Snider mixes humor, pain on latest CD
December 01, 2004 - By ALAN SCULLEY
For the Call
A chilling moment on Todd Snider's latest CD, "East Nashville Skyline," comes on the song ironically titled "Sunshine."
Opening with the lines: "Standing out on the edge of a building, watching the traffic below, drinking a beer and thinking of jumping, not far from ready to go," the song takes a seemingly personal look at the idea of suicide.
This, of course, is hardly uncharted lyrical territory for rock 'n' roll.
But it's not the kind of lyric one would expect from Snider. Since making his debut with the 1994 CD, "Songs for the Daily Planet," Snider has been known for a sharp sense of humor and a seemingly sunny disposition.
For instance, that first album included the bonus track "Talkin' Seattle Grunge Rock Blues," a Bob Dylan-esque romp that skewered the way record companies and bands tried to hop onto the then-burgeoning grunge-rock movement in hopes of gaining instant wealth and fame.
On other occasions, Snider has poked fun at the laziness of young adults with "My Generation," taken a humorous, self-deprecating look at his own self-esteem with "Alright Guy" and penned a song called "Beer Run" that remains a fan favorite. Yet, "Sunshine" fits comfortably on "East Nashville Skyline" because the album has its share of dark subject matter, all laced with humor that is particularly edgy even by Snider's standards.
Though the CD doesn't seem particularly autobiographical, Snider had good reason to be more serious when recording it.
Snider's best friend, Skip Litz, had just died. A sound engineer and musician by trade, Litz had gained legendary status around East Nashville, where Snider lives with his wife, Melita.
"He had this weird cult of personality. I don't know what it was," Snider said. "Be-fore he died, everyone called him the Clown Prince of East Nashville and the Mayor. He was always called the Mayor. Then when he died, it just seemed like our community got really tight. All these people were like: 'God, we all know each other through this guy.' Now there are pictures of him all over. Like in East Nashville, there are pictures of him in every bar."
On the heels of Litz's death, Snider faced up to a drug addiction that had grown more severe as he indulged in the same pills Litz was taking for pain relief.
"I would say, 'When this whole thing is over, I'll stop.' Like within a week after he died, I reserved one of those rehab places and I was going to come there at the end of a tour," Snider said. "And then I went to Florida, and I like had a drug overdose. I woke up at home in the (rehab) place that I was going to go to anyway. It was like: 'Oh, we're doing this now.'"
Despite the profound effect rehab and Litz's death had on Snider's life, "East Nash-ville Skyline" doesn't deal with either topic directly. Instead, Snider, who in the liner notes for the CD writes that the songs are about people he knows, opinions they have and his own personal stories and feelings, has created what seems more like a commentary on the foibles of today's world.
Biting political commentary is featured in "The Ballad of the Kingsmen" and "Good News Blues." A third political tune, the provocatively titled "Conservative Christ-ian, Right-Wing Republican, Straight, White American Males," though, actually doesn't slam that mindset so much as comment on the politically polarized populace in the United States.
The songs "Iron Mike's Main Man's Last Request," referring to boxer Mike Tyson, and "Incarcerated," inspired by an episode of "Judge Judy," have some pointed comments about fame and pop culture. Even a song that one might assume is autobiographical, "Alcohol and Pills," looks at the evils of drugs through the premature de-mise of music legends such as Hank Wil-liams, Elvis Presley and Janis Joplin.
Musically, "East Nashville Skyline" finds Snider continuing to shift subtly away from the plugged-in pop rock sound of such early albums as "Songs for the Daily Planet" or 1998's "Viva Satellite."
Instead, the new album is a rootsy affair, mixing songs like the barrelhouse country of "Nashville" and the frenetic rock of "In-carcerated" with spare acoustic tunes like "Sunshine" and "Tillamook County Jail."
On the whole, "East Nashville Skyline" has a decidedly comfortable and spontaneous feel. This makes sense considering Snider said he doesn't want to make albums that are technically perfect or sonically polished.
"I feel like every year that I keep doing it, I get a little less precocious or whatever," he said. "This time, more than any time, I was just like, 'Look, just hear it. I'm going to play it. You guys play along and then we'll go eat.' I've always wanted to do that and I guess just never had the nerve.
"I feel like this is looser, a lot more re-laxed," Snider said.
Todd Snider plays today — Dec. 2 — at Off Broadway. Tickets for the 9 p.m. show, which also features Will Kimbrough, cost $12 in advance and $15 at the door.