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I don’t need to tell you who Jimmy Buffett is. The Hawaiian shirt-clad, boozy crooner is like if you looked for Roy Orbison’s Bizarro.
We’ve heard all the classics, and many of us have availed ourselves of some other Jimmy Buffet-adjacent business… He’s got bars, kitchenware, restaurants, retirement homes, a casino…you name it, he’s got it under his belt. Finding oneself under his shadow is nearly inescapable. The question I’m asking this week is quite simple – Why?
What exactly is it that makes Jimmy Buffett’s brand so appealing for people? Of all the available options for a contrived personality, why his?
Jimmy Buffet himself is a bit of a contradiction. He represents, from my point of view, the aspiration to be a beach bum. His music harkens to the idea of using the ocean as a means of escape. If I can only have one more day to avoid my responsibilities, my stressors, my wife…maybe things will be okay.
Ironically, by representing this particular sense of despair, he’s become a multi, multi, multi-millionaire. In fact, he’s estimated to be worth approximately $900 million. I don’t think he’s going to be bemoaning a lost shaker of salt anytime soon.
Luckily, I’m not the only person who’s thought to ask what exactly the appeal of Jimmy is. From reviewing a series of interviews about this particular question, there are some common threads.
The energy of escapism is appealing for people. His music encourages people to be present, celebratory and happy. The aesthetic tied to everything he does is colorful, beachy and relaxed. It’s an auditory vacation for people.
On top of that, Jimmy Buffett’s music has been around long enough to inspire a second generation of listeners. Though his biggest fanbase in is the Gen X listeners, he’s developing a following with millennials and Gen Z, as well. The appreciation for his music is a little bit more nuanced for younger people, it seems.
Much of his music has a sadder tone underneath that fits with younger audiences’ preferences, as well. Further, there are those who have an entirely ironic love for his music, as well. The comedy of this is that because it’s already fairly lighthearted, the ironic appreciation goes right along with the unironic fans.
By the way, have you ever started doing something as a joke, but it ends up being something that sticks around? For me it’s the phrase “shee-yit fahr.” I had picked it up from an old Grizzard article. However, I can’t deny that it’s become an unironic part of my vocabulary. I think that’s part of the appeal for younger Parrotheads, as well.
Kayla Kibbe of Inside Hook speaks to the nuance of this question quite beautifully:
“Even beyond the suggestions of alcoholism, delusion, denial, and apathy that easily veil themselves in lyrics of gleeful partying and carefree relaxation, there is an even greater, more universal force of existential darkness at the heart of the Jimmy Buffett ethos: mortality.
“The specter of death looms large over much of Buffett’s mammoth discography. The subjects of his songs – who we are often, though not always, encouraged to read as Buffett himself – know they are living, as we all are, on borrowed time. They go to Paris seeking answers to life’s greatest existential quandaries only to watch the summers and winters ‘scatter like splinters’ while 45 years vanish before their eyes. They watch helplessly as the days fade away ‘and finally disappear,’ knowing that they, too, are destined for the same fate. They are poets who lived before their time and die in obscurity. They are ‘over-40 victims of fate’ who get drunk and stay drunk for over two weeks as the threat of middle age looms on the horizon.”
Overall, it seems that the Jimmy Buffett fandom has something for everyone. There’s enough depth for the thinkers, but it’s packaged in escapism for people who just want to turn their brains off. I may not personally be a fan…but maybe I need to give him a shot.