[16 June 2014]
On stage, Todd Snider is known as much for the quality of his stories as for the quality of his songs. Delivered in Snider’s affable drawl, the stories that punctuate his set offer glimpses into a life that’s just a little bit more eventful than most of our own.
Of course, being a storyteller, tradition demands that Snider stretch the truth, bend a few facts so that the story really sings. That’s part of the game; for the most part, you assume you’re getting the gist of the truth—maybe just not all of it. This marks Snider, like any good storyteller, as a friendly, but slightly unreliable narrator.
That’s something he addresses in the very first sentence of I Never Met a Story I Didn’t Like, when he says, “Almost everything I say is true.” Throughout the book, Snider peels back the layers on several of his best-known stories, showing where he might have exaggerated a little bit for effect, or maybe made himself look a little better than he actually was, or maybe even just told an outright lie.
Snider’s long-time fans will recognize the bones of many of the book’s stories from Snider’s live show. There’s the story of the Devil’s Backbone Tavern; the story of John Prine essentially saying Snider sucked and needed to get better; the tale of being assaulted by Hunter S. Thompson; the stories of pissing off Jimmy Buffett, Jerry Jeff Walker, Kris Kristofferson and pretty much anyone else he admired and who offered him a helping hand.
Even so, Snider uses his book to clear up a few things and to delve deeper into some parts of his life. It’s unlikely that onstage, Snider ever talked in such detail about the dissolution of his friendship with Keith Sykes, and he comes clean over a Garth Brooks story that he’s told for years, only to realize upon reflection that it’s a shitty story to tell the way he tells it.
By and large, you have to admire Snider’s unwillingness to whitewash a lot of his behavior. Talking Jerry Jeff Walker into doing cocaine, for example, was a very bad thing to do. So was stealing money from Walker. In fact, judging by Snider’s confessions here, it’s a wonder Walker hasn’t kicked Snider’s ass from one American coast to the next.
Maybe it’s because Snider’s chasing the dream, just the same as everyone else he encounters. Maybe it’s the fact that whenever Snider does something roguish, he’s doing it in the company of artists who defined that kind of behavior. Whatever the case, Snider just keeps on keepin’ on, learning not only how to write his songs the best he can, but also how to quit sabotaging himself. Well, he’s still working on that the self-sabotage, as the book’s closing story of a bad run-in with cocaine makes plain.
The end result is a view of Snider as someone who’s learned some lessons of the past, but filed some of the others away to maybe get back to someday. He certainly makes no promises to slow down when it comes to discovering what stories and experiences might be waiting out there for him both day and night. Being deceived by a Bill Elliott impersonator, for example, probably yielded a better story than meeting the real Bill Elliott.
So Snider will most likely keep collecting stories and then refining them until they’re ready to share. The truth, or the most important parts of it, at least, will be in there.