I was never one of Jimmy Buffett’s devoted fan base of “Parrot Heads,” about whom you can watch a full-length feature documentary available on You Tube after you’re done here. But I am here to declare that I played the living hell out of his “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” album in 1977, just as I was entering graduate school in the essentially sober field of psychology.
My head filled with earnest Freudian-Jungian-Reichian-Rogerian-Maslowian speculations on human nature, the album’s title song, not even to mention the anthemic “Margaritaville,” served as a kind of ballast during that period of my life.
It reminded me every time I wore another of countless grooves into the vinyl that I better not try to understand human beings without paying homage to their desire to let their hair down and party now and again—loudly, emphatically, with a true sense of joy and abandon. (Granted, introverts usually choose subtler expressions of that desire, but the desire itself would appear to be universal.)
Certainly the whole of rock & roll speaks emphatically to the human need for periodically roaring at the heavens.
But for all his bonhomie, Buffett, who died last week from a rare skin cancer—“He was ONLY 76!” Mary cried out when she rushed in to tell me the news—wasn’t nearly as much about excess as his image (and followers) often suggested.
In truth, he perfectly captured the seemingly primeval, infectious need for good times without the implication that life should be just one giant, perpetual party without end.
In other words: party hardy (hearty?), folks, but don’t take that admonition too seriously either. Easy does it, in most everything, always…
We hear that Buffettian sense of perspective in the playfully titled “Trying to Reason With Hurricane Season,” a more tender, reflective ballad than the generally rollicking, good-timing tunes on which he made his reputation. In it, Buffett skillfully employs the metaphor of unhinged nature to suggest the chaotic life of a road-faring, hard-partying musician.
Sure, passing out in a hammock, sleeping past noon and searching for a Bloody Mary upon awakening can lead to all manner of mirth and riotous stories to be laughed over with your buds decades later.
Put too many of those days and long nights together, though, as Buffett does in the first stanza, and it won’t be long before the needs of the second stanza are compelled to assert themselves: “And now I must confess/I could use some rest/I can’t run at this pace very long.”
The admission, perhaps startling given its source, might lead us to assume Buffett wrote this song well into his maturity, decades of mellowing under his belt after his wildly popular 1973 B-side hit, “Why Don’t We Get Drunk” (and Screw…). But our assumption would be wrong.
He wrote it only a year later, at age 27, for his fourth album, “A1A,” which is a Florida state road running through many oceanfront towns that Buffett was familiar with and could approach, as he matured, from his choice of land, sea or air. (He became an accomplished sailor and pilot over the years.)
(And, we should note, the best-selling author of five books and a businessman with serious chops—active in real estate, a chain of restaurants and retirement communities, various charitable and political causes, and much else. He was reportedly worth more than $1 billion when he died—so much for being a beer-swilling slacker nursing hangovers all his life long.)
Let’s give the song a listen now if you’d like before wrapping up below, where the lyrics are also printed for your easy reference.
As the wind starts “blowin’ harder” with “whitecaps on the ocean,” does our man stay true to form by making a dash for his favorite neighborhood bar’s hurricane party where his local chapter of Parrot Heads have congregated?
He knows instead that “It’s time to close the shutters/It’s time to go inside.” By way of explanation, he tells us he’ll be in “Gay Paree” in a week, and as we know, “That’s a mighty long airplane ride.”
“Yes it’s quite insane/I think it hurts my brain,” he admits in the song’s chorus.
But this is Jimmy Buffett, for whom it would be sacrilege to wholly renounce his carefree, party-loving ways. (News reports indicated his final words to his sister were, “Have fun.”)
Which leads us to his departure lines in the final chorus.
Summing up, we hear that all the insanity and brain-hurt serve a purpose. As much as he must temper it and recharge, he knows, too, that …“It cleans me out and then I can go on/Yes it cleans me out and then I can go on.”
And go on he most certainly did over his clean-hearted, fully-lived, take-no-prisoners life, an iconic figure singing iconic songs of distinct, recognizable sensibilities, embodying a sorely needed message for everyone to just lighten the hell up and join him in his joy-filed search for his lost shaker of salt—and all the good times of which that quest will forever remain a potent symbol.
TRYING TO REASON WITH HURRICANE SEASON
Squalls out on the gulf stream Big storms comin’ soon I passed out in my hammock God I slept ’till way past noon Stood up and tried to focus I hoped I wouldn’t have to look far I knew I could use a Bloody Mary So I stumbled next door to the bar
One more for your roads…
Comments? Questions? Suggestions, Objections, Attaboys? Just scroll on down to the Comments section below. No minimum or maximum word counts!
A list of all previous posts in this “Brilliant Songs” series can be found here.
Check out this blog’s public page on Facebook for 1-minute snippets of wisdom and other musings from the world’s great thinkers and artists, accompanied by lovely photography.
Deep appreciation to the photographers! Unless otherwise stated, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing.
Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at top of page.
Library books photo by Larry Rose, all rights reserved, contact: email@example.com
B&W portrait by Brandon, Mountain View, California https://www.flickr.com/photos/darthdowney/
Buffett on stage by Kent Russell, Birmingham, Alabama https://www.flickr.com/photos/kentandlaurierussell/