cornered me about how so few people these days are trying to change the world with music and how people like me and him have to work and fight to get our social commentary heard for the better of the world. I said, ‘We do? Why? I’m here for the cheering. If somebody learns from what I do, or changes, that would be their own fault.’ Folk singers who think folk music is important are a bane on the culture. Like pedophiles and animal abusers.”
On a possible upcoming book:
“I did write a book and even have interest from a publisher. I’ve never done this, though, so I don’t know how it works, or how long it takes, or even what the next step is, if any. I like the idea of being able to call myself an author. It would sound so much more distinguished on planes than folk singer. But I don’t really know how to spell or type well. I’ve just lived a lot of stories and said okay to a lot of plans and ideas that were unsound. And that’s led to lots of tales to tell.
On his major influence, 79-year-old folk icon Ramblin’ Jack Elliott:
“I can’t see myself being 80. I got my fingers crossed on 45. Ramblin’ Jack is my main hero and the architect of my job. One night at [country singer] Jerry Jeff [Walker’s] birthday party, [Elliott] and I and [Walker] were the last men standing, so we went walking down Sixth Street in Austin looking for the last bar open as the sun was coming up over the city. For a minute I thought I’d died and gone to folkie heaven.”
On playing barefoot, no matter the club or stage:
“I’m just a dirty hippie is all. Really. I don’t really come from Thanksgiving and Sunday and all that. I mean, I do, but I left as soon as I could get away. So what ended up feeling all cozy and family to me is pretty counter to what I think is cozy and warm to most folks. I was at a party the other night at [former Leftover Salmon guitarist] Vince Herman’s house in Nederland, Colorado, and as I looked around the party I was taken by the thought of how many parents were in that moment laying awake across America worrying that someday their children would end up at a party like the one we were having. And yet for me it felt very family — be it ever so Manson. So I kicked off my shoes and stayed awhile.”
--David Malitz, May 13, 2011