Thursday, January 29, 2009

"I found your salt shaker, Jimmy."

I never mind hearing "Margaritaville" on the radio, whether it's a balmy June night or a painfully cold February afternoon. In the first instance, the song just matches the moment, and in the second instance, the song provides a backdrop for a mental escape (and sometimes a longing for a tattoo).

But what I do mind, what I always mind -- no! -- what I detest, is any other Jimmy Buffet song.

What sparked this entry was one too many plays of "Fins," and a play of "Margaritaville" followed by a loaded statement from the disc jockey: "Yeeeeah, and he's still makin' money off that lost shaker of salt."

I have a feeling the DJ feels the same as me about the rest of Jimmy Buffet's "catalogue." I love it when DJs are honest. The best was when a very cool lady DJ on the same station said of John Mellencamp's "Little Pink Houses," "I usually can't stand Mellencamp...but that song's alright." You can probably guess how I feel about him. More on that another time.

In case you are not familiar with "Fins," it's a song about an good looking girl who moved to South Florida and can't keep the men away. They are referred to as "sharks" and she as "bait." Here are the lines of the chorus:

Can't you feel 'em circlin', honey
Can't you feel 'em schoolin' around
You got fins to the left, fins to the right
And you're the only bait in town
Guess what. It took four people to write this song. And one was a woman.

This song is too stupid for me to rail about the sexism in it. It's the kind of innate sexism that a good red-blooded American man seems to expound as soon as he leaves the womb. (The womb-owner being the only woman who might be exempt from his attitudes about women.) I don't think Jimmy can help it. You can also find this (almost) forgivable sexism in our buddy Mellencamp, who needs a lover "that" (not "who") won't drive him crazy. And so on.

So the issue I take with this song and with Jimmy's other musical gems is just that it's bad. And that the only reason he can get away with it is because he was, long ago, inspired by a lost shaker of salt. "Margaritaville" has been his ticket to margarita money. He rides his own coat-tails (or poncho tails, or whatever fits the imagery).

Middle-aged, pre-sloshed men and women throng to Jimmy Buffet performances to relive Jimmy's life in Maragritaville. The whole show is in the style of "Margaritaville." Granted, many of his songs have a tropical or sub-tropical theme, so the straw hats and Hawaiian shirts work for almost all of them. The funniest thing about these shows is they are almost never outdoors.

In a darkened arena, thousands of pot-bellied businessmen bedecked in flowers grunt and hoist their overweight, over-aged, bleach-blond cuties onto their sloped shoulders, laughing as their ladies' beer spills down through the hat fringes to the floor, cooling sweaty flip-flopped feet.

After the show, they can go back to their hotel at the Margaritaville Vacation Destination, turn on Margaritaville radio, and order some room service from the Margaritaville Cafe. I'm not even kidding.

These Buffet aficionados call themselves "Parrot-heads." I call them tone-deaf and tasteless.

Sure, the Beach Boys share Buffet's weakness of having recorded too many overly-themed songs, and occasionally they tour around for old people to gawk at them. But the Beach Boys are a far from a one-trick pony. I don't know why Buffet is on the classic rock stations. I don't know why he can sell out tours every single year. I don't friggin' get it.

Before I close I must confess that there is one other Jimmy Buffet song that has grown on me. I think it's just because I'm a vegetarian and I miss eating meat and pickles together...

I like mine with lettuce and tomato,
Heinz 57 and french fried potatoes,
Big kosher pickle and a cold draft beer,
Well good God almighty which way do I steer for my
Cheeseburger in paradise!

Somehow, I don't think this ditty would have rocketed Jimmy Buffet to success the way "Margaritaville" did.

The salt shaker, had it been found before Jimmy had a chance to wax poetic about it, could have saved us from three decades of really bad music.

UPDATE: Episode 11 of Yacht Rock offers support for the "Buffet = Crappy Music" Hypothesis. See Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins lay waste to the throngs of Parrotheads!


