Jimmy Buffett

New York, Part IV

Day Four of my New York recap. It’s Times Square Day!

Times Square

Not that we only did Times Square once. We hit it multiple times.

I read a travel guide that said don’t bother going to Times Square unless you’re doing Broadway. Otherwise it’s just a festering pool of humanity. However, we were doing Broadway. But yeah, it’s a festering pool. One thing I didn’t mention below that I never quite understood: there are bleachers at the north end of Times Square that people sit in. I can’t tell why they’re sitting there. It looks like there should be a performance going on in front of them or something, but there’s not. I assume they want a better view of Times Square, but it’s kinda hard to NOT see Times Square. I don’t imagine sitting ten rows up makes all that much difference.

Oh well. On to the stuff I wrote during the trip:

Three Broadway Shows

We saw three, count ’em, THREE Broadway shows over the course of the five nights we were there. Okay, technically one of them was deemed “off-Broadway,” but if it’s in the city of Manhattan with equity-earning actors, I’m calling it Broadway. We picked all three of them using the time-tested “what’s half-off at TKTS” method. Like real New Yorkers. So don’t expect any reviews of “Hamilton” or “Frozen.”

Although, holy crap, when did Broadway become all Disney? In addition to “Frozen” and the currently-longest running “The Lion King,” there was “Aladdin” and “Anastasia.” “Beauty and the Beast” wasn’t currently running, but I know that’s a thing. We’ve done a full one-eighty circle from the 1950s, when the successful stage shows became movies.

But let’s focus on the shows we actually saw:

The first show was the off-Broadway one. We saw “Avenue Q” at the New World Stages. I saw “Avenue Q” pre-wife when it came to Sacramento. There were many, many complaints, because the typical Sacramento theater-goer only wants to see the same ten shows repeated once every three years. And when something new comes along, that means “My Fair Lady” has to wait a fourth year before returning, and we can’t be having that. If you add in bad words and/or, I don’t know, puppet sex, you can assume every blue-hair in the audience will be writing a sternly worded letter to the editor. So if wife wanted to see it, and ain’t no way it’s ever coming back our way. So it was resolved that, if “Avenue Q” was at TKTS (and let’s be honest, “Avenue Q” is ALWAYS gonna be at TKTS), then that’s the show we would see our first night in New York.

The show was fun. Wife is now happy she’s seen it and will have some context when those songs come up on my iTunes. Not that you need much context for a song titled “What do you do with a BA in English?” And “The Internet is for Porn” is the most self-explanatory songs ever.

But the coolest thing about this show was the venue. Note the plural in the name New World Stages. Because there were multiple plays going on at the same time at this venue. You walk into a fairly non-descript storefront and immediately descend two or three levels of stairs/ramps. For my first night in New York, I immediately assumed we had been led astray and were going to a sex dungeon instead of a Broadway show. It’s in Hell’s Kitchen, after all, and Daredevil fights sex dungeons ALL the time.

Unfortunately, it ended up being a Broadway show.

But not just one Broadway show. There were at least four shows going on at the same time. And by the same time, I don’t mean “at intervals throughout the day.” No, I mean that at least three of the shows were starting at more or less the same time. When we got to the bottom, there were ushers like at a movie theater: “Avenue Q?” First door on your left. “Puffs?” Second door on your right. “Jersey Boys” and “Imbible,” around the corner.

By the way, “Imbible” sounds fun. On night three, it was a toss-up between that and the show we actually saw. I think the show we saw was more entertaining, but “Imbible” would’ve given us free booze.

The theaters were smaller than one would expect in New York, but it’s still impressive to fill many shows nightly. Must be some damn good sound insulation in those walls. It IS a sex dungeon!

It appears their one major rule is that the plays couldn’t have intermission at the same time. Don’t let the “Avenue Q” perverts out at the same time as the squeaky-clean Harry Potter nerds watching “Puffs.” No co-mingling, no sneaking into “Imbible” to get the free drinks they give out. No crossing the streams.

Speaking of which, here’s one glance at the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Giraffe:

Stay Puft

The effect of staggering the intermissions was that our play was rewritten to extend the first act and tighten the second act. At first I thought I was going crazy, thinking “I swear this song/plot point was in the second act before” or “I really don’t remember this dragging so much” and eventually even “Did they just get rid of the intermission?” But when we finally were released into the wild, ushers were standing there with signs that read “Please be quiet. Other shows in performance.” Then it made sense. It’s probably a lot easier to re-arrange puppet sex scene than to have Frankie Valli’s daughter die in the first act.

Oops, spoiler alert! For an event that happened in 1980.

Margaritaville

On night two, we opted for “Escape to Margaritaville.” Long-time readers of this blog (Hi Mom!) know that I am something of a Parrothead. Jimmy Buffet’s songs, and the lifestyle they represent, are a little slice of wannabe reality for me. I also think he’s a hell of a wordsmith and has a fair assessment on what really matters in life. So when we heard that there was a musical featuring his music on Broadway, it seemed like a no-brainer.

