Squawk-Rock

Kristie McClanahan discusses Jimmy Buffett's one-night-only cinematic experience with an avowed parrot-hater

 Kristie McClanahan: Despite the criminal-sounding titles of songs like "The Great Filling Station Holdup" or "Cuban Crime of Passion," fans of Jimmy Buffett are a peaceful, fun-loving kind of folk. In that regard, when asked to step up to the plate to defend our rock hero, we sort of shrug and say, "I guess." See, we understand that some people just don't get Buffett. And that's fine with us. If some smartass journalist puts him on, say, a list of the Ten Most Hated Men in Rock, blasting "Cheeseburger in Paradise" as stupid, Parrot Heads agree that, well, that's kind of the point. More often than not, we're just too hungover to even try to put up a fight against people who'll never get it anyway. He's coming out with a (quasi-)movie? Great, pass the popcorn and margarita salt. Like his songs, I predict it will be a well-told, fanciful story centered around three of the greatest themes of all: drinking, love and the ocean. I mean, what else is there in life?

Mike Seely: I find it highly amusing that you begin your canonization of Buffett with a disclaimer. In fact, your entire opening salvo plays right into the case against Buffett. Let me dissect. For starters, Buffett fanaticism is, as you state, dependent upon being perpetually hungover. This is a vicious cycle that never allows for coherent thought, which is exactly where Jimmy wants you. Second, I think it quite ironic that the Buffett movie is showing at a suburban mall where liquor won't be permitted. Even you, a Parrot Head, can admit that this is cruelly contradictory at its core. The liquor part, I mean: Buffett-mania reigns supreme in suburban America, where it fills in woozily and conveniently for actual culture. Which brings me to my final point: Yeah, Buffett espouses the ocean, but how many Buffett fans actually live on tropical islands, or even on a coast (rivers and lakes don't count, hayseeds)? Very few. Buffett's genius is that, like Karl Rove, he knows how to exploit the narrow, digital cable-fueled fantasy lives of lazy, red-state T-ball dads who have so many kids by the time they're 30 that a Caribbean vacation is infinitely unattainable.

KM: Enjoying Buffett is like bowling: You don't have to drink while doing it, but it certainly doesn't hurt. But not having a drink in hand in a movie theater while he's reading from his book via satellite isn't as tragic to Parrot Heads as you assume. Sure, liquor is a part of many a Buffett song. How else do you account for rhyming "Lola" with "Pensacola?" Where would "The Weather Is Here, I Wish You Were Beautiful" be without it? But Buffett fandom isn't reliant on being drunk, hungover, high, living on the coast or owning a seaplane. That's only what people see at a cursory glance: They've heard "Margaritaville," dismiss it as overplayed hooey and think that's all there is to our friend Buffett. So wrong and so sad. And your bit about exploiting wistful soccer dads who'll never get that exotic vacation? That's like saying comic books exploit people who can't fly. Enjoying Jimmy Buffett is about a little bit of escapism, especially here in the landlocked Midwest. Maybe putting on one of his CDs or cracking open one of his books is the closest some fans will ever come to going to Havana. But that isn't exploitation. And if they want to enjoy a tasty adult beverage while doing so, who's to say that's so wrong?

Jimmy Buffett can drink margaritas any damn time he 
pleases. Can you?
Jimmy Buffett can drink margaritas any damn time he pleases. Can you?

Details

Regal St. Louis Mills Stadium 18 Cinemas

MS: There's nothing wrong with enjoying adult beverages. But what bothers me about "the Buffett experience" is that, while concert fans of any musical genre are entitled to carry on like inebriated dullards, the onstage act should rise above such Paleolithic behavior through sheer force of creativity. The Pogues did this. Ditto the Replacements, or even Wilco. And, hell, the Dead, Phish and many other "event" bands have played in the midst of wicked-awesome acid trips. Brilliantly. Buffett, meanwhile, plays like he's hammered, and whatever musicians he cons into backing him follow suit. Take, for example, "Hello Texas," from the Urban Cowboy soundtrack. Like every Buffett song, it's a sing-along with simplistic lyrics tailored to the preschooler-about-town. And like karaoke music, each note accompanies a monosyllabic lyric -- "Lone! Star! State!" -- rather than advancing anything resembling between-the-lines craftsmanship. Come to think of it, even the most hardcore Buffett fan's time would be far better spent buying a DVD copy of Urban Cowboy and a bottle of mescal, rather than forking over $18 (not including overpriced concession fare) to see a satellite feed of the same Buffett terrain they've likely trod a couple dozen times in a quasi-blacked-out state. That's way more bang for your buck, not to mention a reminder of the historical significance of Urban Cowboy, which -- love 'em or hate 'em -- almost single-handedly made it possible for most of the neo-country collaborators on Buffett's latest duets album to mount recording careers.

KM: Look, even the most loyal Parrot Heads will admit that the guy doesn't have the best voice in the business. Not even close. And he isn't the best novelist, either. But just like his other books, the new novel A Salty Piece of Land will shoot straight to the top of the New York Times best-seller list. You want highbrow culture, go read Tolstoy. Have Pachelbel waft through the foyer (and pronounce it a foy-yay) and eat some friggin' truffles. We don't like him because he's an artist with complex musical scores and a pitch-perfect voice. We wouldn't know what to do if he was. But Jimmy Buffett is a hell of an entertainer: a cool, manatee-saving uncle whose stories you have heard a hundred times but never get sick of. And that's why people buy his books, CDs and tickets to Wednesday's screening -- and will continue to do so. So he's doing something right. Millions of drunks in leis and coconut bras can't be wrong.

 
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