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"I definitely think the humor sets this album apart," says Stephen Deusner, a Salon and Pitchfork contributor who interviewed Snider (and deserves credit for pointing out that the singer-songwriter experienced a reverse conversion). "I tend to think that when an artist tries to do protest music or topical music, they tend to be very solemn and very serious. Like that [new] Bruce Springsteen album. It's pretty good, but he's just so humorless about all this."
It's the opposite with Snider. "I don't think he's expecting anybody to have their minds blown or their worlds changed by it," says Deusner. "And that kind of makes it all the more charming, or all the more effective."
Snider doesn't cop to having motivations any loftier than a desire to entertain. To put it another way, he's a folksinger who's also a delightfully laid-back hang. "Shit, I couldn't imagine how great it would be to sing a song that got somebody who was in prison out of prison, who didn't deserve to be in prison," he says. "Shit, it's hard enough to make up a song that's gonna help a birthday party be better."
For someone who broadcasts his convictions to the world through his songs, Snider worries surprisingly little about how they'll be interpreted.
"I always thought the job of the folksinger was to share their opinion, then handle what people said about it. You go out, you say what you think, and people can throw shit or cheer. Sometimes I have shows where everyone's cheering and everyone's saying, 'I agree, I agree.' Then I try to get back out to the car after the gig, and there's that guy or that other guy that don't. And I try not to be a dick to them. That seems like my job. I try to say, 'OK, OK. I hear you. Don't hit me.' "
And at times, he likes to play fast and loose with verisimilitude, as in "The Devil You Know," a rock 'n' roll story song about an East Nashville police chase.
"It makes me happy that people think that song's true," Snider says, "but sometimes I just make shit up. I think I was at home and the helicopters were low, and the police cars were going up and down the street, and I started writing it. ... In the moment, I was like, 'This kid could come over the fence at any second. He's in somebody's yard on this street.' So my imagination went to, 'What will I do if this kid comes over my fence?' And I started thinking, 'I'll give him the car.' "
Even if that reaction was only theoretical, the idea that Snider would be prepared to hand over his car keys to a fugitive from the law who's had a rough life is the sort of thing that makes him so unique and likable — as long as you're not one of the cops in pursuit. He'll actually put his money where his empathy is.
Hixx recalls one real-life occasion when Snider showed generosity to a homeless panhandler who confessed that he needed a fix. The tour manager was struck by the fact that his artist boss treated a person on the fringes of society with the same level of regard he'd show Rahm Emanuel. To put it another way, with Snider, there's no hierarchy of human importance.
On the other hand, you'd think a song like "Conservative Christian Right Wing Republican Straight White American Male" would be enough to make a right-winger keep his distance from the Todd Snider repertoire, but that's not necessarily the case.
"In the same breath that I say I've gotten a lot of hate mail," Snider says, "I've also gotten mail from really seriously Republican guys that hear that one song and say, 'You handled that really well.' "
He's drawn pro golfers, ranch owners and other rich and powerful devotees who come down on the opposite side of him on myriad issues. Melita has a theory about that: "His music, while a lot of people can say that it's political or however they want to attach meaning to it, at the end of the day, I feel like Todd really is somebody who talks about relationships and how people treat each other. And I think he's just a really huge supporter of people, and people treating each other well."
To her mind, that doesn't just apply to his fellow authority-bucking free spirits. "He's such a huge supporter of that person," she says. "But I have to say that I think the reason why he's so liked is because he really is also a supporter of the other person ... that mainstream person, whoever. I mean, the Republican. I think he just genuinely is like, 'If you're not letting people be who they are and being caring and open to who they want to be, I don't like that. But otherwise, be yourself.' "
Ferree, a visual artist, concurs, based on her experiences hanging out with him down at the bar. "I think he's kind to everybody, and unpretentious," she offers. "It's rare. And I think you hear that in his music."
Much of Snider's charm is in his lack of pretension and self-deprecating sense of humor. For example, he invented an alter ego by the name of Elmo Buzz — a character who "thinks he's the king of country music, and hates Todd Snider." Buzz leads the Eastside Bulldogs, a bar band featuring Elizabeth Cook, Tim Carroll, Eric McConnell, Paul Griffith, Jen Gunderman and other talented East Nashvillians, all under aliases. It only performs for free and only plays "kick-ass, party-hardy rock 'n' roll — no slow shit." Snider laughs as he explains Buzz, who he says is obsessed with Bocephus — "and hates folk music."
Come to think of it, he probably isn't too fond of varsity football deserters either.
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