Until the show got totally panned. There were reports about it playing before half-filled crowds and getting shut out of the Tonys and that it was going to wrap up production on July 1, about three to five years earlier than planned. So I started having second thoughts about seeing it in New York. Allegedly it had done wonderfully in San Diego and New Orleans (no surprise), but the stodgy Broadway crowd didn’t find it appealing (less of a surprise). So, even if I might like it on its own merits, do I wanna see it amongst a crowd of the unimpressed when I could just wait for it to go on tour and see it with a bunch of fellow Parrotheads?

So after six months of “Escape to Margaritaville” being at the top of our list, a couple of weeks before we went to New York, we swapped it with “Avenue Q,” for the reasons stated above. If we made it to a second show, we might go the Jimmy Buffett route. Although, truth be told, I was leaning a different direction when we were standing in the TKTS line. Because I really was worried about being disappointed. I remember all too well being annoyed when they failed to market the Billy Joel musical as a ballet, because the people on stage only sing, they only dance.

But wife chose the tickets on day two, so we hit Margaritaville.

I’m glad we did. It was a fun show. Not bad knowing ninety percent of the words before the show even starts. Although, to the dude sitting in front of me, that doesn’t mean you’re supposed to sing along to every fucking song. You know those people up on the stage are, like, professional singers who are getting paid to do this, right?

Plot was pretty straight-forward. No real shocks. Uptight, workaholic woman takes her friend, who’s about to get married to an asshole, to an island resort. They both fall in love with workers at the resort.

Astute Parrotheads could spot most of the Easter Eggs in the first scene of the play. Hmm, the old dude is drinking a green label. I bet he, I don’t know, went to Paris at some point in his life. And they’re drinking “good red wine” out of a tin cup. And I’m sure the “Volcano” on the center of the island isn’t going to erupt with a series of “I Don’t Know”s.

At least the characters were way more likable than “Mama Mia.” Oh holy crap, the first time I saw “Mama Mia,” I tweeted out at intermission that it was like a bad episode of Maury Povich, except that I didn’t care who the father was. So glad they’re making a sequel to that piece of garbage.

And of course, ABBA music doesn’t hold a candle to Jimmy Buffett music. Sorry, Norway.

They tweaked around a couple of songs to fit the plot or the more modern setting. Most still kept the feeling or mood of the original song, with the exception of the one they tweaked the most, “It’s My Job.” The original song is about working hard and taking pride in what you do, even if it’s not a glamorous job. “Escape to Margaritaville” turned it into the workaholic woman whining about why she can’t turn off her desire to be number one. It went from being a working class anthem to a song about the 1%.

They also changed my favorite line in “A Pirate Looks at 40.” I don’t care if “I made enough money to buy Miami, but I pissed it away so fast” doesn’t fit four people nowhere near Miami, it should’ve stayed in there.

So all in all, I’m glad I went. And I’ll probably still see it again when it tours nearby.

Oh and, hey, “Escape to Margaritaville” did set one Broadway record: most alcohol sold on opening night. I guess the people that paid $10,000 to see “Frozen” on opening night weren’t the “three margaritas at intermission” types.

I was going to reference the people who saw “Hamilton” on opening night, but that musical shocked everyone. There was virtually no demand for it at first and it has moved three times to bigger and bigger theaters.

Play

Our final show was Sunday night, which didn’t leave many options. That’s okay, though, because the show we had unofficially pegged at third (Hell, I would’ve picked it before Margaritaville) was playing Sunday night. We hit the Times Square TKTS booth ten minutes before the show started and got two of the last tickets available. We’re damn near locals at this point!

“The Play That Goes Wrong” had an interesting premise. You see, it’s a play, but get this… it goes wrong! Not sure if you caught that from the title. The synopsis talked about the set falling apart and whatnot. I expected it to be a farce, and I like farce. Jack Tripper was my hero growing up. That probably explains a lot. I’ve even acted in some community theater-level farces before, so I really wanted to see how Broadway compared.

Oh holy crap. I don’t think I’ve laughed that solidly since… I don’t know, the first time I saw “Airplane!”?

The play “starts” before it really starts. Two “techies,” clad in black, are “fixing” a couple of things on the set. The door won’t close, so he keeps pushing it closed. The mantle keeps sliding down. The female techie is too short to hold the mantle in place, so she picks someone from the audience. Audience member holds it up in place, then she just walks away. Other tech comes, chats with audience member. Audience member nods, let’s go on mantle, walks off stage to applause from rest of audience. As soon as he resumes his seat, mantle falls again.

