I am a Parrothead. And a proud one at that. There’s something about the escapism in the mixture of rock, folk and reggae from a tropical-themed stage filled with members of the Coral Reefer Band. There’s something, too, about the carefree attitude and the free-flowing margaritas found so easily before any show.
Yes, I know that Jimmy Buffett doesn’t quite look at things in the same way that I do. And yes, I know that in terms of political involvement, Buffett has gone from abstention–”I ran away from politics, it is too bizarre at home,” he sang in Far Side of the World, from the eponymous album he released in 2002, his 33rd record–to knee-jerk, emotion-filled partisanship–”To me it was more about eight years of bad policy before (Obama) got there that let this happen. It was Dracula running the blood bank in terms of oil and leases,” he told the Associated Press last week–but I am ready, willing and able to give the man a pass.
Was his criticism of George W. Bush and his administration, as it pertained to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, ill-informed? Absolutely. The Bush administration gave the Deepwater Horizon–the rig which sank and caused this whole mess–six different safety citations, while the Obama administration, the ones so blameless in Jimmy Buffett’s eyes, actually gave the rig a safety award last year.
But, again, I give him a pass. Wanna know why?
Well, as I write this, my television is tuned to CMT. On that channel–check the higher numbers of your digital cable listings to see if you get it–Jimmy Buffett and his Coral Reefer Band is playing a benefit event live on the coast in Gulf Shores, Alabama. As far as I know, he’s the only celebrity out there to do anything of the sort. Heck, he’s the only one even talking about it.
When a tsunami came ashore in Indonesia, every celebrity seemed overnight to have their own foundation. NBC, ABC and CBS simulcast a benefit program featuring A-listers, D-listers and everyone in between, appealing to the giving nature of Americans from coast to coast. When an earthquake shook Burma to its core, again the celebrities came out in droves, and again the networks responded. And when the Haitian capital city was ravaged by another quake, again the celebrities came out, again the networks responded. That time, it was simulcast in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. That time, everyone from George Clooney to Wyclef Jean to Kathy Griffin–I think–were involved.
Yet when a true disaster happens on our own shores, when it is American working-class families who are living without, confronted with uncertain futures, where are the celebrities? Where are they? Where is the same awareness that so many strove for when the trouble occurred abroad?
Silence. Except for one. Jimmy Buffett.
Buffett has never held himself out as the greatest singer in the world. But he’s built an empire on being able to turn stages and amphitheaters in places like Camden, New Jersey and Cincinnati, Ohio into places like St. Kitts, St. Thomas and even Gulf Shores, Alabama. He has built a brand, and in the face of complete and utter silence from everyone else, Jimmy Buffett was there.
And you could find him on CMT. Not NBC. Not ABC. Not CBS. Who cares that thousands of families are wondering where their next paycheck is coming from? Who cares that thousands of businesses normally bustling in cities dotting the coastlines in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida are now wanting for customers and traffic? Big Brother was on. Dateline was airing its Sunday night installment. Forget Jimmy Buffett and the Gulf Coast. Call back, maybe, if the disaster reaches Cuba and Jay-Z gets involved.
So, this evening, it was Fins Up for the Gulf Coast, and Thumbs Down for the networks. And, as for Jimmy Buffett — while I’m sure that many Parrotheads like myself are throwing out their albums and hanging up the seashell bikini-tops and grass skirts, I’m giving him a pass. I don’t care whether he’s right or left. I don’t even care whether he’s right or wrong with where he places blame. The Gulf Coast is in trouble, its people are floundering, he sees it, and he’s daring to do something about it.
Spot a problem? See Americans in trouble? Either you do everything you can to help, or you go golfing. Again. Buffett is a good guy. He did what he could.
That much, I like. It provides, dare I say, a little escapism from the reality that too often sees disaster confronted with talk alone, or with sweeping changes in policy more related to an encroachment on freedom than to the problem such changes were designed to solve. Action, it seems, is refreshing. Kind of like a margarita.