The Bob Snider Interview

 Those are nearer to reality who can deal with it light-heartedly, because they know it to be inexhaustible.

~Golo Mann

Back in 2007 I had the honour of interviewing a homie who despite all odds had garnered a successful recording career.

My earliest memory of Bob Snider is from a wedding in Bear River, Nova Scotia, in the summer of 1973. The vows had been traded in a meadow on a hill overlooking the river, and the guests had then schlepped back down the hill for the reception, held in a replica of a Dutch windmill, where a bevy of lovely, long-haired girls in shawls, black velvet blazers, flowery skirts, and bare, unshaven legs hovered breathlessly as Bob played his guitar and sang.

There’s an anecdote Bob is fond of relaying at his concerts, about some guy who asked him why he never wrote protest songs. Bob’s reply was, “I don’t have to; everything’s okay.” It’s a statement that understandably draws laughs. It’s also one of the clearest windows you’ll find into Bob’s inner world.

Sarah Snider photo

On the enneagram Bob Snider would be a nine with a four wing, at least if I’m calling it. Or maybe a four with a nine wing . . . Either way, he’s a poet who doesn’t wallow in the deep-seated discontent that makes us poets such drips at parties.

But knowing discontent to be a necessary component of every poet’s soul leads to the realization that Bob copes with his discontent by embracing chaos. Christopher Morley said, “The courage of the poet is to keep ajar the door that leads into madness;” Bob has simply chosen to live more intimately with madness than with discontent.

Are we better off embracing chaos than making up a bunch of rules and enforcing them at the cost of freedom and happiness? Bob would have us think so, albeit he doesn’t claim that it always works:

‘But I’m not trying to convince you
that I know what I’m doin’.
It’s just a feeling that I’ve got
and it may not be worth pursuin’.
But it got me this far
and I’ve learned to trust it more.’

When I talked with Bob he had just released A Maze in Greys. References to cards and other games of chance were peppered through his songs like evidence displays in a courtroom where the nature of existence is on trial. As much as you may find the cards-fall-where-they-may philosophy distasteful you’ll be hard put to prove it wrong, at least based on the last century’s track record.

But let’s give an ear to Bob as he talks about what gets the creative juices flowing.

Personal Inspiration

I was never a music listener, and am still not to this day. If it’s new I don’t want to hear it and if I already heard it, I already heard it. Having said that, there are tons of artists I love and tons of individual songs I love. I like dancing to electric blues and good old rock and roll. I had an old Jimmy Reed album that I loved, and I loved Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones . . . I also enjoyed the early folk craze, like when Dylan first came out. Everything I’m talking about is 1970 and before. Since then I’ve hardly listened to anything.

When I’m playing a gig sometimes somebody will crash me rather than me having to take a hotel room. When we get to their place they’ll say, “Okay, what kind of music do you want to listen to?” And I’ll say, “Well, actually I’m not a big music fan,” and they’ll say, “Okay, I have a CD for people who hate music,” and they’ll put on their favourite CD. This happens time and again. That’s why I like hotel rooms.

Gail, my other half here, she likes plays, so every once in a while we go to a play. But you know the old expression, “The theatre’s been dying for five hundred years?” That’s how I feel about plays. I give them all the credit in the world because they keep trying, but they take themselves so seriously that I can’t suspend my disbelief.

Movies for me have to be pure escapism. I like things blowing up. It’s such a typical guy thing. I’m a bit of a Bohemian fringe character, so I love it when I can do something that every guy does. I like action, I like car chases. I want to be sitting there eating popcorn when everybody else is up to their necks in trouble.

I like books like The Life of the Bee. I like the fact that somebody can spend 30 years researching a subject and I can sit there for a week and glean all the results. The Art of War by Sun Tzu is the same thing. I also read a lot of detective stories, adventure, escape, and some good novels. The Grapes of Wrath is a great novel, one I think should be taught in high school.

I just discovered Emile Zola. He’s like a French Dickens. I really enjoy getting that look into another world. He’s a master. And of course the usual Russian suspects—Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, and just odd books from here and there. Everywhere I go in Canada to play music I haunt used book stores.

As far as conversations, I feel me and my friends talked everything out before 1970. In the last ten years I’ve sort of been in the mood again to talk to people but my girlfriend’s the only volunteer I have and she’s not always a willing volunteer. Musicians are great to talk to, too. A lot of artists who are poets and dancers and actors and painters—they’re so intense, but musicians are laid back. I like artists, but I don’t necessarily feel like discussing their art all the time, which is what a lot of them want to do.

What I Do

I want to reach the person whose views are the most diametrically opposed to my own. To succeed at that you’ve got to be real sneaky. I want to entertain these people. I think that’s my job in life because I used to be the class clown until about grade seven when I had it kicked out of me (my academics weren’t such that I could afford to be class clown anymore and I was strongly discouraged from doing it). But when I started writing songs I got to be class clown again, and that was all I ever wanted out of life.

My artistic activity keeps me from exploding with frustration at the social situation. People are so trusting and they get screwed over again and again because other people play to their weaknesses and their fears and they fall for it every time. It just drives me nuts.

Conscious and Mad

I like Eastern thought. The more I read it and the older I get the more sane it sounds, the more literally true.

To me everything we’ve done is built on a false premise. My only political view is that with both capitalism and communism the result is that the most rapacious elements claw their way to the top, period. And yet everybody’s worried—“Oh, communism!” or “Oh capitalism!” I think we ultimately have to put the material world in its true perspective, which means look both ways before you cross the street. You’ve got to be aware; you can’t be swayed by every fad.

Evil is the conscious desire to do bad things. Wickedness is: I want this, and I can rationalize myself enough to get it by doing these things which look bad but aren’t because they’re the means to my end.

The devil wouldn’t bother with rationalizing. He’d say, This is evil; I’m gonna do it. But even Hitler thought he was doing good. It’s madness, not consciousness. There’s no good and bad; there’s only conscious and mad.

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