Ah, so it’s going to be prat falls and physical comedy. Lady behind me, who I can only assume bought tickets even later than us, is unimpressed. “Oh, is this going to be one of those stupid plays where they do stuff nobody ever does? This is lame.” Well shit, I thought, I really don’t want to have to turn around and explain what live theater is. But guess what? Within two minutes of the show starting, the only fucking peep I heard out of her the rest of the night was her laughing her ass off.

Tech addresses audience before the play “starts,” asks if anyone’s seen his “Best of Duran Duran” CD. He then takes his place in the balcony to run the “sound board.” Needless to say, half the sound cues “accidentally” start off as Duran Duran songs. An actor says the storm’s coming in, and the first few chords of “Girls on Film” play, before the tech scrambles to push the correct “thunder” button. These types of callbacks went on throughout the play.

When the “play” actually starts, of course the door that wouldn’t close all of a sudden doesn’t open. So the actors who are trying to get in do what anyone else would do in that situation: they go around the set wall and just walk in from stage left. And it’s already begun, because the whole point of this play is that the actors are pretending that the stuff isn’t going wrong. Did I mention I’ve been in community theater productions before? So maybe I was a bit more susceptible to some of the laughs. Because when he says he needs to get the pencil from the desk and there’s no pencil, he just grabs the key and hopes nobody notices. And when, two minutes later, another character comes in looking for the key, well…. Of course, in community theater, I would find the pencil off stage, so that I had it in the next scene if I needed it. Not in “The Play That Goes Wrong.” One scene later, he’ll be using a key to “write” in the vase that was the only thing left on the table when he went to grab the notebook. The notebook, naturally, was used to unlock a door.

And of course, the missed cues and forgotten lines. Again, I’ve been there. Nothing’s worse than your fellow actor stare at you, open-eyed, on stage in the middle of a performance. The universal sign for “Oh, shit, I forgot my next line.” Then it’s on everyone else on stage to make do without that character, or to give that actor a subtle cue without being obvious, or maybe jump ahead to an easy jumping on point, or, worst of all, to ad-lib. I think “The Play That Goes Wrong” did each of those at least once. They also called for “Line” when the Duran Duran-listening techie isn’t even following along in the script. “I don’t know where the hell we are,” the techie says and, of course, the actor repeats that word-for-word. And, of course, it kinda fits what’s going on in the play right then.

I don’t want to delve too deeply, because I could probably proceed to spoil every single joke. But just look at this Giraffe selfie and note that everything on the set, including the set itself, will come into play. See that “Second Floor”? Yeah, that’s not long for the world, either.

play-2.jpg

All I know is I was very happy we decided to return for one more evening of theater, and even, GASP, see a non-musical on Broadway. And I’m also glad we saw this in New York, because as I said, I’ve seen community theater farces, and this show could be really, REALLY bad in the wrong hands. But, oh hey look at this… They’re going on tour with the same set? They’ll be in Los Angeles next Summer? You don’t say…

Disney Store, Hershey Store, M & M Store

After “Escape to Margaritaville,” we found ourselves in Times Square on a Friday night, so we figured we’d do the whole “Times Square on a Friday Night” thing. And no, that didn’t mean picking up a transvestite hooker. At least not this time. Besides, I think that’s Thursday’s du jour.

In 2018, the only way to properly “do” Times Square is with unbridled, neon-infused consumerism.

On somewhat of a lark, when we saw the orgy of capitalism in front of us, I joked to my wife that we should go check out the Disney Store to buy the same crap that we could get at any mall back home, albeit with some additional service charge for being in Times Square. Evidently wife thought that was a capital idea, because the next thing I know, I’m surrounded by Belle and Rapunzel and some transvestite hooker screaming, “I didn’t say she was crazy, I said she was fucking Goofy.”

In this particular sojourn’s defense, this Disney Store did in fact have a few items specific to its prime real estate location. Directly as you enter, you see a full display of Mickey Mouse Statue of Liberty shirts and plushes and totes. Next to them are some “I Heart NY” items with Mickey’s silhouette in the heart. the other 95% of the store, as predicted, is the exact same as every other Disney Store. Okay, so maybe we can get one New York-specific item for the toddler we left at home with Grandma and then we’ll be on our…

What’s that? An alleged one-day only sale? Buy six items and get 26% off? Well shoot, I guess I can… Wait, SIX fucking items?

So for the next half-hour, we’re scrounging every corner of the store looking for the best deals. We were stuck on three items for a long time. And wife was not interested in my argument of “You know, if we only buy three items, it’s fifty percent off.” So sometime around midnight, we finally found enough trinkets to make the one New York item we bought cost slightly less. We got in line and wife decided to buy a couple more items in the impulse-buy area. Good thing the sale was for six OR MORE items.

Our next stop was the Hershey Store. And HELLO, I’M HOME!!! Wow, if I had known this little slice of heaven was so close by, I might’ve let wife peruse Walt’s empire on her own. This place had it all. Mini size, regular size, king size. Flavors that don’t exist elsewhere. Did you know they make pina colada Kisses? I don’t care if that’s getting us closer to Peak Coconut, it’s going in my belly.