  1. How could you not like Pirate Looks at Forty? Anyways I'm 27, female, and like quite a few of his songs; they're just fun. He's not bashing on women honey. You're just a bleeding heart liberal who has no real specialization or job qualifications so you run around and talk about philosophy. Well, at least you can write though. Pick up a newspaper today and half of the moron grads of liberal arts degrees cannot write or spell. How deep in debt are you from you worthless degree? Got a real job yet, or spending most of you time doing this? Good luck little girl.

  2. Apologies, I forgot this. There's nothing wrong with the fact that you don't care for parrot heads, that's your right. But, people don't like being called "dumbasses." I doubt if you were face to face with a parrot head (or me) you would use poor language like that, but I suppose you feel safe behind your computer sweety. What next, going to call us "retards?" To think, this whole time I thought liberals were supposed to be politically correct.

  3. @stomachpump,

    I want to address most of your points. There are many, and I'm not sure all of them have anything to do with defending old Jim Buffet.

    I edited the line about the dumbasses, because you're right, it's not the best word. Though my friends appreciate my well-placed cursing, as I don't often resort to it unless driven there by parrot heads, etc. This is not intended to be a scholarly article on the pitfalls of margarita-based musical stylings, but a cultural rant. Those can be fun to read, but probably only if you agree with them.

    No, "liberals" are not, as a lot, politically correct.

    As far as "hiding" goes, I would most definitely tell a Jimmy Buffet fan "face to face" that I really, really don't like Jimmy Buffet. We don't write the same way we speak, however. Since you can't interrupt the writer, more gets said. And sometimes it ends up waxing more insulting.

    You shouldn't take statements about a diverse group of music fans so personally. If you are 27, you're not in the particular group I described getting covered in beer in the arena. I am abstracting the Jimmy Buffet fan for humor's sake, not to personally insult anyone.

    You, on the other hand, seem to think it is necessary to rebut an argument about music with personal attacks. It actually saddens me quite a bit that a young women like yourself (too young to be calling me "honey" and "sweety" I think) thinks that women who study the humanities are wasting their time. I don't care what you do for a living or what you studied in school, but let me tell you that for me, studying is a way to a better life. You admitted yourself that "at least [I] can write." In my line of work, that's about the most important thing for me to be able to do well. I think a bachelor's degree in English might have a little to do with that.

  4. (cont.)
    You mentioned also that many people with liberal arts degrees cannot write. This is a sad truth, but it hasn't got much to do with me. Until I start teaching that is, and then I hope to make as much change as I can on the sad state of freshman writing. This hope is the reason I am at a school where I can teach freshman comp. We share a concern about this issue at least.

    I do not share your opinion, however, that liberal arts degrees are "worthless." English majors are highly employable, and have an average unemployment rate of 7.9% which is below the current national rate. To use your words, "specialization" is not what we go for when we study the humanities. We go for breadth, and this is what makes us so employable. I am in graduate school so I don't work full-time, but I have worked in some exciting industries to pay my way through school. Marketing, advertising, professional writing -- these are all things that people do for a living, and not all of those people have business degrees.

    As for student debt, I have heard that taking on your expected first year's salary in loans is a good investment. Any more than that is a bad idea. Student debt, if managed well, is not bad debt. Fortunately it's not a big issue for me, and I'll get into the details only because you asked: I have some loans, not much, and I paid for my about 90% of my college tuition with Pell Grants, scholarships, and a tiny bit of my own money. I have been working the whole time.

    So what's with the reference to my writings on philosophy? What's wrong with that? I was a philosophy minor. And I don't usually "run around" when I'm talking about it either. And no, I don't spend most of my time doing this. I spend it working and studying, hence my delay in replying to you. This blog is a diversion.

    I'm not sure what you think women should be doing. Should we stay home, or work ourselves to death like good Americans? Anyone who is gifted enough and fortunate enough to be able to go to graduate school should do it. That's my stand.


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