You can download Todd Snider's Peace Queer free right here until October 31.
By: Dennis Cook
The problem with Nashville singer-songwriter-trickster Todd Snider's new EP, Peace Queer (released October 14 on Aimless Records), is taking it too literally. While the demons of George W. Bush's tenure haunt it (as they haunt us all), what Snider has actually done is hand us a pair of Sure-Grip pliers for extracting demagogues and other thugs. In a very real sense, Snider is an Everyman who reminds us that decency, good sense, compassion and good humor don't reside in a party affiliation, geographical locale or any other fixed marker. It sits in the character and soul of each individual, who must face themselves in the mirror each morning and reckon with their choices.
"I almost canceled this record. I'm really fighting with putting shit out. I love to make it but the putting it out part is hard," Snider says. "I have these political things coming out of me – we all do – but it doesn't necessarily mean we know what we're talking about. I'm a reluctant person to get into politics. In fact, I'm not even sure this is political, but these songs I sort of put into the category of 'nearly accusatory.' And that's not my style; it's just what came out of me."
Political screeds generally work best when they drop the specifics and speak to larger issues than any one administration or office holder. Saying, "Screw you, Dick Cheney," only gets you so far but if you peel away the public face and expose the ugly innards of power mongers and leash tighteners then you're getting somewhere. What Snider does on Peace Queer - with a little musical sweetnin' from pals like Patty Griffin, Will Kimbrough and Kevn Kinney - is show how both sides of a black eye hurt us, how the bully is just as damaged as those they hurt and offers us some choice advice on the value of taking a beating for the greater good. The title comes from The Fugs' line, "I nearly had to kill me a couple of them peace queers out behind the church this morning." In seizing incendiary language like 'peace' and 'queer,' Snider piques our interest before the needle hits the groove, and then once its settled in we're treated to a powerful hodgepodge of spoken word, '50s rock 'n' roll and a moving, forlorn cover of Creedence's "Fortunate Son."
"There's a songwriter named Keith Sykes, and he was a mentor to me and I lived on his floor for a time. He told me about this band called The Village Fugs [later shortened to The Fugs] and they had that line [quoted above and on the EP's sleeve] delivered in an almost Randy Newman way. I loved the juxtaposition of calling hippies queers AND saying you had to kill them behind a CHURCH for being that way," says Snider. "I realized these songs sort of sat by themselves, and I was telling Keith about them not being so much protest-y as much as like that Fugs' song. And that's when I realized I had to call it Peace Queer."
It's a pretty Lenny Bruce kinda move, and surely caused some palpitations amongst his label and management. But you never get anywhere if you don't make a few folks uncomfortable.
"I'm totally comfortable with the title. But, I wouldn't classify myself as someone who gives a shit," chuckles Snider. "That's not true. There are things I'm even overly concerned about but I don't know if I'd share any of that aloud."
Opener "Mission Accomplished (Because You Gotta Have Faith)" announces, against a fabulously gnarly Bo Diddley beat, "I met a woman with a Midas touch/ but I could never get her to touch too much/ I met a man of opportunity/ he never offered any of it up to me/ I met a soldier in a recruit booth/ he said he'd make a man out me and stole my youth/ Working for a man who could not stop lying/ Drove us all off a cliff and called it flying." The rejoinder to the last part of these fine capitalist cultural debunkings is the true kicker:
Most men flying seem to understand/ that a man hasn't technically flown until he lands/ If you're comin' into land and you crash and die/ all you really did for sure was get too high/ You ever get too high?/ No, neither have I but I will if I have to prove to you guys/ I'm so turned around I could calm up a riot/ Fighting for peace? That's like screaming for quiet
While the song's title and imagery clearly evoke Bush standing on the deck of an aircraft carrier in 2003, it speaks to even larger wrongheaded thinking that takes off into the wild blue yonder without a thought about coming back down. It's a pop in the nose to those who use rhetoric and slogans to mask real agendas, or maybe just garden-variety stupidity.
"I sure hope so," says a slightly weary Snider, who gets that sometimes you have to push back against those who think might makes right but doesn't relish doing it. "Oh, I hate it! The more I realized I was going to do this EP, I tried to chisel away at it so it's more about somebody who got beat up talking about it as opposed to being a folk singer who knows three chords and thinks they know what they're talking about."
JamBase: Anger can be useful but it's an uncomfortable emotion for many. It's my least attractive trait. I can see how my anger hurts others, and usually not the ones I'd really like to take a swing at.
Todd Snider: I've never enjoyed it in myself, and I think I'm with you on it being my least favorite personal trait.
JamBase: The trick is letting anger out in constructive ways, and clearly it was in you and this EP emerged from it, which feels like a thing apart from your catalog.
That's what I'm hoping people will think. I'm working on my new album [with Don Was for an early 2009 release] and praying on these [EP] songs. They aren't what I'd hope to sing about, what I want to have in me. But, since they came out maybe my reluctance to do this project will make it different enough for it to be a reasonable thing to do.
It's not like you're beating a bell and trying to rally people to a cause. It has none of the high glow self-satisfaction you saw with most of the musicians that played the DNC in Denver, which is distasteful and not that far removed from the superiority many on the far right feel. It always sucks to be a preacher to people if you don't like to be preached to yourself.
Right! Exactly, and I tried hard to not do that.
You use your smarts and your words to push back against assholes instead of actually getting in the ring with them, which is what most of them want.
I chiseled at this for a long time. I don't usually care how my shit is perceived but I really did this time. I don't know why I think musicians feel they can sing out against the war anyway. But jeez, I was consumed by it.
Continue reading for more on Todd Snider...