Todd Snider: Songs For The Unprepared Singer-songwriter Todd Snider promises that his new album, The Excitement Plan, is "your surefire cure for the hard times." He guarantees it right there in the liner notes. In the midst of personal struggle with addiction, rehab and depression, he finds the humorous upside to the downside of life.

Todd Snider: Songs For The Unprepared

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Singer-songwriter Todd Snider promises that his new CD, titled "The Excitement Plan," is your surefire cure for the hard times. He guarantees it right there in the liner notes: You can trust me.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. TODD SNIDER (Singer-Songwriter): (Singing) There's only two kinds of people as far as I can tell, the terminally ill and the worried well. Every time I've tried to climb out of this wishing well, I've only made it up just high enough not to hurt when I fell.

BLOCK: Todd Snider tries to find the humorous upside on the downside of life; and he's seen a lot of that downside: addiction, multiple stints in rehab, depression. Songwriting has been a lifeline.

Mr. SNIDER: That's always how it started for me was as a way to keep my chin up and a way to keep myself invested and occupied in something. If it doesn't have some therapeutic element in it for me, then I'll move on from it.

BLOCK: It does seem there's a pretty deep vein of pain that runs through a bunch of these songs, too.

Mr. SNIDER: Yes. Well, I'm a miserable person.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: Where would we be without that?

Mr. SNIDER: My favorite kinds of songs is like - I like John Prine and Shel Silverstein and Billy Joe Shaver and the ones that are sad at the same that there's funny parts in there.

BLOCK: Tell me the story behind the song "Greencastle Blues."

Mr. SNIDER: I was in Greencastle, Indiana last summer, and I was held as a political prisoner for doing no wrong, according to me, and…

BLOCK: What were you really held for?

Mr. SNIDER: Possession - marijuana. But while I was in there, I was kind of kicking myself. I thought, wait, I'm still - here I am in jail, still going to jail late into my 40s every once in a while, you know? And I started trying to sing a song to sort of explain what happened to my wife, and then I was sort of looking for a bright side.

(Soundbite of song, "Greencastle Blues")

Mr. SNIDER: (Singing) But it hurts to lean back in these handcuffs, like nine kinds of shame turned to rain. As a younger man, I might have put up a fight, but I feel like such a fool at my age. Some of this trouble just finds me no matter where I turn. So, how do you know when it's too late? How do you know when it's too late? How do you know when it's too late to learn?

BLOCK: You ask this question: How do you know when it's too late to learn?

Mr. SNIDER: Yeah.

BLOCK: Have you answered that question for yourself?

Mr. SNIDER: No, I feel like I'm still waiting to figure a lot of things out. I hope I'm along with a lot of the rest of the people in the country. I meet people who think they know what they're doing and where we're going and what's going on, but I've never felt like one of those people.

BLOCK: You have talked quite openly about your struggles over the years with drugs and alcohol…

Mr. SNIDER: Yeah.

BLOCK: …and you've been in and out of rehab several times.

Mr. SNIDER: Yeah. Yeah.

BLOCK: How many times?

Mr. SNIDER: Three times now.

BLOCK: Yeah.

Mr. SNIDER: It has always been a struggle for me. Lately, I've been doing good with it.

BLOCK: You - I think at some point I read you were diagnosed as being bipolar.

Mr. SNIDER: Yeah.

BLOCK: Does that diagnosis seem right to you? Does that fit with what you experience?

Mr. SNIDER: Yeah, I would say so. I don't know why a person with a job as good as mine or as much freedom as me would get as depressed as I can get sometimes - and it doesn't make sense to me. So, I agree with them that there's got to be something going on besides what's going on in front of me.

BLOCK: I'm curious about where the intersection is with all of that, with the mental struggles and the drugs and the music. Do you think it helps in some way? I mean, do you find that you're writing is strongest maybe sometimes when you're having the hardest time?

Mr. SNIDER: Yeah, going through the swings. Yeah, that's true. That's what makes it hard to want to get out, too, because I make up a lot of songs going in and out of those types of things. I kind of write myself out of those holes, you know? A lot of these songs were written in that hole. And then sometimes I'll come up with songs when I'm in a good mood, too.

BLOCK: So it can work both ways.

Mr. SNIDER: Yeah, and I try, though. I want to just be a good husband most of all, before I'm being a good songwriter or a good gypsy, and so, I definitely work at it.

BLOCK: Your wife is listening to us through the glass, and she's smiling right now when you said that. She just gave you a wave.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song, "Money, Compliments, Publicity")

Mr. SNIDER: (Singing) Sing it with me: money, compliments and publicity. It's an issue for me.

BLOCK: Even though I'm sure this has all been very painful, you are able to tap into the humor of this sometimes, too.

Mr. SNIDER: Yeah.

BLOCK: And you have line in one of the songs, in "Money, Compliments, Publicity," about going to see your therapist.

Mr. SNIDER: Yes, and she told me to do the best I could do.

(Soundbite of song, "Money, Compliments, Publicity")

Mr. SNIDER: (Singing) Do the best you can do. I was hoping for something more specific.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: Did you tell her that?

Mr. SNIDER: Yeah, I played her the song and she liked it. And then it was funny, I was doing an interview the other day with The New York Times and the guy said, do you have a therapist? And I said yes. And he said she must really dislike you. And I thought, man, what a thing to tell somebody, that their therapist doesn't like him. Well, this it for me, pal.

BLOCK: Wow.

Mr. SNIDER: But, she - that's not true. She loves that song and she knows where it's coming from.

(Soundbite of song, "Money, Compliments, Publicity")

Mr. SNIDER: (Singing) A man once said that the pinnacle of success was when you finally lost interest in money, compliments, publicity.

Mr. SNIDER: Now, Eddie Rickenbacker, he was a (unintelligible), and he said, you have achieved the pinnacle of success when you've lost interest in money and compliments and publicity. And I've always tried not to be interested in those things.

BLOCK: How did you decide to write a song about Dock Ellis, the pitcher who in 1970 - you tell the story.

Mr. SNIDER: Yes. Dock Ellis was a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates. And in 1970, out in San Diego, he threw a no-hitter while under the influence of LSD. And I felt connected to that, too, because I've many times come to work unprepared and still done okay. I think Dock Ellis gives unprepared people everywhere someone to look up to, because, you know, he didn't do it on purpose. He thought that he was pitching the next day.

(Soundbite of song, "America's Favorite Pastime")

Mr. SNIDER: (Singing) Three up, three down for three straight innings and a zero-zero tie. As all those batters names came ringing from a voice out of the sky, hallucinating Halloween scenes, each new swing of the bat. His sinker looked like it was falling off a table, but nobody was hallucinating that. I took a look all around the world one time, finally discovered you can't judge a book…

BLOCK: There's no moral for this story.

Mr. SNIDER: No, no, not really. I say you can't judge a book and leave off the line: by looking at the cover, thinking you don't always know who's going to be able to deliver or have the solution. You can't rule somebody out just because of what you know about them or what you think of the way they're acting.

I don't know, it's just, you know, I'm trying to challenge some really conventional thoughts that, you know, like you can't judge a book, and then -and not even if you've read it, you know? That's what I want to try to put forth.

BLOCK: Well, Todd Snider, thank you for coming in.

Mr. SNIDER: Oh, I'm honored to have gotten to be here today. Thanks for having me.

BLOCK: You can hear more from "The Excitement Plan" and why Todd Snider thinks he might be a member of the Kansas City Royals at nprmusic.org.

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