Itï¿½s not the things that make us laugh, but the things that we think are funny that say the most about us. Often itï¿½s the most clever and witty***image2*** observers of our culture who wrestle with the most vicious personal demons. The therapeutic properties of laughter are one thing, but carving the humor out of a three-ton shit sandwich that life sometimes hands out is palatably different.
Itï¿½s that kind of humor that makes me realize I could talk to singer-songwriter Todd Snider for hours about his life, his albums and his tour. The trappings of success havenï¿½t eluded him entirely, but like East Nashville, which he calls home, Snider remains, by choice, on the fringes of the cascading limelight that shines near him.
Snider has just wrapped up his ninth studio album, scheduled for release later this year. The untitled albumï¿½outfitted with his trademark country-folk/Americana sound and remarkable lyrical witï¿½has two key tracks. ï¿½Donï¿½t Tempt Me Babyï¿½ is a song Snider originally penned for Loretta Lynnï¿½s latest recording, but he ended up adding it to his own album as a duet with Lynn. The albumï¿½s last track, ï¿½Good Fortune,ï¿½ features one of Sniderï¿½s heroes, Kris Kristofferson, as the voice of God on a spoken-word section of the song. Kristofferson says in his baritone voice, ï¿½Do you think there is a kid in this entire town thatï¿½s dreaming of being a bum/I didnï¿½t think you did/but we both know that is exactly what some will become.ï¿½
The album is a follow-up to Sniderï¿½s 2006 effort,
The Devil You Know
, which became his most successful and critically acclaimed album to date. But for the legions of loyal followers, the album merely validated their belief in a musician that, strangely enough, doesnï¿½t really believe in himself.
ï¿½I made a promise to myself that there would never be brass ring in my life. In fact, the reason I thought I could be a singer is because I thought that I would fail at whatever the fuck that I would do,ï¿½ Snider casually tells me over the phone.
Itï¿½s not his humility, but his self-deprecation that makes his stories about his early days as a musician most compelling. His publicist says that he is perhaps the smartest musician sheï¿½s ever met, which leads me to believe that heï¿½s fucking with me, so I ask him point-blank: ï¿½Is there any such thing as failure in music?ï¿½
ï¿½No,ï¿½ he promptly replies, ï¿½not anymore. When I was a kid in Santa Rosa, Calif., I was on this roof and cops were flashing lights at me. I had been drinking and I think someone thought I was gonna jump. I thought to myself, ï¿½Motherfucker, when I get out of here I could try to do anything,ï¿½ but what fucking difference does it make? No one is watching and no one cares. If I could fail then I might as well fail at something that might be fun, so then I thought, ï¿½Iï¿½ll be a loser musician.ï¿½ï¿½
Perhaps, but thereï¿½s a certain suspension of belief one must entertain when listening to Sniderï¿½s music that I now try to transfer into his personal life. Bar-room ballads peppered with a cast of Tom Waitsï¿½ extras and a healthy dose of smartass are part of the charm. But thereï¿½s also a tragic sense to his humor, one that informs all facets of his songwriting. It turns out that what began for Snider as an adaptation of a songwriting persona informed by his admiration of Texas musician Jerry Jeff Walker, became something he actually lived and breathed.
ï¿½My parents wanted me to be a jockï¿½they raised me to be one thing, but I was gonna be another thing,ï¿½ Snider says.
That other ï¿½thingï¿½ was a songwriter whose career began as a textbook Hollywood scene: A guy, who happens to be a record executive, walks into a bar, sees a young Snider picking and singing songs, is blown away by what he hears and offers him a recording contract.
ï¿½Itï¿½s almost like a drug,ï¿½ Snider continues. ï¿½Something painful happens and then you try to avoid it and the next thing you know youï¿½re working on a song. Songwriting has always been an escape for me. Itï¿½s sounds corny, but every time I opened my heart and let out whatever was in there, I felt better and people tended to like it.ï¿½
Itï¿½s his songsï¿½ candor that endears him to his fans, but when talking about his history with alcohol and drug use, which, in fact, cost him that first record deal, he becomes sheepish and refers to it as an embarrassment.
Snider doesnï¿½t try to be the funny man. In fact, heï¿½s not trying to be anything. His songs are an aftermath of interior conflict resolving itself through melodies. And rather than connecting with his fictitious songs, the songwriter manages to peek through the darkness and smile.
Todd Snider and the Jimmy Stadler Band
7:30 pm Friday, Jan. 18; $18-$20.
Santa Fe Brewing Company
35 Fire Place, 424-3333