Todd Snider Is So Queer

You can download Todd Snider's Peace Queer free right here until October 31.

By: Dennis Cook

Todd Snider
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."

Todd Snider from cuckoobird.net
"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:

Todd Snider from onmilwaukee.com
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."

Interlude One

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...

 
I haven't changed my clothes in 20 years and it's starting to feel like an outfit, but I don't want to be changing my clothes all the time.

-Todd Snider

 

Times Like These

Snider is always a lil' out of step with all the forward rushing of our times. For example, he recently picked up an iPod not knowing he needed a computer to make it work. It's a charming bit of Ludditism that fits him to a tee; a man more concerned with capital "T" truths and small-scale pleasures (a jug of wine, a nug of green and thee). Still, it leaves him playing catch-up with the hurly-burly outside his window.

Todd Snider by Jeff Fasano
"This is, by a mile, not the world I practiced on, for sure [laughs]. My wife is stuck in about '78, too. So, we have like a big box television, and we find when we go places like other people's homes that it's a different world," say Snider. "There's a part of me that thinks I've just stood still. I think back to high school and the teachers with big, wide leg pants, and we'd say, 'It's '82. Don't you know that?' Now, I'm totally that guy {laughs]. Without moving a muscle, I'm just becoming Boxcar Willie. If I just stand still it'll happen. I haven't changed my clothes in 20 years and it's starting to feel like an outfit, but I don't want to be changing my clothes all the time."

Snider breaks off to see what's making the dogs in his neighborhood bark, and sees a youngster stirring things up for the hell of it. "This kid's a troublemaker," chuckles Snider. "'Hey troublemaker! Beat it, troublemaker!'" So, things haven't changed much in East Nashville? Same gaggle of charming rebels, struggling musicians and penny ante scoundrels? "No, things haven't changed at all," offers Snider with a knowing laugh.

Interlude Two

JamBase: Where do you file Todd Snider in a record store now? Folk? Rock? Blues? The new EP got me thinking about how after something like 14-years humping the troubadour trail your pegs don't fit the mostly square industry holes.

Snider: I don't know where I fit in!

I've always dug your individuality but it's harder and harder to lump you in any one place, which, sadly, our culture has a compunction to do with artists.

When you're the one who makes the music you don't have to think of what to call it. I've always tried to do it like that. I'm sure there's people having fun doing it different ways but so far it's the only way I've gone.

You're playing with a wider circle of people all the time, which is also bound to expand the kinds and combinations of music you make.

I have this gig in Nashville on November 20 where I'm playing with Vince Herman and we're gonna make a band and play The Ryman [opening for Robert Earl Keen]. I think Ben [Kaufmann] from Yonder will be there, too, and I'm hoping they'll sing some songs. It's almost on and we may do maybe three gigs together.

Do you think you'll start playing regularly in a group? You've toured so much on your own that it feels like it's time.

I'm craving that right now, craving playing with other people a lot. I just played a festival and did my 90-minutes, and Vince and Jeff [Austin] were there. I love to play but by the last 20-minutes of my set I couldn't wait to finish so I could play [with them]. I ran backstage and we started pickin' right away with like six people in a circle.

You can hear this rising group urge on Peace Queer, which are mostly full band arrangements. And you're like a duck in water with a kickin' rhythm section and somebody goosing you on electric guitar.

I sure like that Eric McConnell House gang [friend's home studio he's recorded at frequently]. We're a pretty Chuck Berry obsessed group. The song "Stuck On The Corner" [on Peace Queer] is the big one that shows that.

Next Stop

Todd Snider
After Peace Queer, Snider began work on his next full-length, a follow-up to 2006's The Devil You Know, penciled in to drop in early 2009.

"I went out to California with Jim Keltner [drums], Greg Leisz [pedal steel] and producer Don Was, and I played all the other guitar, piano and harmonica on an album of stuff I'm glad was in me! It was all live, no overdubs, and we played for about three days," offers Snider. "I wasn't always in time but Jim said, 'Never get a click track. J.J. Cale isn't all clicked out.' I'm getting better all the time, and fuck, Jim Keltner dug it! I always thought Keith Richards' time moved a little bit. I've played to a click many times but I can't make myself want to [laughs]."

The hard part for Snider is fighting many of the same battles, arguing over the same ground. It's tough to imagine that anyone is still concerned with whether two dudes want to get married or if someone does something naughty with a flag in the 21st century, especially in the face of starvation, wars and all the other blights on humanity, but here we are. It's enough to make one question whether people are actually evolving.

"It gets surreal as you get older," says Snider, who turned 42 this month. "I draw from Mitch Hedberg and Bill Hicks. All the best comedians have rhythm. Both were very Beat oriented, with an invisible drummer behind them. I don't want to be a folkie. I don't want to wear the outfit they give me. You could almost call me a comedian, and it's worth remembering Kurt Cobain was a funny motherfucker. Laughter helps. It always helps everything."

I'm stuck on the corner
Of sanity and madness
Lookin' 'em over
Can't see a difference
Making money out of paper
Making paper out of trees
We're making so much money
We can hardly breathe

Download Peace Queer free until October 31.

Todd Snider is on tour now, dates available here.

Todd Snider's "Peace Queer"

JamBase | East Nashville
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Comments

PWA starstarstarstarstar Thu 10/23/2008 08:30PM
+5 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

hell yes!

oysteria starstarstarstar Fri 10/24/2008 07:53AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

oysteria

I'll go see vince and ben at the ryman.

FreeHawk starstarstarstarstar Fri 10/24/2008 08:49AM
+5 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

FreeHawk

Todd folkin Snider is a true American gem.

futhepharmer starstarstarstarstar Fri 10/24/2008 10:05AM
+4 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

futhepharmer

Todd Snider is amazing. nuf said.

MoeString starstarstarstarstar Fri 10/24/2008 02:03PM
+4 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

MoeString

TODD IS THE SHIT.

INDIANAPOLIS INDIANA

Novemeber 22nd ... Todd Snider, Jeff Austin, And Vince Herrman..

LIVE AT THE MURAT.... SEE YOU THERE

redhed starstarstarstarstar Sat 10/25/2008 06:15AM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

redhed

fightin for peace is like screamin for quiet.

rainydaywomen420 starstarstarstarstar Sat 10/25/2008 12:44PM
-1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

rainydaywomen420

b double e double r - u - n.

phishy100 starstarstarstarstar Sat 10/25/2008 07:09PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Snider, Herman, Kaufmann, should play a good colorado show.

dannymo starstarstarstarstar Tue 10/28/2008 03:51PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

The Murat in Indy has the Lion King on th 22nd???? maybe a smaller venue in Indy??

branagin starstarstarstarstar Wed 10/29/2008 12:19PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

He is playing on the 22nd of Nov. in the murat egyptian room, the lion king must be in the theatre. This willnot be a show to miss, it will be great.

tstrit starstarstarstar Tue 11/4/2008 05:08PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

One of the true real unsung gems of the last 15 years... Todd is finally getting his just due. He and Vince will be a perfect pairing!