They also had a whole line of Reese’s clothing. And a shit-ton of products that I had no idea were produced by Hershey. Like Reese’s. And those Brookstone chocolate-covered berries. And that new Chocolate Bark. And Jolly Ranchers. Plus good old fashioned candy bars like Whatchamacallit and Mr Goodbar.

Oh, Mr Goodbar, how I miss you at all of the times of the year not named Halloween. And I forgot they made Mr. Goodbar in any size besides mins. Speaking of candies I forgot about, is that a king size Whatchamacallit? For sharing? Oh, I think not.

And do you want to know what Hershey’s Chocolate World had that the Disney Store didn’t? Bakeries. That’s right, plural. They had one bakery in the back that was making giant s’mores sandwiches. And then over on the side, they had a bakery with different types of cookies and brownies and the like. I bought a Reese’s Peanut Butter Blossom Cookie that was simply divine. It took me two nights to finish it, and even after it had cooled off, its crumble was still a masterpiece.

You know what? I’m getting hungry. Let me just go on to the third Times Square stop:

The M& M Store. Crap, that’s not going to help my hunger.

Except, actually, it is. Because after the Hershey experience, I was sorely disappointed by the M&M store. I know M&M/Mars is responsible for almost as wide an array of candies as Hershey. Certainly I’d find all manner of Snickers and Twix and Skittles, right? I once saw a hazelnut Snickers in Australia, It was wonderful, but I’ve never seen it in the States. Maybe it’ll be at M & M World, like a king size, pina colada Whatchamacallit.

Nope.

But that’s okay. Certainly they’ll have some mix-and-match Skittles. Those new sour ones are really tasty.

Nope.

Okay, but I bet that Twix cookie from the bakery will just taste… Hmm, there’s no bakery.

So what, you may ask, do they have at M & M World? Clothes. And a few plushes. And maybe a towel or two.

They’re all very colorful. But my daughter doesn’t quite identify with the cute, anthropomorphized characters from the M & M commercials the way she does Mickey Mouse. My niece might have when she was younger, but that’s only because her initials are M.N.M., so my sister got her a bunch of M&M stuff when she was a child. But that seems a tad too focused of a marketing strategy. Kinda like this birthday card:

I mean, how many people outside of Arkansas have a wife/mother.

Sorry, Mars, but you’re about a century behind Disney in the whole co-opting of childhood thing.

Oh, and a lot of those commercials are actually catered to adults. And air during adult programming. Which might explain the mode age in the M & M World being a 22-year old female. Hey, so is my niece!

There were, at least, plenty of M&M’s for sale, many in colors and mix-and-match options that aren’t available in the real world. But that clearly wasn’t the focus of the store. There was also a place to stamp your own M&M’s. You could put one of about five pre-written messages, like “Happy Birthday” or “Getting Married,” or else a letter other than M. The line looked about an hour long, so no thanks, I guess I don’t need to put “W” for Wombat on some M&M’s. I guess I’ll just turn my next M&M upside down.

At least Giraffe found something he liked:

M & M

Everything After Album #1 Sucks

I’ve been on a trend of reading biographies of famous musicians lately. And by trend, I mean I’ve read a whopping two. But I’m contemplating a third. And if “two with a potential third” doesn’t count as a literary movement unto itself, I don’t know what does.

I read “Petty,” by Warren Zanes, which is obviously a book about people who hold on to every slightest offense and fixate on trivial ways in which they’ve been wronged. No wait, I’m sorry. Different kind of Petty. This particular book was about a musician named Tom Petty. No, I didn’t read it as a result of him passing away. In fact, he died shortly after I finished the book. I hope I wasn’t responsible. I probably could’ve dragged out the last chapter had I known a life was on the line.

By the way, Tom Petty died on my birthday. Tom Clancy died on my birthday a few years earlier. I don’t know who thought “dead celebrities named Tom” was a good birthday present for me, but Messrs. Hanks and Cruise would like to stop that trend at “two with a potential third.”

More recently, I read “A Good Life all the Way.” by Ryan White, about a young pup named Jimmy Buffett. I hear the young kids love that guy. I wrote about him once before. A lot of his songs seem to have fun stories behind them. Either they’re autobiographical or he’s just a damn good poet. Turns out it’s a bit of both.

Next up might or might not be “Billy Joel: The Definitive Biography.” He’s a little bit Tom Petty, a little bit Jimmy Buffett. Not sure I’ll read it, though, because I’m starting to wane on the whole rock star biography thing. The first two were both a bit lackluster.

