Five years ago we drove our RV over the continental divide near Aspen, Colorado. While bombing down the backside of the Rocky Mountains we flew past a sign that read, Leadville 20 miles north. Leadville was not a well-known town, but I had heard that name countless times in one of Jimmy Buffett’s best songs, Incommunicado:
“Now on the day that John Wayne Died, I found myself on the Continental Divide. Tell me where do I go from here, think I’ll drive into Leadville and have a few beers. Think of “Red River” or “Liberty Valance,” can’t believe the old man’s gone. But now he’s incommunicado. Leavin’ such a hole in a world that believed, that a life with such bravado, was takin’ the right way home.”
In that unplanned moment at the beginning of a 12-hour drive toward the scabby oilfields of north Texas, we were traveling through the same essential space Jimmy occupied when he learned of John Wayne’s passing.
Jimmy mourned a man he never knew, which always stuck out to me. John Wayne was a hero of his, and what a lovely eulogy he sang for him. Listen to it here.
Over the years I had pondered the last line of the verse many times, “Leaving such a hole in a world that believed / that a life with such bravado / was taking the right way home.” And further complicating the sentiment of the song is Jimmy’s final line in the song, “I’m never wasting time / finding the right way home.”
Two weeks ago I pulled into Colorado Springs and began the process of setting up the RV in a new parking space. Somewhere in the process I took a break to read my phone and saw the news: Jimmy Buffett had passed away after a four year battle with cancer. I didn’t even know he was dying.
Yet for one reason or another I found myself near the continental divide, 128 miles from Leadville.
I’ll never forget the image of Jason Scarlett, a charismatic college senior, dancing atop a large speaker in the front of our fraternity, singing along to what sounded like a foreign song. He was heavily sot and outrageously joyful (as I would come to know him), belting out these odd words:
“Ia ora te natura, E mea arofa teiei ao nei / Ia ora te natura, E mea arofa teiei ao nei.”
I’d joined Kappa Sigma a few days earlier and was acclimating to the onslaught of college culture. Jason Scarlett seemed to know something I did not know; a happy man with a toy I had not yet encountered. But he wasn’t the only one.
You see, Jimmy Buffett was a Kappa Sigma, and my new fraternity brothers had embraced him as one of us… Brother Buffett. This included a man who would become my close friend, Todd Krug.
Krug had Jimmy’s album, Songs You Know by Heart, a terrific collection of intro-level Buffett; and he sat me down and forced me to comprehend the glory of Jimmy Buffett while he sang along. I watched Todd’s pained expression during He Went to Paris, his finger drawing the streak of a tear as the one-eyed man suffered the loss of his family. We listened to Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw, which Todd emphatically pantomimed. And he very much related to A Pirate Looks at Forty.
It was a surreal experience, but I liked the music. It made me feel good, and the lyrics were fantastic.
Ten Best Jimmy Buffett Albums (in order): Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes; A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean; A1A; Living and Dying in 3/4 Time; Havana Daydreaming; Volcano; Coconut Telegraph; Before the Beach; Son of a Son of a Sailor; One Particular Harbor.
Shortly after these early experiences I learned Buffett had a boxed set, Boats, Beaches, Bars & Ballads. Seemingly half the brothers had a copy. I would borrow the Bars disc from someone, maybe Trevor Nelson, and began to run it around in my roommate’s CD player.
Songs like, The Weather is Here – I Wish you Were Beautiful, Tampico Trauma, The Wino and I Know, The Great Filling Station Holdup, as well as others, hung in the rafters of my ears.
Who was this Jimmy Buffett guy? He was the coolest man I’d ever heard — adventurous, thoughtful, funny, and every bit as hammered as me in those formative days of blurry, fraternal lore. I had not known such a man existed.
At age 18 I was early in the crazy way, known to revel in late-night antics and feats of questionable wisdom. Now Jimmy Buffett presented as a beacon; a high-water mark for anyone who wants to create their own chaos and howl in the middle of it. He’d beat me to it, blazed a trail, shone a spotlight on all possibilities of foolery and farce. He was living his own life, it was taking him incredible places, and he was enjoying the ride.
One weekend during my first semester someone drove me to the sad, little mall in the neighboring town of Lewiston, Idaho. It was there I bought my first Jimmy Buffett album — Living and Dying in 3/4 time. I only knew one song, The Wino and I Know (link), but it was a good one with the following hook:
“It’s a strange situation, a wild occupation, living my life like a song.”
Jimmy was talking to me. I couldn’t sing or play, and was little more than an immature half-punk living in Eastern Washington, yet the Caribbean soul Jimmy barely controlled entranced this brand-new frat boy’s soul on contact.
