Old Man Winter has finally been kicked out of the Midwest on his ass. And with Summer comes the annual ritual of neighbors introducing their record collections to each other. So why does it remind me of the menu at a Holiday Inn?
Hot times, Summer in the city.
Speakers in front windows blast tunes into the street, the better to have a catch to. Loc’d out Monte Carlos and Impalas cruise the strip, competing to see who can rattle more license plates to the sounds of the latest single (currently, the favorite seems to be J.Lo’s “Play That Song”). And of course, everyone in the city is out on the porch, barbecuing, drinking, and kicking back to their favorite Summertime music. But too often and for too many people, a few rays of sunshine and a bag of charcoal means that they need to dig down into that stack o’ CDs at the end of the rack, the ones with the cracked jewel cases and sun-blistered, margarita-stained liner notes. These are the discs that have stuck through 3 colleges, 5 apartments, 2 girlfriends, and too many Summer bashes. They mean a lot to the owner, and occasionally (sometime between Coronas 6 and 10), he can relate some “bitchin'” collegiate anecdotes that get his work buddies howling.
It’s become such a cliché. Summer? Corona? Burgers? Quick! To the Jimmy Buffet!
What caused this knee-jerk reaction? Well, part of it is Jimmy himself. A failed Nashville troubadour who re-made himself as a Gulf Coast Tropic-core rocker with a penchant for pirates, beer, and laziness, Buffet’s 1973 nugget “Why Don’t We Get Drunk” and its smirking punchline forever positioned him as every aging beer drinker’s Instant Summer Panic Button. Which explains the sales numbers generated by the man himself. Something tells me his album of showtunes (co-written with everyone’s favorite wild party guest Herman Wouk) hasn’t exactly funded the man’s latest jetboat purchase. For legions of SUV-driving Parrotheads, Buffet’s ketchup-and-mustard greatest hits collection and his annual Summer tour are all they know (or care) of Key West’s favorite son. So what’s tiresome about Summer music? Not Buffet the man. It’s Buffet the fan…
The past few weeks have seen some beautiful nights in Chicagoland. The breeze is just right, the beer gardens are full, and dogs are meeting people on every stoop. Recently, I sat down on my porch with a can of Bud to watch the world go by. Jeeps rolled down the street with The Wu and Crazy Town booming out of the back. A fella across the way had the baseball game on a little transistor radio. And then I heard them, wafting across the warm Summer air from the coach house behind my building.
Now, “Touch Me” was never a good song. But it’s even worse coming out of a pair of shitty Realistics. Jim Morrison’s moronic warble accompanies production that’s two steps away from a Tom Jones road show rolling into Branson, MO. His delivery is so bloated, Morrison makes Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without A Face” sound like Johnny Hartman. But I digress. I’m still out on the porch, and my Bud’s getting warm while I ponder why in God’s name my neighbors believe The Doors are worthy of anything, let alone Summertime outdoor music listening.
I think my neighborhood Doors-lovers have quite a bit in common with the Parrotheads, and both share an affinity with those consumers out there keeping the singles and soundtracks sections of the store commercially viable. Many people just don’t want to work that hard for their music. The only thing I could ever compliment The Doors on were a few funky organ licks. But Jimmy Buffet is a hard-working dude, and at least his music has some narrative depth to it. So I’m not necessarily railing on the musicians. Like I said, it’s more a problem with the fan himself. Too many times, people simply settle for what’s available on a “Top Sellers For Summer!” endcap, not realizing the gems that lay beyond greatest hits collections and the same 8 Buffet songs that everyone else loves. It’s like my man Phil Wise said before. Record shopping is tough business. But if you have the patience to explore, and the ears to listen, those Coronas and brats just might start tasting a little better. There’s nothing wrong with knowing the lyrics to “Cheeseburger In Paradise,” or even (ugh) “LA Woman.” But why not make your barbecue a little bit cooler with a few unheard or un-recongnized gems? In the meantime, I’ll be on my stoop, drinking a Bud.
And the back of my neck’s getting dirty and gritty.