Todd Snider's memoir/confessional/apology is one of the best arguments for the legalization of marijuana that I have ever seen. The barefoot folk singer loves him some weed, and when such songwriting gods as John Prine and Kris Kristofferson have championed his work and count him as a friend, you gotta tip your hat to the wacky tobaccy. If Todd Snider were Popeye, marijuana would be his spinach.
If you're already a fan of his music, it will come as no big shock that I Never Met a Story I Didn't Like (Mostly True Tall Tales) blazes like a cross-joint dipped in Sterno. Snider is like that friend you always hope shows up to the party—a virtuoso storyteller with endless material that's just crazy enough to be true.
In the intro to this shambling collection of recollections, he says he could have called this book Smoking Grass and Dropping Names, "because it's mostly that." Big names are indeed dropped like napalm from a streaking fighter jet. (Maybe that's not the best simile about a guy who released an album called Peace Queer.) From Jimmy Buffet and Hunter S. Thompson to Garth Brooks and Slash, the bizarre parade of characters wends through Snider's peripatetic musical existence in a series of episodes that had me laughing, cringing, squinting in disbelief and shedding a few tears. But mostly laughing. This book could be an exercise program for your face.
This is no genteel memoir. "Jerry Jeff Walker's Balls" covers the time Snider passed out at his outlaw country idol's house after spraying vomit everywhere, and awoke on the coach as a naked Jerry Jeff stood over him, yelling, "Never again!"
"That's when I opened my eyes. And the first thing I saw, twelve inches from my face, was Jerry Jeff Walker's balls. I could describe this vision in great detail. I will not. You're welcome," he writes.
In "Who Wears a Waistlet?" Snider recalls bellying up to a hotel bar in Los Angeles and seeing Slash at the end of the bar. "There was nobody in the bar but myself, the bartender, and Slash from Guns N' Roses. Right, Slash. Lead guitar. Nose ring. He wore a dozen bracelets. He was a bracelet guy. Around his neck, the same gamut of stuff. A neckless [sic] guy too. Anklets. Waistlets. He made Mr. T look like a lunch money pimp. I was awestruck, terrified," he writes.
And then there's the time he met one of his idols, Hunter S. Thompson, backstage after a show. Thompson was introduced by Snider's boss at the time, Jimmy Buffet. "They were clearly fucked up," writes Snider. "Those guys were alpha guys. They were loud, boisterous, aggressive people who took what they wanted, like pirates."
Thompson demanded that Snider go fetch his guitar, which was already buried in the van, and play some tunes for him. Snider declined. "I'm through dicking around!" said Thompson, flying into a drug rage. "We're here to hear you sing. What the fuck?" Then he pushed Snider over a coffee table onto a couch. So much for meeting your idol.
I've read a lot of rock bios and autobiographies, and a good one is as rare as a pork roast at a PETA potluck. A great song writer does not a great book writer make. Chuck Berry, for instance, wrote skintight, brilliant lyrics about teenage life and celebrating rock and roll, but that rapid fire lyrical prose didn't hold up in book-length form. Steven Tyler's tell-all, Does the Noise In My Head Bother You?, is so aggressively flippant and full of creaky old jokes that it's more tedious than salacious. Keith Richards' Life is a refreshing exception. Keith is just Keef. He tells his stories with a minimum of flash, but also doesn't dilute his famously dry English wit with a lot of buzz-killing pathos or finger-pointing. (And it helps that he lacks the self-aggrandizement of Mick Jagger.)
Snider is a screw-up, and he knows it. He owns up to his mistakes and bad judgment, whether it's career-stunting tantrums or the near-miss ODs that led to multiple stints in rehab.
"By now," he writes, "you know I'm pretty open to drugs, and I'm not sorry about that. Plus I don't care what happens to your children."
What really gives this book its sizzle is Snider's casually brilliant wordplay. "I think a song from one person to another person about love or unrequited love," he writes, "is the height of depth."
Lyrics to several of his songs are included, to show the end product of the wild circumstances that inspired them. He frequently works the same vein as Springsteen, but without the mythology. His genius lies in the details, like in "Double Wide Blues": "Metallica song blasting from three trailers down / It's them cut-off T-shirt and nunchuk kids coming around / Tonight they'll get drunk and try to get laid / End up in a fight out behind the arcade."
I cannot recommend this book highly enough for those who enjoy unvarnished views of the music business from the inside, humor that's rowdy and wry, and a writer who treats the English language like origami made from a tab of acid.