The wind chill factor, the winter storm warnings and the icicles hanging from my PARROTHEAD license plate were harbingers of an undeniable truth: I needed a latitude adjustment.
No, I didn’t immediately pack my bags, drain my savings account and jump geography for some southerly place in the sun. My layer of responsibility is too thick for such carefree abandon; there were too many deadlines, commitments and meetings to be that spontaneous and flexible. Instead, I did what I normally do in such a situation: in true Parrot Head fashion, I wasted away my day with the songs of Jimmy Buffett.
I earned my PHD—Parrot Head Degree—in 1978 as a seventh-grader. (If you don’t know, Parrot Head is the moniker for diehard Buffett fans.) A silly little song, titled Cheeseburger in Paradise, lured me to a department store where I bought my first Buffett album, Son of a Son of a Sailor. After several servings of the cheeseburger song, I finally listened to the rest of the album. Suddenly, Buffett’s lyrics were filling my impressionable mind with sailors on high-sea adventure, a mango man, daiquiris and faraway lands like Trinidad, Marseille, Porto Bello, Can Garden Bay, St. Thomas and Haiti.
Escapism at its finest: I was hooked.
I immediately purchased prior Buffett albums: A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean, Living and Dying in ¾ Time, A1A, Havana Daydreamin’, Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, the latter containing Buffett’s megahit, Margaritaville. (As Buffett explains in the sacred “Parrot Head Handbook,” “Margaritaville became a combination of the romance of the ocean, the romance of history and my impressions of a few of the places I’d been…Margaritaville is as much a state of mind as a place.” Or, as he tells his audience on You Had To Be There, his first [and best] of what evolved into many live albums, “It’s anywhere you want it to be.”) 65
Buffett was a big influence on me becoming a writer. For a college journalism class assignment, I wrote a story about his music, which earned me an F; the adjunct instructor just didn’t get it. The next day, I mailed the story to Key West where it was soon published in Buffett’s newsletter, The Coconut Telegraph.
“Are you a Parrot Head?” by Parrot Head Scott Saalman.
It was my first published story, hooking me on this wonderful thing we call a byline. Yes, I showed The Coconut Telegraph to my instructor, and no he did not change my grade. Still, publication often serves as sweet revenge.
I anxiously awaited every new Buffett release, including Volcano, Coconut Telegraph, Somewhere Over China, One Particular Harbor, Riddles in the Sand, Last Mango in Paris, Songs You Know By Heart, Floridays, Hot Water, Off to See the Lizard, Feeding Frenzy, the Boats, Beaches, Bars and Ballads” box set, Fruitcakes, and Barometer Soup.
To date, there are many more Buffett albums that have been released.
Such prolific output easily makes Buffett the ultimate travel agent of the mind. His best songs are lyrical geography lessons enticing us to hold up our cardboard songs along life’s highway: Equator or Bust.
Here are just a few getaways you can visit through Buffett’s songs: Havana and Martinique, Cedar Key and Ecuador, Papeete and Montserrat, Ramrod Key and St. Maarten, Rio and Tampico, Key West and Antigua.
His songs instantly place Parrot Heads like me in a sunshine state of mind. Open Buffett’s musical treasure chest to discover mermaids and manatees, parakeets and palm trees, banana republics and banyan trees, beach bums and hurricanes, pirates and papayas, iguanas and coconuts, shark fins, shrimpers and remittance men, tanned crusaders and flip-flops, Mayan moons and gold doubloons. 66
His hundreds of songs are virtual reality postcards, invitations to the tropics, life songs from the lower latitudes.
There is no better antidote for my winter blahs. The trip is free. There are no passports, inoculations, rental cars, customs men or damned seagulls to contend with. And you don’t have to make arrangements for someone to feed your pets.
Be forewarned: your recharged brain may suffer from slight sunburn the next day, but that’s part of the recipe for rejuvenation.
So, what are you waiting for?
Margaritaville is calling.
Our barefoot shoes are on.
Our stereo’s sails are set.
Our direction, equatorial.
Call it mental migration.
Call it self-preservation.
Thanks, Jimmy, for curing my cabin fever and getting me through another Indiana winter.