There are definitely things to like about both the Petty and Buffett biographies. The first half of each book did an excellent job of describing the musician’s upbringing and difficulties breaking into the music business. Both describe how the bands came together and struggled through adversity well. I doubt it’s much better now, but man, the music business sucked in the 1970s. They wouldn’t promote you unless you had multiple albums coming out each year. Tom Petty might’ve fit a little bit of a mold, in the vein of an Allman Brothers or Lynyrd Skynyrd, but Jimmy Buffett was really screwed. Too country for rock n’ roll, too gaudy for good ol’ boy country.

I knew Tom Petty for most of my upbringing. I was the MTV generation, and “Don’t Come Around Here No More” was one of the definitive videos of that decade. Jimmy Buffett, I discovered later in life, first in college, but not really catching on until well into my thirties. Evidently, I’m not the only one who caught him late. His career has really only taken off in the past decade or two.

Not that you would know that by reading his biography. But more on that later.

My first gripe about these books is minor and might only affect me. They each assume I know all of the members of Petty’s and Buffett’s band. Look, I bought these books because I like their music, they seem to live interesting lives, and I want to know a little more about how those lives and songs intertwine. I don’t really know who all of their band members on, and I know you devoted a full page to them fifty pages ago, but just dropping their last name here isn’t helping me distinguish who is who.

I spent half the Tom Petty book thinking, “Wait, is this the drummer that is going to stick around?” or “Tom Petty has a bass player?” I’m sure that’s on me and and a simple trip to Wikipedia could’ve told me who would matter in the end. But if I wanted to read the Wikipedia entry for Tom Petty, then I wouldn’t have bought your book? So maybe assume I don’t know the difference between a Stan Lynch and a Benmont Tench, and give me a little context when you’re throwing out five names in a row. They’re called “and the Heartbreakers” for a reason and they weren’t even present on Petty’s most-successful album.

Not that you’d know that by reading the biography. More on that later.

As an aside, did you know that Jimmy Buffett’s “Coral Reefers Band” pre-dated anyone actually being in said band? He was a solo act, but he would act like he was talking to band members on stage. He was leery of adding actual humans to the band because he had such a great rapport with the imaginary ones. That being said, I just finished the book and can’t tell you the names of any of the real Coral Reefers except for Mac McAnally, because he has his own career outside the Coral Reefers. I think there’s also Marvin Gardens and Kay Pasa. Wait no, those were the fictional characters.

But here’s where the two biographies fell apart. After the acts are discovered and start making a name for themselves. The Petty book used the phrase “album cycle,” where the band writes and records an album, then tours to promote said album, then is expected to go back into the studio and record another album. “Their A & R Man said I don’t hear a jingle…” Did I mention the music industry sucks?

That quote was from a 1991 Tom Petty song. Not that you’d know that from the biography. More on that… um, right here.

The Buffett book doesn’t explicitly mention the album cycle, but Buffett also didn’t have hits like “American Girl” and “Refugee” that he needed to follow up on. Buffett always had a smaller, but more loyal fanbase. His concerts were much more well-attended than his album sales or radio airplay would indicate. And with fans that knew all the lyrics! So the record companies didn’t really know what to do with him. That being said, they still expected one to two new albums per year, whether he had new ideas for songs or not.

Buffet’s an odd case. He became the granddad of laid-back, despite never really being the daddy of it. He’s in the top ten of wealthiest musicians despite never having a number one song. “Come Monday” barely made it up to number thirty, and “Margaritaville” topped out at number eight. “It Five O’Clock Somewhere” did make it to number one on the country charts, but that’s primarily listed as an Alan Jackson song. Not that you’d read much about it in the biography. His first, and only, album to reach number one was his twenty-fifth album, which came out just before his sixtieth birthday.

Not that you’d know that from the biography.

Because it’s at this point, with both artists running through a mundane repetition of forced creativity, that the biographies decide that the story’s not worth telling. I’m pretty sure the Buffett book put the entire 1980s and 1990s in one chapter. The Petty book muddles together the recordings of “Southern Accents,” “Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough),” “Full Moon Fever,” and “Into the Great Wide Open.” The video for “Don’t Come Around Here No More” gets a mention or two, and “Free Fallin'” gets a paragraph, despite it being the longest charting single of his career. I think there’s more mention of an attempted concept album for “Southern Accent,” in the vein of “Quadrophenia,” that didn’t happen, than there is about the actual album. There was supposed to be a song on it about southern racism. That didn’t make it on the album and was never recorded. “Make It Better (Forget About Me)” was actually recorded, and released as a single, with a video that was a failed sequel to “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” but it’s not mentioned at all. Why would the reader want to know bout an actual song that they remember, when there’s so much cool information about something Petty decided wasn’t a good idea to record?

You know Traveling Wilburys? The supergroup with Bob Dylan and a former Beatle or two? You can read between the lines and find it in there, but you have to really know what you’re looking for. But Mudcrutch, the first band Petty formed, that didn’t succeed, gets a chapter.

