Exactly one year before the recent death of singer and songwriter Jimmy Buffett, I shared on Songcrafters.org a piece of music with the working title “Jimmy Buffett Can Kiss My Ass.” It was a little weird that my song would pop up on the “On This Day” playlist on the day Jimmy died.
Before you get the wrong idea: I had no antipathy towards Buffett, or his music. Son of a Son of a Sailor was one of the first, say, 10 albums I ever owned. I loved the album – until my teenage punk and prog tribal snobbery prohibited me from admitting to it.
Buffett deserves at least a footnote in my biography; the chapter on how music led me to live in Africa. The song, “My African Friend,” seemed really exotic to my 16-year-old self, cloistered in the suburbs of Phoenix. It tells the story of Buffett and an unnamed African becoming instant fleeting friends and embarking on an evening of gambling and debauchery one night in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I wondered, What would it be like to have an African friend?
Buffett seemed so at ease in the wider world, he was one of many musicians who made me want to expand my horizons.
(Ironically, the video for “My African Friend” from the official Jimmy Buffett account on YouTube is blocked here in Madagascar.)
I dated a Parrothead for awhile in the 1990s – which is how I learned that Buffett fans call themselves Parrotheads. Other than that, I lost touch with Buffett’s career. But somewhere in my mind, I retained an admiration for Jimmy, because his persona came to mind as… Well, you’ll see.
The Songcrafters.org Post
Last year I had a vacation that got off to a bad start – a really bad start. The stress didn’t let up until I found myself recording this piece of music.
Here is the story I posted to Songcrafters.org when I shared the music:
The first two days on the road, my daughter was violently car sick, hurling into our ample supply of plastic barf bags a dozen times.
The day after we arrived at our first stop – Toliara – our driver got news that his 15-year-old son had died suddenly. We sent him back to Antananarivo to take care of that tragedy.
That same day we got intel that our horny teenage housekeeper and pet sitter had told every boy in the neighborhood that we were out of town, so we had to hire extra security to watch our house.
Also: My wife developed food poisoning or something causing her stomach pain.
Without a driver, I took the wheel and we pressed on to the next stop on our trip – Mangily – less than an hour away nonstop. I got stopped every 10 km by the police, thanks to my white face. One cop kindly issued me a handwritten “48-hour International driving permit” for a small fee of 40,000 Ariary (less than $10). The next cop who stopped us (10 km down the road, of course) looked at it and was like, WTF is this?
My wife’s stomach pain wasn’t getting any better. I had to think about what kind of medical care I could find for her out there, miles from any hospital, and whether I could transport her there without a police incident. We talked to her uncle, who is a doctor, and he told us what over-the-counter medicines we should get. We bought them from a pharmacy that looked like a lemonade stand.
Then I had a “misunderstanding” with a drunken coconut vendor when I told him that I did not want to buy the coconuts he had prepared with his machete. So he proceeded to threaten me with said machete. The hotel had to call armed security to get him to leave us alone.
Our tour guide helped us find a driver we could hire for one day so we could make it to our next stop – St. Augustin – without being pulled over for “driving while white.”
We made a side trip to see some sand dunes, and ran into an actual bridge troll, sort of – a crazy and hostile guy who blocked the one-lane raised road across the wet sand flats. He demanded money if we wished to pass. I let our driver and our guide handle him.
Early the next morning, we left the car at a hotel in St. Augustin and loaded our bags into big canoe with an outboard motor and headed to Anakao. (You can get there by road I’m told, if you dare; if you have a 4×4, and full day to kill.) No motion sickness from the kid. My wife’s stomach pain was subsiding.
The next morning I set up my Micro BR [music recorder] and my minimal pedalboard on the porch outside the AirBnB bedroom. Still pretty stressed out.
Knowing the calming, meditative power of a delay pedal and headphones, I plugged in and started strumming. (For some reason, my first chord was a Cadd9. That’s never my go-to first chord. I’m an open G guy, usually.) And this little phrase came to me. I played it over and over just letting the echo do its hypnotic magic, watching the scenery just off the beach.
The day was beautiful. Time seemed to slow down.
I sat looking over the beautiful turquoise waters, watching Vezo fishermen sail past my hotel, and I played and recorded this simple phrase on my guitar.
I thought about those fishermen, and how their lives are as rich and involved as mine or anyone’s. Not idyllic, but full of joys and perils that I can only imagine. The service they provided to me – human scenery – is an unintended byproduct of their own daily efforts to keep on living. Because living is worth it.
And I thought, Key West can’t possibly be as good as this. Jimmy Buffett can kiss my ass.
The rest of the vacation was really good and relaxing. I started reading a book – the memoir of a Holocaust survivor. That also helped to put my troubles into perspective.Posted to Songcrafters.org on September 2, 2022