Eugene Weekly : Music : 2.12.09

Empathy for Assholes
Todd Snider writes to ease his mind
by Blake Phillips

The guy in the car in front of you at the drive through window is brutally chewing out the blameless pimply-faced kid working there. You probably don’t give it much thought other than knowing that the jerk just wasted your precious time. 

But when Portland-born singer/songwriter Todd Snider witnessed a similar incident, he thought, “What would make a guy act like that?” Snider then took his thoughts home and digested them. “By the time I got back to my house,” he says, “I thought, if I could try to just find some empathy for this guy that acted like a total asshole … how could I write that down?” He then proceeded to piece together the possible aspects of this nameless man’s life. What seemed to be pushing him off the edge of sanity? His unfulfilling career his parents chose because “they thought it would be practical”; his slave-driving boss; his self-centered, ingrate daughter; his wife, who spends his money faster than he can make it; and his impenitent, slacker son (whom he secretly admires for his shameless ways). All of these pressures led to the explosive assault on the innocent teenager working the window. The resulting track, “Stuck on the Corner (Prelude to a Heart Attack),” appears on Snider’s latest EP, Peace Queer, and is just one example of his outstandingly distinctive and insightful songwriting abilities. His following album, The Excitement Plan, is due out in a few months.

Expect to hear songs from both albums when Snider performs at the WOW Hall armed with an acoustic guitar, a harmonica, his wry sense of humor and a unique style that places him in the company of some of America’s greatest songwriters. Admittedly, in his early years, Snider sort of stalked some of those songwriters to whom he is now compared. He showed up at Keith Sykes’ front door with just a demo tape and a guitar. Sykes was so impressed that he introduced Snider to Jimmy Buffett in 1993. That led to Snider opening for Buffet on the west coast. “One day I was playing a little coffeehouse in front of like 10 people,” Snider says. “Then I flew out to L.A. and played the Hollywood Bowl with him and I played my hometown, Portland, too. That night I flew out on a red eye … back to Memphis where I played for another 20 people. It was pretty surreal.” These days, Todd Snider is at a point in his life and career where he has developed connections, friendships and a history with those whom he has always idolized. 

Snider’s songs can have you laughing one minute and welling up with tears the next. He stirs emotions, beliefs and thoughts cleverly and carefully without ever being over the top or in your face. Snider says, “I don’t share my opinions with you because I think they are smart. I share them with you because they rhyme. I do not do this to change your mind about anything. I do this to ease my own mind about everything.”

Todd Snider, Ashleigh Flynn. 7 pm Tuesday, Feb. 17. WOW Hall • $18-$25

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