Over Easter in 2010, Roo and I went to the USA for a two week holiday. It was probably the best holiday we have ever had. We flew to Las Vegas, which Roo hated but I loved and then toured around Utah visiting Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Grand Staircase Escalante, Capitol Reef National Park and Arches National Park. We finished by going to my favourite place in the world, Monument Valley. Each of these places felt like no place on Earth; literally I felt like I was on another planet.
On the drive back to Las Vegas I received a message from my sister stating that all air travel had been suspended because of a volcano. Obviously, I disregarded this as just a wild exaggeration. However, when we got to the airport, we discovered that the Eyjafjallajökull volcano had indeed erupted and all air travel was cancelled. We were offered another flight in 12 days time. Personally, I was happy to spend the time in Las Vegas but Roo wanted to get out of there immediately. All food and accommodation was going to be paid for (because of the EU agreement) so suddenly we had nearly two weeks extra holiday.
This was obviously excellent but there were a few things to consider. Whereas we had carefully planned the preceding two weeks, we found ourselves having to make quick decisions about where to go. We also had to make arrangements with people back in the UK, for example our employers and Mel who was house/dog sitting for us. Most importantly we wanted a proper hot cup of tea. We decided to go to Yosemite so we headed North. On the way we saw a big electrical store and bought a kettle and a small laptop (a “Netbook”). We also popped into a supermarket and bought some proper tea and decent milk. Thus we were sorted for contacting people and having a proper cuppa. Unfortunately, we hadn’t taken into account that the road into Yosemite from the West would not be open until the Summer. We saw somewhere called Lake Tahoe so we headed there and spent three very pleasant days there. The town is 6000 feet above sea level and straddles two states: California and Nevada. The lake itself is beautiful although, truth be told, the scenery was unremarkable compared with the amazing sights we had seen previously.
For the rest of the holiday we drove to Sacramento and stayed there for two nights and subsequently spent four days in Salinas before getting our delayed flight back to the UK.
I would like to tell you about what happened when we were coming down from Lake Tahoe, Nevada to Sacramento, California in our rental car. We started down the mountain and it started to snow. Being from Sussex I hadn’t driven through a lot of snow in my life but it didn’t seem like that big of a problem so we decided to press on. We pressed on into the snow, we were listening to Kate Rusby and the snow kept coming down. Everything seemed like it was going great until the snow got heavier and I assumed that we were going to crash our rental car. Luckily we got through without a crash but it was one of the hardest two hours driving that I have done.
A year or so later, I heard a song on one of the UNCUT CDs by someone called Todd Snider. I investigated and ended up buying a double live album called “The Storyteller”. The first song on the second disc is a song called “45 Miles” and it has a spoken introduction. Here it is.
“I would like to play you a song that I made up when I was coming down from Lake Tahoe, Nevada to Reno, Nevada in a rental car. We had just played a casino the night before and we were driving down to play in Reno, that afternoon. So we started down the mountain and it started to snow. Being from Oregon I hadn’t driven through a lot of snow in my life but it didn’t seem like that big of a problem so we decided to press on. We pressed on into the snow, we were listening to Richard Thompson and the snow kept coming down. Everything seemed like it was going great until we hit a patch of ice and that patch of ice sent us sliding towards an entirely different car to the car that we were in. I knew in that moment that we were going to crash that rental car. Now some of you that have been in a car accident can testify to the fact that there is a brief moment between realising that you are going to crash your car and crashing your car. It was in that brief moment that I came up with this song that I would like to perform for you now. This is why I hope you will understand if there is only one chord in this song. I was pressed for time.”
I have bought a number of Todd Snider CDs since but none of them are as brilliant as this one. Comparisons with Loudon Wainwright III seem entirely appropriate. The live albums are better than the studio albums. He can be hysterically funny, cuttingly sarcastic and deeply sad, sometimes all within one song. Most of the songs are sung with just an acoustic guitar and some are very energetic.
There are some brilliant songs on this album. “Sideshow Blues” is sung by an outsider “It’s so hard to kick the door down when you ain’t wearing no shoes”. “Tension” is an excuse for an anti-establishment rant that goes down a storm with the audience. “Well, they roped off almost all of my problems/And they pointed their fingers at drug addiction/’Cause they know that if you’re the one that’s doing the pointing/Nobody’s probably looking at you/But you know, this war on drugs is funded/By tobacco and alcohol commissions/It’s not what drugs you’re strung out on they care about/So much as whose/People still dig drugs/I mean, y’all do anyway, I’m over it.”
By contrast “Sunshine” is slower and sadder sung by a man about to jump off a tall building. The pathos is extraordinary. “They tell me depression runs in our family. That doesn’t help me much”. As he jumps, a piano kicks in and Todd starts whistling. St Peter tells him he’s just a victim of circumstance and lets him survive. The last verse finds him a changed man in a recovery room. “I don’t know when it will be/The next time that you see me/But I’ll be tapping to whole new beat/Walking holes into the soles of my shoes on the sunny side of the street”. I always find this very moving.
More humorous is “Conservative Christian, Right-Wing Republican, Straight, White, American Males”. The chorus is “Gay bashing, black fearing, poor fighting, tree killing, regional leaders of sales/Frat housing, keg tapping, shirt tucking, back slapping haters of hippies like me/Tree hugging, peace loving, pot smoking, porn watching lazyass hippies like me.”
There are some very funny spoken word tracks on this album too. There’s a very funny story about someone pretending to be a famous NASCAR racer, “Bill Elliot”. Another hilarious track is “KK Rider Story”, a group he briefly played with. “Mushroom Story” is about how he became “a burnout from the smokepit” at school.
There’s a long track called “The Ballad Of The Kingsman” which includes a rant against gun owners and religion whilst simultaneously railing against people who think the words of songs like “Louie Louie” have a detrimental effect on young minds. It’s brilliant. It’s exciting. It’s absolutely right on, as is Todd Snider.