Todd Snider has settled down. He's aged. He's matured. He's gotten just a little bit saner. And it's all right there on his latest release, The Excitement Plan, a dusty-and-dirty mix of gypsy-jam, hardscrabble folk, and piano-bar ditties. Produced by Don Was, The Excitement Plan is a huge step forward for Snider and a critical fave.
And sometimes to step forward, you need to look back. You need to look at the stupid things that you've done and say, yeah, it was a shit-ton of fun, but I just can't do that anymore. Snider knows this all too well.
"I will go play tomorrow, and I'm sure I'll drink wine before the gig and get sauced up because it's nerve-racking, but after the show when I'm walking back to the bus and somebody goes, 'Get in the car. There's a cockfight over at Snake's house,' I'll be like, Ahh, tell them that, I don't know, I'll pass."
So sanity is passing up a cockfight? Snider replies, "Yeah, after midnight. I wouldn't say it if it was a well-planned afternoon of cockfighting. That's a different thing."
Of course, that difference makes absolute sense in Snider's world. After all, where some people ask themselves, "What would Jesus do?," Snider looks toward a different deity entirely. In this case, the god of gonzo journalism. "For me, it's like, what would Hunter Thompson do, and I've been doing that since I was 20," Snider says. "If they hand you a drug, you take it. If they offer you a ride, you take it. And if somebody says, 'You gotta meet somebody,' you gotta."
Words to live by for sure, but Snider knows that lifestyle can only last so long. "Now I'm 42. My knees fucking hurt. And now every goddamn guy with a nickname from Maine to Portland is hanging around the hotel lobby wanting to give me drugs and take me to the cockfight or to the midget wrestling or to the underground casino. It's a fascinating America to go out and seek, but it's bad on the back and hips and neck and throat and chest and head and face."
Snider actually welcomes this seemingly newfound, um, maturity. He says, "I think it would be fun to act sane for a few years because I've spent so many years totally submerged in this. I don't know if this is going to happen."
Oddly enough, for Snider maturing as a musician doesn't mean he wants to sit down at home and begin life as a one-man songwriting factory. "For some reason the idea of me maturing, in my head, means laying off the songwriting and just getting into the guitar and trying to play the songs for a few years. "What is that they say? Contentment breeds no great novels, but it does breed novels," he adds. "I don't think I would want to chronicle that kind of period."
As for the period that Snider has been chronicling since he first burst out on the folk and Americana scene in the mid-'90s with the sly novelty hit, "Talkin' Seattle Grunge Rock Blues," it's one in which Snider could pack up all of his meager personal belongings in 15 minutes, throw them in his car, and head out of town. Those days are over.
"Unfortunately, goddamn, I bought a piano," Snider says. "I really fucked up that I-can-be-out-of-here-in-15-minutes thing when I bought that piano. My wife keeps buying chairs and crap. Like, how many times do you got to sit down?"
That right there is why Snider has earned a solid fanbase — that patented dry sense of humor, a rarity in the folk-Americana world. Judging by the tracks on The Excitement Plan, if maturing means that he has to put an end to cracking wise, then consider Snider a kid forevermore. From a ditty about Dock Ellis, the only Major League pitcher to ever pitch a no-hitter on LSD to songs about grifters ("Unorganized Crime") and success itself ("Money, Compliments, Publicity"), Snider tells stories with a wink and smile. And in these insane times, that may be the sanest thing to do.