Coming to terms with my Parrot Head past

Coming to terms with my Parrot Head past
By Jarrett Bellini | @JarrettBelliniOctober 9, 2018

The following confession is 100% true.

Back when I was growing up in Phoenix - far from the sea and sand of a Caribbean paradise - I was obsessed with Jimmy Buffett.

Totally into it. Enchanted by the island lifestyle celebrated through his music.

In my bedroom, I hung a hammock. My mom painted an ocean mural on the wall. And I would spray coconut scent into the air before collapsing into a listening session.

This was miles from normal and, in retrospect, a collection of terrible ideas. Except the hammock. I still support that.

I was - in the parlance of Jimmy Buffett - a Parrot Head.

In concert, spanning a decade, I saw Jimmy 11 times. It started in 1993 when I was just 14-years-old. (The ticket was $29!) My last show was in the summer of 2003. And it was there at Merriweather Post Pavilion that I had a life-altering realization: I was over this shit.

Not necessarily the music. At least not all of it. But the concert experience. The predictability of his live performance. And, in general, the whole world of Margaritaville.

And trust me. It's an entire planet: Music. Retail. Restaurants. Resorts. Vacation clubs. Casinos. And, now, even retirement communities where, presumably, you can live out your final days drinking tequila out of a shoe before dying comfortably at home in a coconut bra.

Don't get me wrong. I fully support capitalism. It's just that, long ago, Margaritaville stopped striking me as a matter of the soul. And as I became a more active participant in seeing live music I was no longer mystified or excited by the obvious setlist and tired gimmicks of a Jimmy Buffett concert. 

I guess what I'm saying is this: "Cheeseburger In Paradise" is a terrible song. It needs to die. 

And save a bullet for "Why Don't We Get Drunk." 

These are bad novelty songs. They make us all dumber. And, deep down, I think Jimmy would agree. 

Now, there's certainly a place in music for bad novelty songs. I can appreciate when a band ironically records their silly idea or drunken inside joke. But it's proper concerning when these songs are somehow revered as classics. And if they become every-show staples in your repertoire, there's simply no way to sugar-coat the fact that you have made a deliberate (and unfortunate) business decision. 

A Jimmy Buffett show is just that. A giant business decision. As it should be. Artists need to get paid, and making money is awesome.

But, for me, these goofy songs became trite and unenjoyable.

And there was another glaring aspect of Jimmy Buffett's stage show that felt equally hokey and played out. It was the cheeseball banter and shameless pandering to the insert-city-here local community. 

I mean, I get it. It's a live concert yada yada yada. And he's not the only musician who panders. But he does it a LOT and with a self-amused chuckle that oozes of insincerity.

Somehow, it's a device that works. Packed fields of easily-entertained drunk white people eat it up. But after ten years of seeing it I guess I just didn't want to be an easily-entertained drunk white person. Just drunk. 

One last little thing that Jimmy does, both live and in his recordings, that drives me absolutely insane is what I'll refer to as the "talk-out" at the end of some of his songs. It's just that ... talking. 

A perfect example is his cameo contribution to Alan Jackson's über-chorus, pop-country disaster "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere." At about the 3:00 mark they both just start bantering mindlessly. 

It's bad producing. And it's sort of a Jimmy Buffett trademark.

Another example of this is in Jimmy's cover of James Taylor's "Mexico." Which is actually pretty good ... at least up until, again, at the 3:00 mark when all musical hell breaks loose in the form of a jabbering seizure that lasts through the fade-out.

The end of "Mexico" is just a hot mess of words.

Now then ... having just crapped all over the man, his music, his fans, and his empire, I will say this: I still really REALLY like Jimmy Buffett's music. 

Some of it.

So, I want to end this on a positive note. Which is to say that Jimmy Buffett is far, far more than the sum total of his greatest hits album and a series of go-to stage tricks.

The truth is that Jimmy's lyrics and composing are more emotionally and musically complex than what's generally presented at his live show. And it's these songs that still tug at me. That still make me want to be near the ocean. That still make me want to detach from the world. That still make me want to drink. 

But not, like, on an amphitheater lawn with easily-entertained drunk white people. 

Rather, in some old bar off A1A. With some old guy who looks like Hemingway. Who may or may not live in some old public bathroom.

The Jimmy Buffett with whom I connect is wildly different than the cartoon version we see on stage. And I would gladly pay good money to see just him (and guitarist Mac McAnally) play some of those incredible songs acoustic. 

My favorite among them is "Woman Goin' Crazy on Caroline Street." And you can hear it below in a Spotify playlist I've titled: Un-Shitty Buffett.

This playlist is the penance for my Parrot Head past. Sharing these songs is a way for me to atone for the embarrassing years of my life spent wallowing in the Hawaiian shirt wasteland of Margaritaville and my Caribbean collection of terrible ideas.

Except the hammock. I still support that.


Anonymous said...

Everyone needs a hammock smiles

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Jarrett Bellini said...

Says the screaming person in all caps. :)

Steve Seachrist said...

Do you really listen to two different versions of In the Shelter in a row like that?

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