Todd Snider: A Ghost in the Catalogue

Article by Sean Neumann

Last year, he did have to cancel some tour dates for medical reasons. He suffers from chronic back pain and has arthritis in his neck. While explaining how hard it is for musicians to stay in shape and routinely see a doctor, Snider points to the left side of his neck. He says a doctor found a trio of discs scraping into each other. His fans—especially the ones Snider’s age or older—are understanding when his spine problems cause cancellations, and send him well wishes, or share their own tales of chronic pain. 

He’s trying to live right these days—or right enough. Snider hopes missing gigs—for any reason, but especially because of drugs—is a problem in the rearview mirror. He doesn’t want fans to ever again have to post things like this 2017 comment after some shows were dropped: “This is nothing new for Todd. [You] never know if he’s going to play an awesome show, nod off and walk out mid-set, or not even play at all.” Other fans posted about how unwell he looked. Suspecting it was “not going to be a good ending” for Snider, one commenter wrote, “Shall we predict his death?”

Snider says life and death have been on his mind recently, in part because his dad died so young. He talks to his brother Mike about this. Mike’s 54, the age their father died.

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INSIDE the Wealthy Theatre that night in Grand Rapids, Snider gets big laughs talking about his weed-fueled adventures. He mentions how, at Cash Cabin Studio, he got so high he wandered the surrounding forest for hours to “find a song.” 

A fantastic storyteller, with a gift for comic confessions and candid recollections, Snider keeps fans as entertained between songs as he does during songs. With me on the tour bus, he shared tales of epic acid benders he says lasted for days. And just as he does in the theater, on the tour bus he spoke of the importance of persistence, of how he built his career through years of staying at it, never giving up. “It all just slowly works,” he said. “I’ve never had a hit, but I’ve got like a million albums, and you just keep plugging away.” 

That night in Michigan, Snider abandons his set list early, letting the crowd and their shouted preferences guide what he plays. Eventually, he lets everyone know it’s time for a last song, and starts softly strumming the opening chords to “Working on a Song.” It’s a tune from the new album, inspired by that song he’s chasing. 

“I never gave up on it,” Snider tells the crowd. “I always thought…I’ll get this one day, you know?” A hush descends inside the theater as he begins to play.

“When that idea first came to me, I was only 22,” Snider sings, more slowly than usual. “By 25, I had realized it was all that I could do/ To make it to the end, but then again, I always knew/ If I never got it finished I could die trying to.”

Sean Neumann is a Chicago-based journalist and musician who spends much of the year touring with his bands. His writing on politics, sports, and television has appeared in Rolling Stone, ESPN, VICE, and more. Follow him on Twitter @neumannthehuman

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