I understand part of the reason this happens. If you’re interviewing Petty or Buffett, or the people around them, they might not have much to say about a random 1983 album that they produced to fill a contract that peaked at number seventy. The first few albums had a lot more time and heart and soul invested. The problem with that logic is that most of the people reading the book probably discovered the musician through some of those throw-away songs and albums.

I read Stephen King’s “On Writing,” which is more or less an autobiography. He focuses on what it was like to sell that first manuscript but not most of the others. He finds it ironic when people say “The Stand” was his best book, because they’re saying he peaked in the first ten percent of his career. But then he proves their point by ignoring most of his other books.

That being said, Beatles books don’t gloss over everything after “Love Me Do.” But according to “A Good Life All the Way,” a song from “Coconut Telegraph,” written by a thirty-something Jimmy Buffett, is interchangeable with something from “Songs From St. Somewhere,” scribed by a seventy-year old.

Hey, speaking of which, Jimmy Buffett’s album names don’t always correlate with the songs that have that lyric. The line “I gotta fly to St. Somewhere” appears in “Boat Drinks,” released in 1979, but the album “Songs from St. Somewhere” came out in 2013. Even more impressive was when the album name came BEFORE the lyric. The song “Nautical Wheelers,” containing the line “Living and dying in three-quarter time, was on the album “A1A,” which came out ten months AFTER the album named “Living and Dying in 3/4 Time.” Pretty impressive for a guy to think “How should I end this song? How about with the name of my last album?”

It’s a good thing those songs and albums came early in Buffett’s career or else I might never have read about that in the biography.

With Tom Petty, I gave the author a pass on the last twenty years. It’s not like Petty did anything of note after “Wildflowers.” And even “Wildflowers” was a little lacking after “Full Moon Fever” and “Into the Great Wide Open.” I’m going to arrogantly speak for ninety percent of Petty fans and claim that “Last Dance with Mary Jane” was Tom Petty’s last dance with, um, memorable songs.

But Jimmy Buffett is a different story. He became more successful as time went on. His first number one album, “Licence to Chill,” came out in 2003. It gets a few paragraphs. He runs a nationwide chain of restaurants. They get a couple of pages. Satellite radio station? It’s mentioned briefly. Even that number one hit, “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,” gets less mention “The Christian?,” an unsuccessful song from an unsuccessful album from his unsuccessful attempt at an unsuccessful country-music career.

The book does (briefly) talk about the rest of the world finally catching up with where Jimmy Buffett had already been for thirty years. Garth Brooks and Toby Keith might have gotten the credit for making country music fun and mainstream, but Jimmy Buffett had paved the way for them. But the chapter (yes, one chapter) that covers the last twenty years gives almost as much ink to Kenny Chesney as it does to Jimmy Buffett.

I was really curious about “Bama Breeze,” a song about a bar he frequented in his teens. Did he really have his twenty-first birthday there? Don’t know. It was written in 2004. I don’t think it was mentioned once in the entire book. What about “Fruitcakes?” Did the term for his fans come from the song or did the song come from the name for his fans? Wouldn’t know. It came out in 1994 and is not explained. The book does talk about where Parrotheads came from and some of their annual meetings of Parrotheads, including the ones that Jimmy Buffett has nothing to do with, but nothing about Fruitcakes. He almost got shot out of the sky by the Jamaican authorities, and even wrote a song about it, but it only gets a brief mention, even though a story of boating through dangerous waters outside the island of Bemini gets many pages.

Jimmy Buffett fell off the stage in Australia and added a verse to “Margaritaville” about it. It’s not in the book, but some broken legs in 1981 are featured prominently.

“Delaney Talks to Statues”? “Semi-True Story?” “Nothin’ But a Breeze?” Nope, nope, and nope.

I know it’s a biography of the singer, not a book of song reviews. But for his first six albums, the book pretty much went song by song, explaining the significance of each. Even the obscure songs that get virtually no play on Radio Margaritaville. Then it switches to a “nobody really cares about the details” theme.

Did you know that the album “Take the Weather with You” has a number of tributes and homages to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina? Including the aforementioned “Bama Breeze”? Neither did I. I just found that out on Wikipedia. It wasn’t referenced in the book.

So next up might or might not be Billy Joel. I’m torn. Fool me once, shame on you. Is the third book going to follow the same pattern? Am I going to get twenty pages on “Piano Man” and a paragraph on “We Didn’t Start the Fire”? Will it treat “Uptown Girl” as an afterthought? Will I get a detailed menu of every breakfast he ate in 1972 but then have all four of his wives clumped into one sentence?

Only time will tell.

Hey, I think that’s the name of a Jimmy Buffett song. Not that you’d know that from the biography. It came out in 1996.

Wasting Away Again

I turned 42 earlier this month, and tried my best to act 24. I’ve been to three concerts over the last three weeks.

It would have been four concerts if not for a Kenny Loggins health issue. He was scheduled to play at an Indian Casino with Air Supply.

