Jimmy Buffett and me

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June 13, 2017 by unclespike218

So here I am in the Caribbean for the first time.

Virgin Gorda, to be exact, in the British Virgin Islands, celebrating a number of big family landmarks: my niece’s 20th birthday, my mom’s I-can’t-rememberth birthday, and most significantly, my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. The time here has been full of the beautiful sound of steel drums, wind through palm trees, and the slightest whoosh of wavelets lapping on the shores. Rum flows like water here, of course, and the pace of life is decidedly slow. On the other hand, the sun is fairly ruthless, and my arms and back have been burnt rather badly. I can expect peeling within a day or two. But land me in a tropical locale of any sort, and that’s bound to happen. Also, much of the vegetation is not quite as lush as you’d expect, and perhaps the weather since we’ve been here explains that: barely a drop of rain over the past three days. Still, transplanted plumerias and hibiscuses thrive here – no surprise, so a universal, albeit artificial tropical paradise can exist here as easily as in Bali Hai or Waikoloa.

But put me through Vogue’s 73 Questions, and ask me “tropical Atlantic or tropical Pacific,” and I will respond the latter without hesitation. I mean, I blogged originally about my tiki fetish years and years ago, and walking to dinner tonight, I fantasized about being an army or navy soldier deployed in the South Pacific theater, somehow dressed in a snappy formal tan uniform with hat…and well, that led to fantasizing about meeting up with some other strapping guy in a similar uniform, handsome as hell, and…umm…even imagining some romantic Les Baxter playing in the background as we strolled to the mess hall together…yeah… Well, I also had some coffee table picture book of soldiers in the South Pacific back in the day being…well, just guys, back in a day before outright homophobia dictated certain behaviors, and when guys could just be guys, and sometimes the casual, unforced actions caught on camera became rather homoerotic. That has fueled my fantasies as well.

But. Anyhow…back to the here and now.

In middle school, when I was barely beginning to explore who I might be, I (and our whole family, it must be said), was strongly influenced by my sister’s sudden high school infatuation by Jimmy Buffett. Although extremely intelligent and studious, she had a very powerful hedonistic streak, and Jimmy Buffett enabled that side of her personality perfectly. She even sent a CD cover to him, asking him to sign it “to my brown-eyed girl…I know it’s corny, but I really am one of your greatest fans.” (Unfortunately, he returned it with just a scribble that passed for his signature.) Obviously, Songs You Know By Heart formed the basis for her infatuation, and bled into our whole family’s audio collection as well. He was just bawdy enough that my brother and I could adopt him as a bad influence (witness “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw”),  but his soft-rock cred had been established a decade before, so he was fine by our parents as well. And even though she took her love of Jimmy Buffett to college with her in the fall of 1988, his influence on all of us remained for years.

My sister bought a number of cassettes (remember those, kids?) from just about everything from the ’70s to the early ’80s, and I continued the progression through the late ’80s, when Jimmy Buffett began trying to stay hip, discovered synthesizers, and lost a lot of cred by Off to See the Lizard, his last album I ever got. But he was just so laid back, fun, and gosh-darn pleasing, you couldn’t resist him most of the time. Virtually all of Songs You Know By Heart…well, the title really applies here. But beyond that album, there were a number of gems hidden here and there that…if I really think about it, come back quite easily. For me, One Particular Harbour harbors a bunch of ’em, including the temporary statement of purpose “We Are The People Our Parents Warned Us About,” the endearing “Honey Do,” and the brisk “Stars on the Water.” Then I really enjoyed Floridays – hell, it practically defined my week or two at tennis camp in Vail (and how pampered a phrase is that?). So did Last Mango in Paris. But soon came Hot Water, and he began relying on the aforementioned accursed synthesizers, and…really, my disgust with that corresponded with the beginning of my most rebellious teenage phase. Wild to think that. And it wasn’t long after that that I discovered the music that really defined me, and Jimmy Buffett got relegated to the has-beens pile in the nooks and crannies of my mind.

Until this vacation. It just seemed to fit, to pick him back up again. I started listening to Songs You Know By Heart last night, and this afternoon, I even listened to what in our family came the closest to a bootleg: You Had to Be There, a live recording from his late ’70s heyday. Which song? “God’s Own Drunk,” of course, replete with hilarious audience asides and tangents that evinced laughter and cheers from the audience every time. (Sorry: this version is from Living and Dying in 3/4 Time; I couldn’t find the live version.) Much as a side of me begrudges him how easily he enjoyed success (because we hate it when our friends become successful), he is fun to listen to, and that recording really makes you feel at home, like he’s one of your great drinking buddies. Who doesn’t like feeling that sort of kinship? No wonder he launched a nation of parrotheads. Good on him.

Maybe I’ll make a mix of my favorite Buffett songs. Maybe not. But it’s in my head right now, in the Caribbean, where he fits like a glove. And by this point, Buffett is a part of my family like white on rice.


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