And it gave birth to what was quite well was my first adult dream — to live my life like a song.
On that album was another classic, Brahma Fear (link). It went like this…
“Yes, I own a whaler boat, it slides across the sea. Some folks say I’m part of it, and I know it’s part of me. And when I’m feeling solitaire it let’s me be alone. And when I want to habitate it carries me back home. Yes, I drink a lot of whiskey, it gives me such a glow. It makes me quite immobile, but it let’s my feelings show.”
The theme of isolation on the ocean juxtaposed with habitation and shared feelings, all while drinking lots of whiskey, appealed to this young man for reasons yet understood. My father understood it — something I would learn years down the road. But Jimmy understood it here and now.
And my passion for Jimmy Buffett music steadily ascended from there.
It was either shortly before or after college graduation that I found myself playing cards with my buddies. Bets were $0.25 on poker, acey-ducey, guts, etc., but I managed to win over $80 that night. The next day I went to the CD store and purchased six Jimmy Buffett albums: Volcano; Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes; A1A; A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean; Son of a Son of a Sailor; and Coconut Telegraph.
It was one of my all-time great investments.
For the next three years I poured over those albums, memorizing all the words. It really helped that Jimmy sings in a key I can marginally imitate. So if you happened to spy me on the freeway, speeding along in my Acura Integra toward some placeholder job, you probably caught the unfortunate sight of a weird dude belting out a Buffett ballad like no one was watching.
Despite my passion for Jimmy Buffett music, I could not get my friends on board with it. My brother, Jason, could recognize the allure — but it wasn’t really his jam.
And suggesting Jimmy Buffett as a good source of music, or mentioning he was one of my all-time favorites along with the Beatles, Pink Floyd, and Led Zepplin, was met with apathy every time. It seemed that everyone had him pegged as a one-and-done Margaritaville crooner who also hollered some embarrassing tune about cheeseburger ingredients.
But I knew Jimmy was much more than lifestyle music. Jimmy Buffett was a searcher; he had a keen eye for circumstance and a penchant for misbehavior; equal parts ambition, introspection, and hilarity; a man on a mission for all the Stories He Could Tell (link).
During these solo traveling years I had taken to screenwriting and was trying to tell my own stories. In 2002 I moved to Los Angeles and scored a life-changing job as a traveling salesman. Before long I found myself in strange towns like Union, New Jersey; Dayton, Ohio; Columbus, Georgia; Omaha, Nebraska. Eventually I found myself in Cocoa Beach, Florida, staying at a hotel called the Luna Sea (lunacy) on the A1A Highway.
Everywhere I went a small cd-case joined me. Inside that case were the usual suspects (Floyd, Zepplin, Steppenwolf, Skynard, Steely Dan), along with some burned CD mixes of Jimmy Buffett songs.
Ten Best Buffett Songs (Personal Favorites): Banana Republics; Coast of Marseilles; Stranded on a Sandbar; The Wino and I Know; Kick it in Second Wind; Biloxi; Incommunicado; Floridays; Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season; Brahma Fear.
Perhaps it was here, in the gross hotels and nameless highways, where I connected with his music the most. The themes of his early works sifted through the words and I began to understand him (or his musical persona) better. Some of the recurring themes and songs are listed below:
People Leaving Home/Going for it/Wanting to Get Away: Livingston’s Gone to Texas, West Nashville Grand Ballroom Gowns, Tin Cup Chalice, Havana Daydreaming, Cliches, Changes in Latitudes, Coast of Marseilles, Wonder Why We Ever Go Home, Banana Republics, Cowboy in the Jungle, Boat Drinks
Misguided or obnoxious Tourists: Margaritaville, Migration, Who’s the Blonde Stranger, Fins
Jimmy’s heart was drawn all over the map, especially to the sea, yet he loved people very much. This dichotomous struggle was inspiration for his music, an undulating theme of joy and sorrow, unity and isolation, adventure and homesickness; the push and pull of the rhythm of life.
He also saw the same condition in others, many of whom opted for a safe life that accepted regret and responsibility as bedmates; a life that left them grasping the edges of a dream.
Jimmy had seized the dream and he did it magnificently, yet there were sacrifices, imbalances, and many lonely nights. He was torn between wanting to be an island and knowing his need for love would never allow it.
