Column: In Final Thought, Jimmy Buffett Was My Sun

For 45 years, his tropical-themed music has given me a bright state of mind.

The roots of my mental exodus to Margaritaville go back to 1978 when a catchy new song called “Cheeseburger in Heaven” came over our city’s AM radio station, WTCJ. The chorus was infectious. I like my plate with lettuce, tomato, Heinz 57, French fries, a large kosher pickle, and a cold beer. . .

The next day, at the local bait shop/record store in our river town, Dad bought a weekend supply of nightcrawlers, red worms, crickets and my first JB album, “Son of a Son of a Sailor,” which featured the cheeseburger song.

The album was a waxing treasure. First, instead of focusing on the entire song, I moved the turntable stylus over the first four tracks of Side A, and gently placed the needle on the fifth song. Taking care not to scratch any grooves, I repeated this process until all the components of the “huge piece of meat” were preserved in heaven. Later, in bed, I let the entire album unfold in the dark, flipping side A to side B, then side B to side A.

The album filled my young, impressionable mind with the hustle and bustle of the high seas, the Mango Man, the jungle, daiquiris, and far-flung places like Trinidad, Marseille, Porto Bello, Cane Garden Bay, St. Thomas, and Haiti. Sunny JB becomes a failed Catholic altar boy travel agent. The rotation of the record was as essential to me as the rotation of our planet.

I was addicted to the happiness and total escapism that only a JB album could provide. I returned to the city with money to mow the lawn to get his earlier albums that impressed me more with far-flung, dreamy places like Key West, Havana, and yes, a speck of a recently drawn mental map called Margaritaville. I looked forward to every new release. I anxiously awaited the new landing. My growth was measured not by pencil marks on the kitchen door frame, but by a series of JB albums pinned to the baseboards of my bedroom.

As I wrote in a glowing column years ago about J.B., “His best songs are lyrical geography lessons that tempt us to hoist our cardboard signs along life’s highway: equator or bust. . . . Open Buffett’s musical treasure chest to discover mermaids and manatees.” And parrots and palm trees and banana republics and banyan trees and beach bums and hurricanes and pirates and papayas and iguanas and coconuts and shark fins and shrimp and remittance men and tanned crusaders and slippers, Mayan moons and gold doubloons. Hundreds of his songs are virtual reality postcards, invitations to the tropics, and life songs from low latitudes. .

Last weekend, as news of his passing spread, several people I hadn’t heard from in years reached out to me and thanked me for introducing him to his music so long ago. Apparently, I was a pretty good recruiter at JB.

My favorite recruits are my kids, Austin and Delaney. They both write better than I do, and they both beat me to the finish line when it comes to capturing JB’s farewell on the page.

“I was born into Buffett, and his music was probably the first I ever heard,” Austin wrote. Under the radar magazine. “His songs were an integral part of my early upbringing, and the hazy, fragmented memories I still carry of my parents’ marriage were recorded by Buffett—the quiet melancholy of “Come Monday” providing the soundtrack to car rides across town with mom and dad in the front, me in the back, watching The swaying corn and soy fields pass by my window… The sad longing for “the island” haunts my bedroom at night in my childhood, and its shimmering harmonica haunts me in that delirious evening between dreaming and waking.

“(At thirteen) we were on a long road trip with the dark mountains of West Virginia sparkling with May springs when our mother told us that she first knew she loved our father when she heard ‘Coast of Marseille’ on Buffett’s show,” Delaney wrote (JB’s song bears her name). The song filled us in, and I can distinctly remember being so transfixed by that slow-motion lament that, despite the white interstate lines rolling around us, I could easily have been at sea. . . . Their marriage did not last, but they produced my brother and me. “Together, that’s why our family continues to have a mutual respect for Buffett. He probably anchored us.”

In 1986, my first story about JB got an F in my college journalism class. It was a fledgling attempt to write a humor column about a JB fan buying a beer at a bar when it should have been a story chronicling the minutes of a local sanitation board meeting. A few weeks later, the same story was published in “The Coconut Telegraph,” a Key West-based JB Newsletter.

Title: Are you a parrot head?

Written by Chief Parrot Scott Salman.

My first real byline!

The columnist’s net has been cast.

And here I am, 37 years later, writing another glowing article about JB, albeit under dark skies.

Our sun gods still live on | Stay lit, Sol Blazing, Helios| Burn on, Buffett | Play, son of the sea Play on!

Sure enough, JB’s records are still on rotation, I’ll see him in my ears… For that, I’m Grapefruit-Juicy Fruit is grateful.


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