Todd Snider has bared his hard-living soul on such albums as 2004's East Nashville Skyline and his latest, Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables. But Snider, a disciple of singer-songwriters like close friend John Prine, saves his best stories for the stage, entertaining crowds not just with his songs, but with darkly humorous spoken-word tales of addiction, music business struggles and life on the road. He recently released a book of what he describes as "mostly true tall tales" titled I Never Met a Story I Didn't Like. And, like Snider himself, it's a pisser.
Inspired by Steve Martin's autobiography Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life, Snider sat down with his editor and his favorite motivation and let loose.
"I was just smoking dope and reminiscing," Snider tells Rolling Stone Country. "My manager came to me and said, 'They'll give you this much money if you say 90,000 words and let somebody else type them.' I was like, 'Fuck, I say 90,000 words a day.'"
The outspoken Snider recalls disastrous gigs, onstage meltdowns (including an infamous one in Los Angeles) and enlightened lessons he learned from touring with Prine, who figures prominently in the often vulnerable I Never Met a Story I Didn't Like.
"It's embarrassing," Snider says matter-of-factly. "One thing I learned from John Prine is if you're not embarrassing yourself, then I don't know. You don't want to just be that guy, trying to present themselves as the perfect product. I'm not a product. You know, like Kathie Lee Gifford type people. I just saw her on TV. And if she wrote a book, I bet you it would just be full of her not ever making mistakes."
After years of hard boozing — "I'd get up in the morning and have a glass of wine and a joint" — Snider no longer drinks, but not because he doesn't want to. "I’m not sorry. I quit drinking because my body didn't want it anymore. Not my brain. My brain is still good. If someone gives me drugs, I take it. I just like living like that. That's my thing, I have fun. I don't try to tell other people what to do. I like to get high and go fucking watch weird shit."
With I Never Met a Story I Didn't Like connecting with readers and critics, Snider says he's already been asked to write a second one. At Rolling Stone Country's request, he shares one story —featuring country rough-houser Billy Joe Shaver and his late son, guitar hero Eddy Shaver — that he's sure will make the final edit.
"Me, Billy and Eddy were making up a song called 'Deja Blues,' and we were all pretty high. We were getting buzzed, too. We decided to go over to this place called Idle Hour, which is a rough place, but it's on 16th Avenue [on Music Row in Nashville], so in my mind, I'm like, how rough could the roughest place on 16th Avenue be?" Snider begins in his raconteur way.
"But we go there, and I gave somebody the payphone number thinking they were calling me — and not thinking there was drug action going on. The payphone rang and I got up, and the guy behind the bar said, 'Don't answer that.' I don't know why I didn't listen to him. I had my back to him when he said it and I thought he was just being funny, so I picked it up. Somebody asked, 'John?' I went, 'no,' and they hung up," Snider continues. "When I turned back to face the bar, the guy had a sawed-off fucking shotgun pointed at me."
Enter Billy Joe Shaver.
"Billy Joe stood up and said, 'Now wait a minute, you guys.' The bartender said, 'I know who you are, Mr. Shaver, and if you're asking me to let this guy out of here, I will.' He said, 'I am, I am. We're gonna go,'" Snider recalls with a sigh of relief. "We walked out, got in the van and Billy got so mad at me.
"I will never answer another payphone in a dive bar again."