Okay, so maybe these concerts aren’t technically in the “acting like a 24-year old” vein. The acts themselves were more in the “Middle Aged White Male” range. But nonetheless, it was three concerts, hundreds of miles apart from each other, in three weeks, with nary a stop for Matamucil in between. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

Literally, I got the T-shirts:
t-shirts

First up was a flight to Southern California for Mumford & Sons. It was my birthday present from my wife, so I didn’t even know it would be happening until a few days prior.

Next up was a train trip to Reno to see Straight, No Chaser, an a capella group that sings medleys and various other non-instrumental versions of modern hits. Like “All About That Bass (No Tenors).” That was my anniversary gift to my wife.  Concert gifts all around this year.

But I’m not here to write about listening to ten men sing Christmas songs in October. Nor shall I delve into… whatever the hell style of music Mumford & Sons is. Folk? Bluegrass? I tried explaining them to my Mother-in-Law.

“Bluegrass? Are they from the South?”

“No. England.”

“…”

“They play a lot of mandolin.”

“Maybe my hippie brother would like them. He’s been teaching himself mandolin.”

“…”

But I’m here to talk about the cherry on the top of my Middle-Aged White Male Trifecta Sundae, when I lowered the average age at a Jimmy Buffett concert by about a decade. I did not have as great of an effect on the Hawaiian shirt average – my Tommy Bahama kept the ratio perfectly pegged at 1 to 1.

Jimmy Buffett is another musical act that’s hard to classify. His music isn’t overly complex. I’m pretty sure the chord progression on “Fins” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise” is exactly the same. But he’s worth $400 million (behind only Paul McCartney and Bono, according to a Google search), so he must’ve figured something out.

He started out primarily as a country act, and I suppose is still heavily grounded in that particular genre. But I know a lot of Parrotheads that have no love of country music. I sometimes refer to Jimmy Buffett as beach music, but that tends to conjure up images of Brian Wilson and Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello dancing in a bikini.

Oh wait, I know. Jimmy Buffett is drinking music.

But not so much. Because in reality, Jimmy Buffett plays Jimmy Buffett music. He’s worth so damned much because he is his own genre.

Jimmy Buffett is a lifestyle, with maybe a little bit of music attached.

I first discovered Jimmy Buffett when I was in college from a Parrothead who lived on my dorm floor.  I assume “some guy in college” is how most people first encounter Jimmy Buffett. Isn’t that the type of alternate lifestyle that college is for? Sure, that “guy in college” must have discovered Jimmy Buffett elsewhere. He was two years ahead of me, so I assume he caught it from a junior when he was a freshman, thus continuing a herpes-like chain reaction stretching all the way back through time.

Someone must have started the chain, but I can’t imagine who. I know there were those old PSA’s from the 1980s (“Where’d you learn to do drugs? “You, okay? I learned it from watching you!”), but I doubt either the parent or the teenager in that ad was pleasantly puffing away to the prospect of visiting that “One Particular Harbor.”

That’s why I think it has to start in college. Because, contrary to how most people classify Jimmy Buffett, his songs aren’t drinking songs. We don’t see the neediness of a “Tubthumping” or “Red Solo Cup.” They aren’t party songs. You don’t crank up the Jimmy Buffett at a rager like you would Beastie Boys or Sublime. Jimmy Buffett is much closer to “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” than he is to “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer.” Even if “Pencil Thin Mustache” references marijuana, you’re not going to puff-and-pass to it like you would to “Gin and Juice.”

I teach high school. I hear a lot of stories about drinking parties. I’ve had plenty of burgeoning alcoholics and chronic addicts come through my room. But I can only think of a very small collection of students who could truly understand what Parrotheading is all about.

The confusion about what Jimmy Buffet is singing about is understandable. His most famous line, after all, is “wasting away again in Margaritaville.” My students would probably say “Yeah, man, I’ve totally been wasted on margaritas, too.”

Okay, margaritas might be too fancy for my students. So maybe “Wasting away again in straight-shot-of-tequila-with-Coors-Light-chaser-ville.”

But anyone who thinks that song is about getting wasted misses the point. One is not wasting away in Margaritaville due to the alcohol content of said drink. It’s the introspection that comes with each successive drink or hour or day spent there. From “it’s nobody’s fault” to “it could be my fault” to “it’s my own damn fault” – one of the most brilliant evolving choruses of all time.

I once got in an argument with an English teacher about whether or not the entire song is a metaphor or not. Even the tattoo is a mental tattoo. Who the hell describes ink on an arm as “a Mexican cutie?” That tattoo has been stamped on his brain, and it ain’t leaving until he blends that next frozen concoction.

I’m right. The English teacher is wrong. What the fuck do English teachers know about metaphors? Seriously. If he really blew out his flip-flops, he could’ve just bought new ones – Margaritaville has a shit-ton of merchandising.

