Bob Green wrote an article, Summer is Done, for the Wall Street Journal, published September 2, about Jimmy Buffett and his death on Labor Day weekend. The article, and Jimmy Buffett’s apparent sudden death, set off many memories of Jimmy’s music and my younger days.
The first time I remember hearing anything about Jimmy Buffett was in 1972 when he played a concert at Ole Miss. None of us knew anything about him and didn’t know any of his music. His mainstream hit, Come Monday, soon became popular, but at that time we hadn’t heard of Jimmy. Of course, everyone quickly became huge fans of Why Don’t We Get Drunk.
Access to music was much different in the early 1970s. There was no Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, or the Internet to find music electronically. Most of our tastes in music were influenced by what we heard on AM radio stations out of Memphis in the daytime and Chicago at night.
We mainly bought 45 singles and an occasional album at the Western Auto store in downtown Corinth or a few music stores in Oxford. Jimmy really had no mainstream radio hits and his songs were very difficult to find in stores, if you could find them at all. Later, usually in the spring, radio stations would pick up one of his songs, probably to get their listeners excited about the coming summer and set up their playlists for the season.
In 1975, my brother found some Jimmy Buffett albums in Oxford when he was at Ole Miss and bought me the A1A Album. I had never heard any songs on the album but immediately fell in love with not only Jimmy’s music, but also his vibe. A Pirate Looks at Forty, Trying to Reason with Hurricane Weather, Life is Just a Tire Swing, Tin Cup for a Chalice, and Stories We Could Tell were played through the dorm night after night. All the songs on the A1A album were great. We probably played the grooves off the album. We all dreamed of living on islands, riding in boats and drinking at beachside bars.
Later that summer, I found and bought copies of Living and Dying in ¾ Time, and A White Sportscoat and a Pink Crustacean. He Went to Paris, The Great Filling Station Holdup, Cuban Crime of Passion, and Pencil Thin Mustache were a different style of music than anyone else was making in those years.Summer nights during my college years with Jimmy on 8-Tracks and, later, cassette tapes still hold good spots in my memories.
Jimmy took a turn toward more mainstream music, or maybe mainstream music tastes accepted him better with his next albums. Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude, Havana Daydreamin’, and Son of a Son of a Sailor were commercial successes that made Jimmy a household name. He was living in Key West and playing island music about hurricanes and margaritas. There are still great debates about whether Cheeseburger in Paradise was written about Cabbage Key or Pirates’ Cove in Josephine, Alabama.
He was one of us, raised in Mobile, flunked out of Auburn and then attended Southern Mississippi. He played his music across the Alabama and Mississippi coasts before he caught a break and found his way. He was known to be very likeable, as we would expect one of us to be. He would drop into Lulu’s, his sister’s restaurant in Gulf Shores and play for dinner crowds. Only his growing popularity on the coast and the huge crowds drawn by the speed of social media ended those impromptu concerts.
Jimmy’s music gave us the idea that anyone could live in Key West or on a Caribbean island and lay in the sun and have boat drinks all day. He sold the image of a laid-back, island lifestyle. It turns out that while he sold the image, he didn’t live it. Jimmy was apparently a workaholic who built a business empire of music, live concerts, bars, Margaritaville restaurants and hotels, Landshark beer, Parrot Head clothing, and many other things associated with his music and lifestyle image. He was reportedly worth approximately a billion dollars when he died.
I was at Jimmy’s concert in Orange Beach in the summer of 2020. The huge crowd of Parrot Heads had a great time. The crowd sang along and rocked with the Coral Reefer Band. It was a great evening and time. It brought back great memories.
But, if Jimmy Buffet can die, we all can and will. The mirage of a lifestyle of endless sun, islands, and music can die, too. Without Jimmy to serenade us, summer is over. At 69 years old it is sobering to realize that not only is summer over, I am into the winter of life. But, there will always be those memories in the 1970s of warm summer nights and Jimmy Buffet music in the air. Maybe summer will always live through his music.
I hope you have a good month.