I Never Met A Story I Didn't Like
By Guest Author and Musician, Todd Snider
The night I walked offstage at the Whiskey, I had 17 songs that hadn’t been
recorded, or even heard by anyone. After I was fired from the record company, I
made a cassette tape of all of those songs and gave it to Al Bunetta, who was John
Prine’s manager and best friend, and who was one of the very few people willing
to help me at that point in my life.
Somehow, some other people had gotten the idea that I was “difficult” or
“hard to work with” or, and this is just crazy, “Not a team player.”
Al told me he’d play those songs for John, on the very day I gave them to
The next day, I went to Al’s office, on Music Row in Nashville. And Al
said, “John thinks that one of these songs, ‘Missing You,’ is really, really good.
And he says there’s another one, ‘D.B. Cooper,’ that’s not done and that needs an
Okay, so that’s two of the 17.
“And then the rest,” Al said, leaning towards me. “The rest is shit.”
Al Bunetta wasn’t saying that he interpreted my songs as being shit. That
would have been too easy on me. Al was saying he’d shown the songs to John
Prine, and John Prine said they were shit.
He said that John said they were, and I quote, “Invulnerable crap.”
I asked for an example. That was probably my mistake, because he gave me
an example. I had a song called “It Gets Harder To Listen All The Time,” about a
girl who went to Alcoholics Anonymous and didn’t like it and ended up not going
anymore. At a certain point, that girl in the song said, “I never did like the 12 Step
Al said, “See, in that song you’re saying it’s about a girl and it’s actually
about you. And then you’re saying you don’t like someone, but actually it’s
someone you’re afraid of.”
Well, yes. And yes.
This information hurt like crazy. I wanted John to think I was good, like
him. I wanted to be better than I was.
That night, me and my wife and Al went out to dinner, and Al told my wife
how he and John had rejected fifteen of my seventeen songs. He said, “Hey,
Melita, today we told Todd that fifteen of his songs sucked! You should have seen
the look on his face! It was hilarious!”
And she didn’t have to have seen the look on my face, because it was the
look that was still on my face.
Again, brutal. But if he’d treated me like a wounded bird, or like I had
cancer, and not made fun of me, I probably would have gone all the way down. By
making fun of me, he made it like it wasn’t that big of a deal. His approach was
more like, “You’ve got to make it better, like John does.”
I didn’t try to make anything up for a month, at least. But after I spent some
time drinking enough to make the 12-Step Crowd just as afraid of me as I was of
them, I realized that I was learning something.
If you want the job where you open your heart for people and then they
cheer you for it, that’s really what you have to do. When they say that the greatest
singers are broken-hearted, there’s a reason: You are going to be breaking your
heart. You can’t just make up a song about some car you saw when you were
driving down a road: It’ll be like carrying a piano up a mountain when you have to
sing it live, and no one will give a shit.
I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t enticed by the idea of playing music in
order to get wasted, have a cool scarf and have chicks tell me I was deep, even if I
wasn’t. But the thing I was wanting to be, which was what you might call a lifer,
wasn’t going to be about coming up with a cute melody once. It was going to be
about daring to be humiliated, over and over again. And when your heart finally
starts to heal up, that’s when you’re in trouble. Contentment, not rejection, is the
I think rejection is supposed to be fuel for art, and I’m not trying to brag but
I’ve been rejected a ton.
I’m not saying I don’t get hurt, because I do and I think everyone does. But,
from the beginning, I just kept moving forward.
The rejections came from worthy sources. First, it was Kent Finlay, a Texas
songwriting guru. Then it was Keith Sykes in Memphis. Now, John Prine was
tearing me up.
Not long after this happened, I saw John and he said, “Did you talk to Al?”
Yes, I remember the conversation quite vividly.
I fixed that song about the girl. I made it about me, changing the names to
incriminate the guilty. “She came in off a dead-end street” became “I came in off a
dead-end street.” And in the chorus, where the girl had said, “It gets harder to
listen to people all the time,” it was me saying, “It’s been a long, long year.” I went
from pretending to admitting, from not liking people to being afraid of them.
When John heard the song after it lost the girl and became “Long Year,” he
just said, “There ya go.”
So then I made up “Lonely Girl,” which was about meeting my wife in
rehab. Two months before, I would have written metaphorical bullshit about a girl
I didn’t know, thinking of some cool-sounding name to sing over some great
chords, not realizing that Mick Jagger was breaking his heart open all the time.
When I had enough songs that John didn’t hate, I made a record called
Happy To Be Here, for John and Al’s label. On the first day, I got to the studio and
the producer had the band already there, and they sounded just like The Nervous
Wrecks, the band I’d made the last record with.
I told the producer, a genius-level artist named Ray Kennedy, that what we
were doing sounded just like the last album to me. And I walked out of the studio
and went home, which is a good way to waste John Prine and Al Bunett’s money,
but for some reason it seemed less inappropriate at the time than it seems to me
When I got back to the studio the next day (hey, no hard feelings, right?), I
told Ray that I wanted to track the songs by myself and then add other instruments
later. I wasn’t afraid of having a song on the radio, but I wanted it to be my song
and not my version of a Tom Petty song.
The last album sounded an awful lot like it wanted to sound an awful lot like
Tom Petty. And I love Tom Petty: top to bottom, every song. But I was trying to be
a lifer, not an impressionist.
Layout unedited to preserve artistic intention.
Excerpted from I Never Met A Story I Didn’t Like: Mostly True Tall Tales by Todd Snider.
Copyright (c) 2014.
Available from Da Capo Press, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.