THE BURNOUT DIARIES
Todd Snider writes a book
Todd Snider glances around the East Side office as he considers his latest endeavor within the context of a career spanning 20-plus years. After a few moments, he leans back, smiles, and says, “For a burnout, man, I’ve done a lot of stuff.”
It’s true: For a self-described “lazy-ass hippie” and the mastermind behind a company called Aimless Incorporated (he’s “the Vice President of the Abrupt Plan Change Department, soon to be expanding in pointless directions”), Snider has, indeed, done a lot of stuff.
Over the past 15 months, the man whose main goal is to have no goals has been especially productive, too. He released two albums under his own name on Aimless Records: “Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables,” which he co-produced with Eric McConnell, and “Time As We Know It: The Songs of Jerry Jeff Walker,” produced by Don Was. In addition, he recorded and released an eponymous album with Hard Working Americans, the new jam band he formed with Dave Schools of Widespread Panic. And despite spending a good deal of time on the road in support of those three critically acclaimed albums, he took on acting, too, starring in the independent film “East Nashville Tonight,” which debuted at the 2013 Nashville Film Festival. On top of all that, he recorded a cover of War’s “Why Can’t We Be Friends” with Turbo Fruits, which was recently released as a 10- inch vinyl picture disc on that band’s own Turbo Time label for Record Store Day.
If all that weren’t enough, Snider also found time to write his first book: the autobiographical “I Never Met A Story I Didn’t Like: Mostly True Tall Tales” (295 pages, Da Capo Press), which hit bookstores on April 22.
“I did it mostly for glory, or to be able to call myself an author,” Snider said, when asked about the inspiration behind the book. “And second, probably, for money.”
Although he downplays it, Snider’s pride in the book is evident in the introduction: “I could have called it ‘Smoking Grass and Dropping Names,’ because it’s mostly that,” he writes, in typical, self-deprecating fashion. “No way it’s not a book, though. I totally wrote this. High five.”
The story of how Snider became an author began last year with a show in New York City. As usual, he told a number of stories during his performance. After the show, a literary agent — the guest of Snider’s manager, Burt Stein — approached the folk singer backstage.
“Do you have those stories written down?” the agent asked.
“Yeah, but I don’t really know how to spell or do punctuation, you know,’” Snider told him.
“But if you had someone to help you with that,” the agent continued, “would you have enough stories for a book?” Snider thought about it for a moment, and said, “Yeah.”
A few months later, Stein got a call. “He said this company [Da Capo] would give me a bunch of money if I could make up 90,000 words,” Snider recalled. So he made up 90,000 words.
As the title suggests, the book is a collection of stories, many of them expanded versions of the ones Snider has told for years in concert — such as the story of KK Rider and the one about Bill Elliott, both of which appeared on his 2011 release, “Live: The Storyteller” — and stories about the people behind some of his songs, such as late East Nashville icon Skip Litz (“Play A Train Song”), West Tennessee bar owner Michael “Moondawg” Webb (“Moondawg’s Tavern”) and Homer, Alaska’s own Digger Dave (“Digger Dave’s Crazy Woman Blues”). There also are stories about Snider’s encounters with celebrated figures, including Kris Kristofferson, Garth Brooks, John Mellencamp, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Matthew McConaughey, Slash, Lance Armstrong, Roger Clemens, Ed Bradley and Hunter S. Thompson. But mostly, the stories are about how Snider became a music “lifer,” and the people who helped him reach that status — people like Jerry Jeff Walker, Kent Finlay, Keith Sykes, Bob Mercer, Jimmy Buffett, Tony Brown, John Prine and Al Bunetta.
To pull the stories together into a book, Snider enlisted the help of good friend and music journalist Peter Cooper. “I had done a shorter version of each of these topics, so we took those and expanded on them,” Snider recalled. “It didn’t take us long. He typed while I talked, and he can type as fast as I talk.
“As Peter typed, if he had observations, he was cruel enough to share them with me, and kind enough to share them with my book,” he added with a laugh.
“After we’d sit for a few hours, he would go home, and the next morning, he would drop off a [draft] of what we had done. I would make some changes here and there, and cut out some stuff. And then we had to change some stuff for some people, like if someone was breaking the law, but they didn’t get caught for it and I named them.
“And a few friends opted out of some moments [in the book],” he continued. “Some guys with kids, which I understood.”
As one might expect, “I Never Met A Story I Didn’t Like” is filled with tales of excess. It begins with Buffett pelting Snider with grapefruit and ends with a drug-related trip to the hospital. In between, he tells how he became a burnout, survived his sunglasses- at-night phase, got fired by his record label and assaulted by Hunter Thompson, met his wife in rehab, won Jerry Jeff ’s celebrity golf tournament, and reached the conclusion that the best way for him to make a positive contribution to the world was to never grow up.
Although Snider said “almost every chapter stems from something from the shows over the years,” fans already familiar with much of the material in the book will not be disappointed, as he shares many new details, and also sets the record straight on a number of stories which have been embellished over time as they were told in concert, such as the story about the first time he tried psychedelic mushrooms. It was his senior year in high school, not his junior year. And he didn’t quit the football team to join “the burnouts in the smoke pit” after doing the ’shrooms, but rather did them when he was out with a broken hand and already wasn’t going to play. As he explains in the book, “The reason I made myself a junior in the story was because that’s the age I wanted to reach back to and say, ‘You can fuck all the sports shit and get into the Dead, you know. Or do any fucking thing you want. You’re gonna die in your own arms anyway.’”
While he is happy to be a published author, Snider doesn’t put writing the book on the same creative level as his songwriting. “I wouldn’t say it was an artistic thing,” he explained. “It was more like morning coffee time to me, hanging out with Cooper, which I do a lot, and telling my shit, over-pontificating. “But I like it, and when I read it back, I was like, ‘Alright, yeah, that’s a fucking book. That’s as much a book as some other stuff.’”
Snider bravely opted to not whitewash any of his past, as some might have, owning up to mistakes and to people he’s wronged along the way. “If there was another reason besides glory or money [for writing the book], it would be the opportunity to make amends with some people in a public way,” Snider said.
That would include the man who inspired him to become a singer-songwriter, Jerry Jeff Walker. “I love him,” Snider said. “I don’t know what he’s gonna think of the book, you know. There’s a story in there about me bailing out on vacation and stealing his old lady’s weed. We’ve never discussed it ever. I bet he reads the book and we still don’t talk about it. That’s what I’m hoping.”
Jimmy Buffett, who tried with varying degrees of success to give Snider guidance when he was signed to Buffett’s Margaritaville label, is another person he hopes will read the book. “There will be some things that I hope that he will be able to see I have considered and thought about,” he said. After a short pause, he added, “But who knows how people who are in it are going to respond?”
Snider has already done a limited number of dates in support of the book, traveling by tour bus mostly in the South. The appearances included a screening of an abridged version of “East Nashville Tonight,” followed by readings from the book, and a segment in which Snider takes questions and song requests. He even had a podium built to use for the readings, just like a real author.
“People have been asking me, ‘How of much of it is true?’ And I say, ‘Most of it.’ But I forget I say shit in there like I know karate,” he said and laughed. “I think I say I scored a lot of touchdowns in high school. There’s a ton of bullshit in there. But I wouldn’t say there’s any pivotal bullshit.”