It’s safe to say I’ve been aware of Jimmy Buffett since high school—from his initial hit, “Come Monday.” I can even remember being in Mrs. Keith Oakes’ English literature class my senior year. Someone had a guitar there for some official reason and between classes, class clown Mark Burke picked it up and began to play and sing “Margaritaville. “
That’s all well and good, enjoying those two radio hits in the 70’s, but like many now-middle-aged, college educated middle-class men and women, there was a time when I was called to Buffett, surely as I received a call from the Lord to come down front while heads were bowed and the pianist quietly played “Just As I Am” . It was, I remember, some ten years after that alter call, in a car with some college friends on the way to Florida, mingled with some Fleetwood Mac, Kenny Rogers and even David Allen Coe.
Mother, Mother Ocean, I have heard you call.
There was an intense period of immersion that followed my conversion to Parrotthead: Son of a Son of a Sailor, Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, A1A, Living and Dying in ¾ Time, Havana Daydreamin’ and A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean. I listened to them over and over and over and memorized every line. I played them on the old turntable and was careful to run, jump and pick up the needle so my parents wouldn’t hear me play “Why Don’t We Get Drunk (and Screw)” or any parts on the live album You Had to Be There where there was cursing . The irony is that nowadays my mother loves her some JB and you can bet she and my daddy knew, knew we played “Why Don’t We Get Drunk (and Screw)” when we thought they couldn’t hear.
Known for sculpting his own genre and elevating it to cult status as well as for his diversified marketing genius, Jimmy Buffett never enjoyed a lot of Top Forty airplay. It’s just as well. He’s done more to influence other musicians and keep his fans boogieing than just about any other public figure I can think of.
Last week I read a blog by a blogger called Preacher Mike. Mike lists his top ten and ties them into his Christian belief system. Inspired, I have come up with my Top Ten List of Jimmy Buffett songs:
10. Incommunicado (Coconut Telegraph) With a tip of his hat to Travis McGee and a palpable moment of silence for John Wayne, JB captures the essence of times when we all need to retreat into ourselves, go away and just be non-communicative. This song actually inspired my visit to Cedar Key, a sleepy Gulf hamlet way off the beaten path—where I enjoyed the local delicacy, smoked mullet—and, as always, it’s not a waste of time “taking the long way home.”
9. The Wino and I Know (Living and Dying in 3/4 Time) I’m on the right track with this obscure JB song because when I posted a few lines from it on Facebook yesterday, people I’d never thought of as Parrottheads answered my post with more great lines from the song. Distilled down to its meaning, the song illustrates that there are intangibles in life that can be grasped and appreciated by children, drunks and even songwriters. And I hope one day to make it to Café du Monde for coffee and beignets.
8. There’s Something So Feminine About a Mandolin (Havana Daydreamin’) – I strongly considered the title song for this list. Strongly. But this song paints such a vivid picture–a pasture in central Texas, a graceful young woman bent over her instrument, the high lonesome sound of the mandolin. It reminds me of the time I saw a young bartender, a fit brunette in hiking shorts, finish her shift and pick up a guitar to belt out songs by the potbellied stove in Luchenbach Texas. This tune’s message is of simplicity, feminine grace and of the things we love that we hope to pass on to our children. “When I get older and I have a daughter/I’ll teach her to sing/And play her my songs/And I’ll tell her some stories I can barely remember.”
7. Migration (A1A) How many of us have gone introspective, “Looking back in the background/Tryin’ to figure out how I ever got here”? There is the bashing of Yankee tourists in “mobile homes that cover the Keys/I hate those bastards so much,” somewhat of an ecologist’s rallying-cry for sending them back up north towards Disney and preserving the keys habitat and vibe. This song also deserves to be on my list because it contains the very definition of JB’s public persona “I’ve got a Caribbean soul I can barely control and some Texas hidden here in my heart.”
6. He Went to Paris (A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean) Simply epic JB. A human life well-lived is full of ups and downs. Yes, you can boogie your ass off until you die. In fact, it’s the only way to consider living. “Some of it’s magic and some of it’s tragic but I had a good life all the way.”
5. Tie: If the Phone Doesn’t Ring, It’s Me (Last Mango in Paris) and Coast of Marseilles (Son of a Son of a Sailor) They’re essentially the same song, odes to love and loss. “Would you be remembering me, I asked that question time and again?” I’m pretty damn sure the answer is yes, and yes, the phone isn’t ringing, so I know it’s you. We move on, but there are wistful times of remembrance for all of us.
4. Captain and the Kid (Down to Earth) I sure wish I could get the chance to climb on my grandfather’s knee again and talk of things he did. This song captures the essence of a child’s relationship with a grandparent. Someone who wows them, fills them with wonder. My Papa Julian sat in front porch swing and blew smokes rings for our amusement, made up silly songs and told stories that would never pass inspection by the politically correct. In my head I have rearranged Mr. JB’s lyrics to fit my papa: ” I never used to miss the chance/To climb upon his knee/And listen to the many tales/Of life in Enoree.”
3. A Pirate Looks at Forty (A1A) I’ve heard my teen-aged son say this was his favorite JB song and I understand why. “Mother, Mother Ocean/I have heard you call.” The ocean draws Homo sapiens to her just like moths are drawn to a flame. The hypnotic crash of the waves, the sure and steady rhythm of the changing tides—embody the circadian rhythm of life, life which is full of adventure and uncertainty. Even if we were born two hundred years too late, there is a pirate in each and every one of us.
2. Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season (A1A) Every now and again, we in the landlocked upstate of South Carolina experience what I call a squalls out on the gulfstream day, a day where it is overcast and not too hot with a balmy breeze. There is some kind of front coming through, a low that’s just right—you can feel it in your inner barometer. ” It’s time to close the shutters; It’s time to go inside.” You have to confess, you could use some rest, and this is the perfect day to do it.
1. Cowboy in the Jungle (Son of a Son of a Sailor) “I don’t want to live on that kind of island/I don’t want to swim in a roped off sea.” Buffett is really for everyone. Everyone has a longing to chuck it all and go sailing, to end up somewhere when the money runs out and live in the moment. It’s almost Christ-like to think of giving up worldliness and know that some way, somehow, your daily needs will be met and your life will be richer. What JB offers Parrottheads is a slice of redemption, the idea of escape from daily pressures that sets our spirits free.
I’ve asked my son Nolan to write up his own JB top ten list, so stay tuned for his list and maybe his comments. And check out Precher Mike at : http://preachermike.com/2011/04/19/top-10-jimmy-buffett-songs-caribbean-soul