Dear suburbs: Todd Snider and his new band, the Hard Working Americans, are coming after you and any other self-proclaimed “hard working American” who’s stood behind the safety of a picket fence to look down on other people. Of the — generally speaking, as is sometimes necessary — suburban, right wing-minded, anti-gay, Tea Party-esque person, Snider says, “I like to poke that person.”
There is, he says, “a prototype of an American person that I’m hoping to really get under the skin of and annoy, and hope that if they’re a parent that they, when they hear one of our songs, they stay awake at night hoping that their kids didn’t end up on tour following us around.”
The Hard Working Americans are less about blue collar and more about tie-dyed collared workers, he says. They appropriated the standard-issue definition of the words they’ve used to name their band to serve their own ends.
“I like to take that word, and those people generally just apply it to themselves, and apply it to us, and we smoke more dope before 9 a.m. than most people do all day, and we still get as much done as anyone else, if not more on some days,” Snider says. “And I would say the same about Tonya Harding and Mike Tyson and anybody that ever texted a picture of their penis and anybody else that America needed to just have for lunch so that it wouldn’t have to have itself for lunch.
“I would like to stand up next to those people and wave a flag with them, if only, for one, to feel good and another to annoy people that so easily dismiss other people and are so excited about writing down rules and things of that nature.”
But, I digress — it’s Todd Snider, of course, so there’s no real surprise that the conversation has taken a few unexpected turns, not the least of which comes with our introduction. I called that Nashville-based number looking to talk about I Never Met a Story I Didn’t Like: Mostly True Tall Tales, the book published earlier this year by Todd Snider. Naturally, I got the singer Blind Lemon Pledge on the phone, who informs me that the author died about a week ago. OK, sure. We’ll go with that.
“Supposedly, there is a Todd Snider that is doing some shows right now, but I don’t know if that’s real,” Pledge says, suggesting it’s something Snider’s managers have trumped up.
He goes on to throw the kind of criticisms after Snider and his artistic choices that could earn you a sucker punch in a bar, calling him a namedropper and a weed-stealer and a string of other words the FCC would require bleeping out.
“I read that book and I was here when he wrote it, and I thought it was funny. But I know he did it for money,” Pledge says of I Never Met a Story I Didn’t Like.
He calls Snider’s notorious 20-minute song intros a “grift” but says he was there when those stories caught the attention of a “book person, you know like a person who makes books like a record company makes records,” who then asked Snider if he could write them down.
“He couldn’t, but his neighbor, Peter Cooper, who was the music writer for The Tennessean and they were both two drunks and they sat around and fucking never shut up anyway,” Pledge recounts. “So that guy Snider sat and talked about himself for about four days, which wasn’t very much different than just living with him.”
In the dedication, Snider thanks Cooper for listening to him and typing up all 90,000 words he said, which only took him an hour or so. Metaphors of that nature thread through his storytelling — the kind of metaphors with a truth at their core that makes them more crystalline than the facts would be.
If you’ve heard him speak, say on the live recording The Storyteller, it’s almost impossible not to hear his voice ambling through the sentences of I Never Met a Story I Didn’t Like. And like most of his tall tales, it’s almost impossible not to find yourself sucked in to a good story that has a way of unexpectedly blowing through half an hour before you know it. It’s just so damn easy to want to spend more time with a guy who’s mastered the art of self-deprecating humor, to know exactly what he means when he talks about being in his “sunglasses at night” phase or says that Garth Brooks ruined country music for a while by being so good and so successful at it.
Snider’s been a quiet powerhouse in American folk music for a couple decades. The name-dropping is quite impressive — he mentions Garth Brooks’ jealousy-inducing success by way of introducing a story about Brooks recording one of his songs, but also talks about the time he made Jimmy Buffet throw fruit at him, and yes, the time he saw Jerry Jeff Walker’s balls.
They’re true stories, he insists — well, mostly true.
After recently being kicked out by his wife, Pledge tells me he’s found a penthouse by a lake to live in and isn’t telling anyone where it is. (That may not be true.)
“I had to get out of, because everybody knew where that fuckface lived so and then I was there all the time, and people say I look like him, so I’d be going out to get the mail and somebody’d be yelling ‘Beer Run!’ I’d be like ‘He’s inside, readin’ about himself,’” Pledge says.
Snider “died of botherations and complications, to save time,” according to Pledge, who adds that he won’t be missed. Not by anyone who lived with him, especially, says Pledge — and that has that funny ring of truth to it if you add Snider’s rebounding trips to rehab to the balance and, with it, the bitter reality of that, sometimes, for an artist, the toughest person to live with is yourself.
“What was that thing he sang about beer?” Pledge ponders. “Jesus Christ, if I never hear that again. He loved that song though, I’ll tell you, sang it when he’d wake up.”
But, ask nicely, and he’ll still sing it. “I sing any song someone likes,” Pledge says. “I’ve never walked away from anything in my life, except for everything that I’ve ever done, so then it’s almost like never leaving.”
But maybe all of this is the nice way of saying he’s got a newer story he’d like to be telling, rather than revisit what’s out there in print already.
Asked about his summer tour, off he goes into talking about a recent Hard Working Americans show at the High Sierra Music Festival.
“The other night, I’m telling you, when we got done, as soon as the last downbeat of the last song ended, I opened my eyes and noticed two separate people that were crying and I thought, ‘I’m not the only one. I knew this was special,’” he says. “I would rather sing with the Hard Working Americans than anything, really.”
Turns out, he gets to for a while.
The bulk of Snider’s summer tour dates are with the Hard Working Americans, a band Snider says in an open letter that he formed of friends because he “wanted to be in a band that wanted to be great, whatever that meant.” The group draws together Snider on vocals, Dave Schools of Widespread Panic, Neal Casal of the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, and Chad Staehly and Duane Trucks of Great American Taxi.
Pledge (Snider) downplays his own participation, particularly in this recent transcendent performance, in which the jam took off and, he says, he stepped to the side.
“I don’t do anything but memorize words,” Pledge says. “Sometimes I just sit and watch, because we jam for a while. … I don’t know enough about the jam thing to know what it really is that’s happening, but that day was the first day that I felt like, ‘Wow, the crowd is doing this.’ I don’t know how to describe it, but it’s like this audience is doing this somehow.”
Schools and Casal, he says, “really understand what it means to flip that switch. I’m like a guy they just throw in a car and I’m like ‘What the fuck is happening?!’ But by the end of the summer, I’m hoping that I’ll understand what’s happening so I can do it more readily instead of having to wait for it. Well, I feel like there’s a thing I can do that helps, which is sort of to disappear or get out of the way. I think I stayed out of the gig on the other night well.”
The band’s self-titled debut album was released in January to critical acclaim and a top spot on the Americana radio chart.
“I would say that our group for real will really play our hearts out, you know. That’s all we do. I don’t even know if we’re good,” Pledge says. “But I say that and tomorrow night, maybe we won’t do that, so I don’t know if I can really predict what’s going to happen with our group, but I hope people come to see whatever happens.”