Wasting Away

Trivia: What’s the highest grossing song of all time? That is, what song has produced more money for its composer than any other in history?

Hint: It’s not by the Beatles or Cole Porter or any other seemingly likely candidate.

For most of you the blog title probably gave it away. The surprising answer is “Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffett.

“Margaritaville”is a catchy tune, easy to sing along with and so easy to play on guitar that even I can do it. It’s a perfectly nice pop song. But it’s not at the top of the pop song money mountain because of record sales. It only made it to #8 on the pop charts when it was released in 1977.

Margaritaville has made a considerable fortune for Mr. Buffett thanks to aggressive licensing. Here’s a partial list of Margaritaville products (taken from Wikipedia):

  • “Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville” restaurant chain, tourist destination and chain of stores (shops) selling Buffett-themed franchise merchandise in Jamaica, Mexico and the U.S.
  • Margaritaville margarita mix (manufactured by “Mott’s” )
  • Margaritaville tequila
  • Margaritaville bottled malt beverages
  • Margaritaville branded Landshark Lager
  • Margaritaville Frozen Concoction Maker
  • Margaritaville chips & salsa
  • Margaritaville chicken wings
  • Margaritaville frozen seafood
  • Margaritaville Soles of the Tropics footwear
  • Margaritaville men’s & women’s apparel
  • Margaritaville outdoor & beach furniture
  • Margaritaville key-lime pie filling mix

There’s a Margaritaville internet radio station, a Margaritaville record label, a book of Margaritaville-themed short stories, and at Margaritaville.com you can find “Jimmy Buffett Tour Dates and Margaritaville Restaurants, Hotels, Casinos, Resorts, Vacation Club and Products.”

I was reminded of all this Margaritaville mania yesterday, when I saw the announcement that a new upscale Margaritaville resort (complete of course with a Landshark Bar) is going to be built in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, to join all the others that already exist. Doing a quick internet search this morning, I see that rooms in the Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort in Miami are over $300/night. At the Margaritaville resort in Grand Cayman the words “Changes in Latitude” are on the pillow cases.

Mr. Buffett has obviously come a long way from shoplifting peanut butter in Key West. It seems the lovable beach bum is quite the businessman.

I’ve been to my share of Jimmy Buffett concerts and I have most of his records. My wife has a stuffed parrot by her computer, and has been known to call herself a parrot-head. I get the attraction, and in a small way have contributed to the phenomenon.

But I think the question “what’s going on here?” is worth pondering. Why are so many people shelling out big bucks for little pieces of Margaritaville?

Certainly, it seems to me, there’s irony at play. “Margaritaville” (and Jimmy Buffett’s oeuvre generally) is selling the fantasy of a carefree beach bum lifestyle to an aging upper middle class who are mostly churning away as cogs in the economic machine. My guess is that many of them dream of that lifestyle, but are trapped in a life that makes it something they can only pretend to be a part of for a few hours at a concert or a weekend at a resort hotel (forgetting for a minute that the character in the song could never have afforded that). If I’m right about that, then there’s something sad about the appeal of Margaritaville. It’s like Cinderella’s castle for disappointed grown ups.

I was going to conclude with some thoughts about finding the courage to walk away from unsatisfying lives–maybe a suggestion that actual escape is better than escapism. But I think the point is obvious, so I won’t say much more this morning.

I can remember lots of miserable days and nights in a job that was sucking me dry. I desperately wanted out, but I was trapped by my duties, by responsibility, by prudence. But I never quit working toward the goal. I never surrendered to the idea that the closest I could ever come to my dream was to buy a bite of fantasy now and then. And that has made all the difference.

But there will be no flip flops and boat drinks here this morning. It’s a brisk 9 degrees outside right now and we have about 8 inches of snow on the ground. Time to feed the stove and the animals. If there’s to be any wasting away, it will have to wait till later.