Jimmy Buffett is a walking dictionary definition of "multiple threat." Besides being a multi-platinum singer/songwriter, Buffett also operates his own record label, Internet radio station, a chain of Margaritaville restaurants, and is one of only six authors in the history of the New York Times bestseller list to have hit number one on both the fiction and non-fiction lists. (The others are Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, William Styron, Irving Wallace, and Dr. Seuss.)
Buffett has now released his 33rd album, Far Side of the World, on his own Mailboat imprint, and is touring heavily to promote it - good news, indeed, for his legions of fans, known as "Parrotheads" for the outlandish, tropical-inspired garb they wear to his shows. The artist believes that, with the new album's droll "What if the Hokey Pokey Is All It Really Is About?," he may have found a new dance routine for the 'Heads to learn.
Inspired by a trip to Africa, the new album features not only "Hokey Pokey" and such other high-octane tunes as the heavily rhythmic "Big Guitar" and Sonny Landreth's Cajun-fried "USS Zydecoldsmobile," but also a contemplative, even wistful feel, via numbers like "Someday I Will" and "Tonight I Just Need My Guitar."
"At a certain age, you start to become more introspective," he recently told Billboard. "I'm 55. At some point, wisdom starts to overcome testosterone."
Also having an effect were the September 11 attacks. Far Side's cover art was changed from a shot of Buffett in full Lawrence of Arabia gear making a cell-phone call to a more thoughtful photo of him leaning against a wall with an elephant looming in the background. He also questioned whether he should tour, but concluded, "As a performer, I was going to go out and play come hell or high water. I wasn't going to be run out of town by a bunch of terrorists."
Besides, he notes that he gets just as much from the live experience as his fans: "[The Parrotheads] look like Sodom and Gomorrah, but there are lots of professional people among them. When we do a big concert, we go out early into the parking lot just to watch them. These are people who enjoy getting into costume and having fun."
Meanwhile, his other endeavors continue apace. Radiomargarativalle.com, featuring live broadcasts of Buffett concerts, a weekly Little Feat show and an eclectic playlist of like-minded (if not necessarily like-sounding) recording acts, is, according to webcast ratings systems Arbitron and MeasureCast, among the highest ranked web channels on the Net, while Mailboat, launched in 1999, has released titles by hard-rock band Poison and former Eagles member Timothy B. Schmit.
Then there's the writing of his fourth book, which will be "part fiction, part nonfiction. These things take a long time, and it's hard work. If you talk about it too much, they begin to smell the money and pile on the pressure to get it finished."
It is music, however, that remains the primary creative outlet for the West Palm Beach resident. "I'm just glad to still be making albums," he told Billboard. "At one level, I pretty much know if you like what I do, you'll like this music. It's not the time to go off and do Buffett Discovers Gershwin. It's like cooking: You don't completely go make some other dish that's not palatable, but you try to use some different ingredients."
Far Side of the World seems guaranteed to satisfy the most adventurous musical appetite.