Perhaps he sums it up best in Wonder Why We Ever Go Home (link):
Years grow shorter, not longer / The more you’ve been on your own
Feelings for moving grow stronger / So you wonder why you ever go home
Wonder why you ever go home
People are moving so quickly / Humor’s in need of repair
Same occupations and same obligations / They’ve really got nothing to share
Like driving around with no spare
River gets deeper, not shallow / The further you move down the stream
Wondering if I can keep her / As I race to catch up with my dreams
How they shine and glitter and gleam
Buffett fans call themselves Parrotheads, a drink-sloshing breed of Tommy Bahama folk who buy-into the boozy, three-quarter-time lifestyle. That was never me. I was more of a plain-clothed, lower-case parrothead who drank by himself, appreciated Jimmy’s perspective on life, and sang in his car.
I’m not one to obsess over people, so I’ve never really studied Jimmy Buffett’s life outside the first 10-15 years of lyrics. I read one of his books, A Pirate Looks at 50. It was a pleasing peek into his life, but I never needed a deeper dive.
My brother, Jason, and I saw him live in 1998 at the Tacoma Dome. We had lousy seats in the back — it felt like the concert was going on in another building, really. He sang the typical party songs with some of his newer stuff, and the whole thing was disappointing. I’d brought a date who couldn’t care less about the music, and she spent half the concert down at the concession stand with Jason. Jimmy did sing Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season (link), which I’ll never forget (even though I could hardly make out the words).
Ten More Great Jimmy Buffett Songs: Boat Drinks; One Particular Harbor; He Went to Paris; My Lovely Lady; Stories We Could Tell; Pirate Looks at Forty; Life is Just a Tire Swing; Wonder Why We Ever Go Home; Havana Daydreaming.
It would seem my Buffett fandom was limited. He put out ten albums between 1970 and 1981, every which one I own and enjoy.
Over the next 40 years he put out over 40 albums (including live and compilation), of which I own three. It seemed to me that Jimmy struggled to make meaningful music after the early-1980’s. Sure, there were great songs — Floridays, Last Mango in Paris, If the Phone Doesn’t Ring It’s Me — but the collections were not up to previous standards.
Fruitcakes, his 1994 release, wasn’t good, and neither was Barometer Soup in 1995. Banana Wind was a respectable comeback with the crafty, feel-good hits School Boy Heart and Desdemona’s Building a Rocket Ship, but it wasn’t enough and I checked out of all future albums.
It seemed (to me) that the best Jimmy Buffett stories had been told. After all, he once opined in Landfall (a classic lyrical masterpiece – link):
“Now what would they do if I just sailed away? Who the hell really compelled me to leave today? Running low on stories of what made it a ball. What would they do if I made no landfall?”
To this one fan, Jimmy struggled to make landfall once he got older and wealthy. He focused on his novels, his tours, his brand, but the lyrics of his music felt too far removed from their muse.
In 2019, six months before the Covid nightmare, we took a 53-day roadtrip around the eastern United States. The first stop was Disney World, which was followed by Key West.
For years I imagined Key West as Jimmy explained it. I pictured him in his hammock on the beach watching squalls out on the ocean. Or posing on boats like the various album covers.
Of course we went down to Captain Tony’s to get out of the heat. And yes, written on the dingy walls of the head were the words the old man said (link).
“He said I ate the last mango in Paris / Took the last plane out of Saigon,
Took the first fast boat to China / And Jimmy there’s still so much to be done.”
Key West has probably changed quite a bit since the salad days of Jimmy Buffett. To be honest, we did not find ourselves a home.
And the impression was not lost on me that it was not in fact his town, but Ernest Hemmingway’s (whom I also admire very much). To the locals, maybe, perhaps, just a bit, Jimmy Buffett was an afterthought… or dare I say, an interloper.
But this was my Graceland. And as weird as the tourists were, we enjoyed tromping around the streets, listening to live music, and looking for landmarks. Mostly we spent time sitting on the dock of our RV spot, occasionally jumping into the bay, smelling those shrimp they’re beginning to boil… and then overcooking them because we didn’t know what we were doing with our brand new fondu pot.
I don’t know if Jimmy Buffett made no landfall. He claimed to be growing older but not up — did that ever change? Did he ever get off that sandbar? Did he ever write the big book? And most importantly… did he ever pay the mini-mart back? Please… tell me you paid the mini-mart back.
His image suggests his family and friends were of great importance to him, and obviously he loved making music until the very end of his life.
But if I could talk to Jimmy Buffett for one hour — just have him back for 60 minutes to chat about his life — I would want to peer into his psyche to see if he ever figured it out.
Because my life was greatly affected by Jimmy Buffett’s decision to jump into his dreams and sing his heart about the process. He wasn’t just some beach bum strumming a guitar to me; he was a thoughtful, productive, and creative man, three things I saw within my reach in this lifetime.
