This weekend I took a quick trip to Paris to attend my 18th and 19th Jimmy Buffett concerts – my 9th year of seeing him in Europe! As per usual, it was a tiny venue and the concerts were very intimate – just Jimmy and several hundred fans. After a full day of tailgating (with champagne – a’ la Parisienne!), I pondered a bit why exactly I’m so fond of Buffett and his concerts.
Although Jimmy Buffett’s brand of music has defied categorization for more than 40 years, it is often referred to as “island escapism.” He sings about sailing, carousing, and living the carefree lifestyle of – in his words – “a beach bum, a man for all seasides.” So one hypothesis would be that I am attracted to that escapism as a temporary relief from the hustle and bustle of running a company. Indeed, when my mom first got into Buffett music (and, in turn, got me into it), it was in the context of sailing and beaching in the US Gulf Coast and Caribbean. A great deal of Buffett’s music does transport me to my memories of the islands so there may be something to the escapism (and nostalgia, to boot) explanation – a “journey” to the Caribbean without all the hassle – but I don’t think tells the full story.
Another hypothesis would be that it is Buffett’s music per se that really speaks to me. His blend of folk, country, rock and roll, reggae, and island styles is certainly both unique and interesting. However, while he does have several songs that I love musically, most of his music I would describe as good-not-great (and some of it is straight-up formulaic). Jimmy himself has declared in interviews that he isn’t a particularly gifted musician per se so, here again, I think we have to look further.
The answer lies in Buffett’s lyrics. Although he does have some songs that are quite banal (“Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw,” anyone?) the majority of his work features clever lyrics, vivid imagery, and double meanings. Not only are such lyrics refreshing in a day and age of dumbed-down popular music, they make for much more interesting songs as well.
One lyrical device that Buffett often employs is the evolving chorus – the chorus of each verse changes subtly so that, over the course of the song, a story is told. And this, I think, is really the crux of Buffett’s appeal: he’s a storyteller.
Much as Bob Dylan was a poet who happened to present his poetry through music, Jimmy Buffett is a storyteller who happens to tell his stories through music (though he certainly drew on the same talent to become a best-selling fiction author). While Buffett himself has lived the lifestyle about which he sings for decades, most of his songs aren’t actually autobiographical (I remember doing the math for the first time and realizing that he wrote “A Pirate Looks at 40” when he was still in his ’20s, so it must have been about someone else!) but are inspired by the many characters he has met along the way. Jimmy Buffett is a bard – a beach bard!
From the dawn of human history we have used stories to connect with one another and this, I’m sure, is why so many people are compelled by Buffett’s music. In his stories different people find different elements that speak to them, connecting them to his music – and to each other. That’s why a Buffett concert is such a melange of diverse people from all walks of life – we’re all so different, but the stories connect us together.
That’s also why the best part of any Buffett concert is the tailgate; it’s a full day of spending time with others who share that same connection – often sharing relevant stories of our own. The concert itself is invariably one big sing-a-long. Even if you don’t know the people around you, singing the same songs at the tops of your lungs brings you together.
These Parisian Buffett concerts have been such tremendous experiences over the last decade. I’ve had the opportunity to share them with some of my dearest family and friends – and to make new friends along the way. Thanks, Jimmy, for all the stories, both those in your music and those new ones we’ve been creating at your concerts!