This story was originally published in the Charleston Daily Mail on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014.
My conversation with songwriter Todd Snider started off pretty normal.
Normal, at least, considering Snider’s confessed love of psychedelic drugs.
We talked about Snider’s upcoming appearance on this Sunday’s “Mountain Stage.” It’s his 15th time on the show, and he feels like he’s part of the family now.
“I can walk right in there and say, ‘Where’s the moonshine?’”
We talked about his acclaimed memoir, “I Never Met a Story I Didn’t Like,” a project Snider says he did “for glory and cash.”
He wrote the book with the help of his friend, Tennessean reporter Peter Cooper. Cooper would come over to Snider’s place and get hopped up on coffee. Snider, who was under the influence of something a little stronger, would start rapping and Cooper would begin typing.
They cranked out 90,000 words in less than two weeks.
Next we talked about Snider’s new jam band, Hard Working Americans.
Formed last year, the group also includes guitarist Neal Casal (of the Chris Robinson Brotherhood), bassist Dave Schools (of Widespread Panic), keyboard player Chad Staehly (of Great American Taxi), lap steel player Jesse Aycock and drummer Duane Trucks, the younger brother of slide guitarist Derek Trucks.
Snider is the band’s lead singer.
“It’s like winning a contest for me,” he said. “I’m kind of in my favorite band.”
He’s found that playing in a jam band is quite different than performing as a solo artists.
“There’s parts of it that feel like your doctor would recommend it,” he said. “I just stand there and do the hippie thing, run in place and sing.”
Hard Working Americans is still considered a side-project, since everyone except Snider plays in another band.
He would be perfectly happy if the group became his full-time gig, however.
“It’s definitely my passion.”
This is when things began to get a little weird.
Snider told me he has been working on a concept album of sorts, based on Hard Working Americans.
But it’s not just a music album. The project also includes a 9,000 word story, a movie, a cartoon show and a board game, all of which explain how to take down ‘The Man.’
“I’ve done tons of research about who The Man is,” Snider said.
The main character of his Hard Working Americans project, Snider explained, is a folk singer called Blind Lemon Pledge. Pledge is sent on a journey to save rock and roll and, by extension, the world.
“’Cause rock and roll is bringing peace to the world,” Snider said.
One of Pledge’s first tasks is to stop Elvis from making movies.
While attempting to free the King, Blind Lemon discovers the 10 forgotten commandments Moses neglected to bring down from Mt. Sinai.
The commandments have survived the ages thanks to musicians, who have passed the commandments down through the generations while hanging out backstage at shows.
The translations are confusing, however. For example, one of the forgotten commandments is “Expose the Fonz.”
“Which really means, ‘Thou shalt be genuine,’” Snider said.
It’s clear he doesn’t have the whole thing worked out yet. But Snider says anyone who plays his “Hard Working Americans” game can take a “Blind Lemon pledge.”
Taking that pledge, he claims, will set off a series of 10 events that will occur over the next 24 hours. Somehow, everyone ends up in Memphis, Tenn.
“It ends in Memphis where we all get embarrassed for thinking what we do is important,” he explained. “The world doesn’t need to be saved from anything, except bands who think they’re going to save the world.”
I’m not sure if Snider means any of this stuff. I’m not sure he knows, either.
But that’s not really important.
Snider probably spent 15 minutes talking about his cartoon/board game/short story/music album project. Although I didn’t understand everything he said, I listened with rapt attention.
That’s what makes Todd Snider such a talented storyteller.
Whether he’s writing a country song, dictating a book, leading a jam band or conducting a very confusing newspaper interview, he delivers each of his words with unmeasured, childlike enthusiasm.
Just like listening to an enthusiastic child, you can’t help but pay attention … even if you have no idea what’s being said.