Most importantly, perhaps, Jimmy was searching for something just like me. He examined the lives of others and his own, just trying to make a little sense of it all. This is what drew me to Jimmy Buffett. Other than the sensationalized drinking, skirt chasing, creative story telling and hilarity, it was the longing to wander planted so deep in my heart that he cultivated. I wanted to be that Cowboy in the Jungle, figuratively or otherwise, rolling with the punches in his cheap charutes.
Once you tease out my parents, wife, children, the totality of scriptural characters, and perhaps my brother, I’ve listened to Jimmy Buffett more than any other human. And I don’t think I’m lying.
Fifteen More Great Jimmy Buffett Songs: I Have Found Me a Home; Nautical Wheelers; Landfall; If the Phone Doesn’t Ring it’s Me; Survive; Dreamcicle; Last Mango in Paris; Death of an Unpopular Poet; England; High Cumberland Jubilee/Coming Down Slow; This Hotel Room; Its My Job; The Captain and the Kid; Cowboy in the Jungle; The Weather is Here, Wish you Were Beautiful.
I remember being in Billings, Montana in 2004, training my boss’s brother in sales. We were sitting at a bar chatting — Perry Teichman was a great chatter — and I told him how very much like Jimmy Buffett’s song, Stranded on a Sandbar, I felt these days. Here’s a peak into the lyrics (link):
“Now I used to go crazy for days at a time / Now I’m takin’ my time with my days
Haven’t found the answers like some that I know / I’m just stuck in a fairly nice maze.
I feel like I’m stranded on a sandbar / Stuck in my tracks like a street car.
Playing it for all that it’s worth / I’m just paying for my sins on earth.”
Life had become an alcoholic slump with heavy nightly drinking. The realities of Jimmy’s road dog, 8’x5′ “hotel songs” were my realities, likely none truer than my personal favorite Buffett song, Banana Republics (link):
“Expatriated Americans / Feeling so all alone.
Telling themselves the same lies that they told themselves back home”
Two years later I would sober up, get married, father a whole grip of children, join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, change careers, and embark on the greatest adventure I could imagine. And ever since 2017 I’ve indulged my wanderlust like never before, only I’m now doing it with the Lord’s consultation, not Jimmy’s, (or necessarily my own).
Jimmy Buffett shaped my life, setting it in a direction that perhaps it never would have gone. In good part, thanks to Jimmy I embrace the unknown and revel in the story; and I eschew John Wayne bravado and allow myself to be vulnerable. Due to his example I pursued my voice in screenwriting and moved to Los Angeles, which resulted in a traveling sales position, much personal growth, and adventure.
Jimmy Buffett has been with me for every chapter of my adult life. In the beginning he was someone to get the party started, or to sing along with at the end of the night. For the years after he was a drunken shoulder angel coming through the cheap rental car stereo, making every place I traveled feel like home.
To this day his voice brings me peace and joy. I listen to him on a monthly basis, and I sang along with him just days before he passed. He told me that if he were to live to be an old man he would sail down to Martinique. Which is exactly what we are doing in January.
Travel and Jimmy Buffett helped pave my way to a better life. His example didn’t exactly lead me there; it’s more like he coaxed me from the nest of comfortable, ordinary living, which made so many other things possible.
These days our life is a motorhome road trip; we are slowly exploring our incredible nation while serving Veterans and their communities. I cannot imagine this possible outcome without Jimmy Buffett. And furthermore, I’m thankful to have attended college before cellphones, ecstasy, and the proliferation of rap. 1993 may have been the end of an era in which Jimmy Buffett would massively appeal to college kids.
In my mid-20’s I used to fantasize about winning the Oscar for Best Screenplay. I imagined having Jimmy play my favorite songs at the after-party. I wondered how much he’d charge me for the service, or if he could be convinced to do it.
Well, dang-it, Jimmy, now we’ll never have the chance! And the Oscar was coming any day now.
Jimmy Buffett sang the soundtrack of my life. We are quite different people, but what we had in common was more than what brought us together. I might not get drunk and chase women, or desire a care-free beach-existence, or do hardly any of the things Jimmy sang about in the 1970’s; and I’m no longer searching for much beyond the perfection of my character through service to God.
Nonetheless, the things of Jimmy Buffett still apply to me. They all make sense in time.
But now he’s incommunicado.
Thank you for stopping by our website! We are the Hoffmann family, a full-time RV family that has split residence in Seattle, Washington and San Antonio, Texas. We have special needs children that we homeschool, and work travel assignments for the Veteran Affairs Hospital. If you would like to learn more about us, check out our Start Here and Biography pages. In the meantime, God bless and travel happy!
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