The Artistry of Jimmy Buffett

The reporting on his death will focus almost entirely on margaritas and cheeseburgers and Hawaiian shirts. He made a lot of fans and a whole lot of money marketing that stuff.

But to me that’s all BS.

I’ve always maintained that if you look deeper than all the schtick, to some of his lesser known older stuff, you’ll find Buffett was a great writer and storyteller, not unlike Kerouac or Hemingway or Twain. It can be hard to see – especially given his huge volume of work includes so much mediocre schlock and cheap jokes. But sprinkled in there are some moments of real beauty and genius, especially in the pre-Margaritaville days.

Much of that writing is deeply personal and heartfelt (The Captain and the Kid). A lot of it had a tangible sense of place that certainly appealed to my wanderlust. He could be poetic, insightful, and had a deep sense of the value of the present and the impermanence of life that comes through like a bullet in a few heart-clenching lines. Those songs weren’t about palm trees and boat drinks. Those songs made you stop and reflect on life. Made you appreciate the present. Made you see yourself and the world a little differently.

If you go back and listen to that stuff, you’ll find a lot of the music is dated and hokey, especially stuff from the late-70s and early-80s. But some of the words… For a while he created a unique art that was part travel guide, part literature, part philosophy.

I don’t know anyone else who sees it this way. His supposed hardcore fans, Parrotheads, fully embrace the caricature. His detractors justifiably point to the hokey music, the numerous songs of cheap jokes and schtick. But I think they’re all missing the real gold.

As I said, I don’t know of any others who feel this way. I’m not going to convince anyone of his storytelling and philosophical chops, although I’ve certainly tried. I know I’m very much on my own island on this one. But I guess that’s kind of appropriate…

For a deep dive into that side of Buffett, a lot of people start with “A Pirate Looks at Forty” and “He Went to Paris.” Others that aren’t as well known that I highly suggest:

  • Tin Cup Chalice
  • Captain and the Kid
  • Brahma Fear
  • Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season
  • Havana Daydreamin
  • Wonder Why We Ever Go Home
  • Little Miss Magic
  • Cowboy in the Jungle

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