But to understand why Jimmy Buffett isn’t just about drinking and partying, you need to go beyond his most famous title. A better song to reflect what the Parrothead life is about is “Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude.”

Sure, Mr. $400 Million might be able to live the lifestyle permanently, the rest of us can’t party all day, every day. We have to wait for, or in some cases force, a change in attitude. The easiest way to do this, and yet the most complicated, is to go on vacation somewhere tropical. That fixes up your attitude right quick.

But sometimes we can’t pick up and shove off to the Mexican Riviera. That’s okay. The change of latitude need not be extreme. Go downtown for the evening. Veer off the home-to-work commute. Date night with the spouse. Whatever it takes to change the attitude, if only for an hour or two.

Carpe diem. YOLO. Make the most of the times that should be made more of. That’s what Jimmy Buffett really is about. Drink? Sure! Party too hard? Absolutely! But make it about enjoyment, make it about reflection, not about obliteration. Because “If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.”

Most non-fans don’t realize how much introspection Jimmy Buffett sings about. It’s not in “Cheeseburger in Paradise” or “Why Don’t We Get Drunk” (and screw?), but you don’t have to delve deep into his track list to find it. It’s the reflection that comes from sitting on a beach or a bar and having a few drinks. Or from talking to the old guy next to you at the beach or the bar.

To understand the appeal and the staying power of Jimmy Buffett, you need to listen to the lines the audience sings along to most fervently at his concerts. It ain’t “Volcano.” Despite the elaborate hands-above-head movement, it ain’t “Fins.” It isn’t even “Margaritaville.”

Those songs all have sing-alongs, but they are rote. People sing the whole song at the same volume. There are no natural crescendos, no particular lines that have more gravitas than the others..

The ballads are where you’ll find that extra connection that defines Jimmy Buffett.  “A Pirate Looks at 40” is a wonderfully retrospective song about mid-life crises and how we are never able to do that thing we always thought we were destined to do. Perhaps I should re-title this blog “An Asshole Looks at 40.” But I doubt I could fill it with anything as profound as “I made enough money to buy Miami, but I pissed it away so fast.”

That’s a line that gets the concert crowd warbling. Because we’ve all been there, haven’t we? Everybody’s been Candide, looking back on his time in El Dorado, thinking “What the fuck was I thinking leaving that behind?”

(How do you like that allusion, English teachers?)

Some other artists dally into Jimmy Buffett territory, but few stay for long. Toby Keith definitely has some party songs, and a few of them manage to toe the line between happy drunk and angry drunk. Paul Simon’s an excellent lyricist and musician who has some wonderfully happy and introspective songs. But neither of them have a niche that is entirely of their own creation.

The most obvious non-Jimmy Buffett Parrothead song is “It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere.” How the hell did Jimmy Buffett NOT write that one? I almost wonder if Alan Jackson felt guilty after writing it. Like “Oh, shit, what is this? This is not an Alan Jackson song!” So he invited Jimmy Buffett to sing along with him and included him in the lyrics. Then he went back to writing more snoozers like “Country Boy.”

The one band that seems to be hanging out in Margaritaville on a more permanent basis is the Zac Brown Band. But consider this: Zac Brown wasn’t alive when Jimmy Buffett released his first album. So maybe that niche is only big enough to be filled once per generation. Zac Brown’s next on my list of concerts to attend. I wonder if I will skew the average age down by a decade, as I did at Jimmy Buffett, or if I will skew it up.

I also don’t know if Zac Brown has quite figured out the retrospective part yet. He can’t sing about a 40-year old pirate if he isn’t even a 40-year old musician yet. I don’t know if the Zac Brown Band has any ballads that sum up a life’s journey yet. They need to add some if they’re still want to be playing new arenas, not state fairs, in forty years.

Jimmy knows this. He knows that people come for the “Boat Drinks” and stay for the “Son of a Son of a Sailor.”

That was evident in how he finished the concert I saw. The main concert ended with “Volcano,” because it’s named the “I Don’t Know Tour.” The first two songs of the encore started out with “We are the People our Parents Warned Us About” and “One Particular Harbor.” The latter is a standard Parrothead anthem and the former is more quotable than singable. It was pretty standard stuff, except for the voracity with which he sang “But Not Yet” after the line “I can see the day when my hair’s full gray and I finally disappear.”

Then he did something that I have never seen in any concert before. After the entire band left the stage, Jimmy doubled back out. I assumed he would give one last wave, but instead he pulled out an acoustic guitar and broke into “He Went to Paris.”

That’s how the concert ended, with Jimmy Buffett alone on the stage, playing one of his softest ballads. And it was brilliant. Because if it’s the “I Don’t Know Tour,” what better way to end than with “all of those answers and all of those questions” that we never quite finish.

And if you sing about the great adventure that is life, there can be no better line to walk off the stage to than:

“Jimmy, some of it’s magic, some of it’s tragic, but I’ve had a good life all the way.”