Thoughts on Jimmy Buffett
by Tony Bowman
I was eight years old in 1978 when “Cheeseburger in Paradise” came out. It was on Top 40 radio daily, and everyone knew the song and chorus. At that time, I didn’t know any of Jimmy Buffet’s other songs.
Fast forward to 1986, and I work at the local Hobie Cat dealership rigging sailboats for their rental business. It would get pretty wild on weekends. There was a big local community of catamaran sailors who used the facility to store and launch their boats, and when they came back after spending the day on the water under the blazing sun and Florida heat, they were ready to party — or continue the party from the water. This is where I got my second introduction to Jimmy Buffett. I was just 16 in ‘86 and not old enough to drink, but if we got our work done, no one really paid attention to what my co-worker (also 16) and I were doing with the regulars from the water.
I remember one gentleman, Blender Man, would fire up the blender and make really good margaritas, daiquiris, and every other fruity tropical drink under the sun. One day the blender broke, much to the dismay of everyone gathered around. No need to worry, though, Blender Man had another in his car. This went on every weekend throughout the summer. As 16 year olds, we were in heaven, drunk 20-something females, underage drinking, and in the background, music with a Caribbean flavor all giving the aura of paradise. One song in particular was played a lot, that everyone sang. “Why don’t we get drunk and screw?!” was repeated over and over by the aforementioned bikini-clad females and their boyfriends, husbands, whatever. Being drunk, 16, and horny, who cared? This was better than the high school parties I went to.
I asked my friend who the artist was, and he laughed. “It’s Jimmy Buffett, whats wrong with you?” For 1986 (the song was released in 1973), this was a dirty song that I wasn’t accustomed to hearing. SIDE NOTE ONE: at this age, I still didn’t even understand the meaning of “Pearl Necklace” and “Tube Steak Boogie” by ZZ Top, and 2 Live Crew’s dirty raps didn’t come out for another year or two. I thought of JB as more or less a children’s performer, with simple songs like “Cheeseburger,” “Fins,” and “Volcano,” that would offend no one and were beloved by kindergarteners.
So I bought the double-live album, You Had to Be There (October 1978), just so I could hear this song. I played it for my other friends, and no one seemed to care. It only meant something to the sailing crowd. This is why, for a very short period of time, I liked Jimmy Buffett, because his music was all about drinking, sailing, and paradise. On to 1991.
I had not listened to JB for close to five years. Musical tastes changed to more metal, alternative, underground &mdash basically everything Buffett was not. I also started listening to roots reggae, at which point I realized what a ripoff Jimmy Buffett really was. During the latter half of ‘91 or early ‘92, a friend of mine had invited me to a JB concert in Orlando. He was a big fan and had an extra (free) ticket. So I went. Hands down, the lamest concert I have ever been to. Just a bunch of goofs with fake parrots on their shoulders, ugly tropical shirts, and really bad straw hats. SIDE NOTE TWO: the fake parrots reminded me of a Pink Panther movie where Peter Sellers is dressed as a pirate and has an inflatable parrot on his shoulder. It would run out of air, and he would pump his arm, like one would to imitate a chicken wing or underarm farts, in order to get air back into it. So I laughed and entertained myself to the ridiculousness of it all.
In the summer of ‘92, after graduating college, I drove with the same friend from Melbourne, Florida, to Connecticut, his home state. For the entire ride, we listened to nothing but Jimmy Buffett. My friend’s Jeep had a cassette player, and I only had CDs at the time. Murder was on my mind. I asked him if he had anything else, so he put in Styx’s Kilroy Was Here. Holy shit, I didn’t think anything could be worse. And no, I never listened to Kilroy when it was popular. “Mr. Roboto” sucked and so did Styx. Anyway, we made it, and I never did jail time.
Over the past 30 years, I never really had to listen to Jimmy Buffett unless I happened to be in a tropical-themed bar or restaurant or a cruise ship. It’s not odd that the JB fan would also like cruises — cruising is the JB of taking a vacation. Instead of going to a tropical paradise and spending multiple days and nights taking in the islands and all they have to offer, you cram yourself in, along with 4,000 other fake people, for a ride to an island. Some people never make it past the port, opting to get sloshed at Señor Frogs and buying Chinese-made merch, thinking it’s local. They then take a few pics and say they went to the islands for vacay.
Jimmy Buffett fans listen to his music and proceed to tell everyone their favorite reggae artist is Jimmy Buffett.
If you’ve made it this far, you probably think I hate Jimmy Buffett, but I don’t. I have a lot of respect for him. He paid his dues, from busking in New Orleans in the ’60s to selling out arenas starting in the late ’70s. And he did this with very little radio help. I think he only had one Top Ten hit, “Margaritaville.” “Cheeseburger” peaked at 32, and after “Fins” (1979), I don’t think he was played on regular radio again. I’m willing to bet (not really), that no other artist has become as popular as him with no traditional radio support. He is also credited with creating his own genre of music, Gulf and Western. How many artists can make such a claim?
Lastly, he was a good human. And in this world, the good ones are dying a lot faster than the assholes. ◼