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Jimmy Buffett: A Good Life All the Way Hardcover – May 9, 2017
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“A buoyant new Jimmy Buffett biography sings. . . . [White interviewed] dozens of Buffett’s fellow Key West, Florida, barflies, record producers, bandmates, friends, and business associates, and the portrait that emerges is affectionate and admiring but devoid of Parrot Head fawning—the proper key for such a bio. It helps that White’s prose bears a music of its own, vividly evoking Buffett’s formative journey from Mobile, Alabama, to New Orleans, to Nashville, and then to Key West.” —GARDEN & GUN
"A gifted storyteller with a beat reporter's nose for hidden details, Ryan White has crafted a definitive portrait of one of America's most potent cultural icons. And yet this is so much more than an account of sandy-footed slacker king Jimmy Buffett. It's also a peek into the yearning heart of overworked Americans searching for their own shaker of salt and helping drive the fantasy that turned Buffett's tequila-stunned 1977 smash ‘Margaritaville’ into the keystone of a multi-billion dollar leisure industry." –Peter Ames Carlin, New York Times bestselling author of Bruce
“Finally—a full-length Jimmy Buffett bio that’s accurate and entertaining. Ryan White captures a life of creativity, of strumming songs, taking care of business, and of owning the stage while dancing to the bank. Great writing makes for great reading, and this book outshines all earlier looks at Buffett’s career and lifestyle. White has interviewed dozens of the man’s colleagues, influences and guides, and asked all the right questions. Now we get to enjoy new insights and correct info right down to the sunburn. Thank goodness for Ryan White. He delivers a fine tale and, like Buffett, super entertainment."
- Tom Corcoran, author of Crime Almost Pays and The Quick Adios (Times Six).
“White unravels the tale of America’s favorite pirate with journalistic vigor and an ear for the poetic detail. It turns out that Jimmy Buffett’s real story is an interesting and wild as the countless myths and legends that have grown around him.” -Hayes Carll, Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter
“Ryan White has written a highly entertaining and very informative book about Jimmy Buffett; one that manages to go well beyond the mythology and legends while still giving them their just place in the grand design. An excellent read.”
- Patterson Hood, Drive-By Truckers
About the Author
Ryan White, the author of Springsteen: Album by Album and Jimmy Buffett: A Good Life All the Way, has twice been named one of the top feature writers in the country by the Society for Features Journalism. He spent sixteen years at The Oregonian covering sports, music, and culture. He’s written for The Wall Street Journal, Sports Illustrated, The Sacramento Bee, The Dallas Morning News, and Portland Monthly. He lives in Portland, Oregon.
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From a non-fan perspective, this book is DEEP. Not deep in the philosophical sense, but deep in the shear amount of details and research that must have gone into the collection of stories and history within its pages. The book starts out with a lovely short chapter on the formation of the band. It reads more like a novel and is beautifully and vividly described. Even though I didn't know all the characters per say, I was able to follow the action. Hard core fans will have no issues following the story of Jimmy's arrival in Key West. The second chapter then jumps back into time to some family history, specifically Grandfather Buffett, the sea captain. While this chapter was a bit more academic and read more like history than novel, it does set the subtle ebb and flow of the book, like waves on the beach, skillfully moving from story telling to history lessons in the Encyclopedia Buffett. The book mostly follows this pattern, jumping from scene to scene, and through various places and times.
As a fan of history, and a good biography, I found the tales and history surrounding Mr. Buffett fascinating and well told. There is so much lore surrounding the legend of Jimmy Buffett, it was really fun to see the origins of the folklore (like any good hero, there is typically some truth to the surrounding myths). Additionally, after reading through all the history I feel quite lazy in comparison. The Buffetts and the extended family of personalities that have come and gone from the Coral Reefer band have (wildly in some cases) accomplished way more than I could ever hope to in my lifetime. The productivity of the collective is amazing, and Jimmy is STILL going, not so much the legend of years past... but still traveling, touring, and transforming into the ultimate master of brand and marketing he is today.
Even though I had to web search for some of the references in the book (note: Parrotheads will likely not have this issue), I still found every chapter well worth the read. This was obviously a labor of love for the author, and I suspect it was a blast to research, collect these tales, and spin the yarns. Peering over at Mr. White's other offering Springsteen: Album by Album , which seems to be quite a different type of book, he does like his musical icons.
Ryan White's style is smooth, hip, and light, just as are Jimmy Buffett's singing style and take on life. Buffet, born to a longtime family of seafaring Mobile, Alabama sea captains seems to have surfed over life, while developing a take on its experience with broad and long-lasting appeal. Coming from a background of relative privilege, he discovered the joys of black blues sung by smart white guys early in his wandering college career, when he noticed that guys with guitars got all the girls, a phenomenon many have noticed. Nevertheless, Buffett seems to have done his apprenticeship as an itinerant bar and small venue musician with joy and a good deal of attention, playing the streets of New Orleans, starting and losing bands, exploring and exploiting the Nashville music scene as a song writer, plugger, and Billboard columnist, always watching and listening. Meanwhile, Ryan's jazzy, folk-rock inflected late sixties and seventies tone sets the stage for an interesting and readable exploration through the life of one of America's most entertaining and gifted singer/songwriters.
White serves up Buffett's story in a light-hearted manner, making it go down as easily as tequila while maintaining a driving narrative flow. Whether it's Mobile, AL, the development of the Nashville music scene, or the discovery, founding, sale, and development of Key West to a series of joyful scoundrels, White keeps the narrative light while throwing in enough solid information along with crumbs of humor to keep the reader's eyes from glazing over. Buffett's ability to attract trustworthy and effective partners (Don Light, Tom Corcoran) and advisers while continuing to trust his own musical vision should not be underestimated. In the end, Buffett, despite seldom cracking top ten in either the song or album charts, was able to create one of the most lucrative entertainment brands in history. The book reads a lot like listening to Buffett songs, always salted with nuggets of insight and wisdom, keeping the reader's interest. Nevertheless, it's clear that White has done his homework with plenty of references and interviews cited yet never becoming pedantic.
Perhaps the most interesting elements in the book lie in the contrasts between various versons of Jimmy Buffett: the incessant partier, the driven perfectionist, the innovative wordsmith, and the able leader. His ability to move between the roles making each of them a full part of his multi-dimensional persona is what makes Buffett both believable and, sometimes, truly likeable. He managed to draw talented people to him, tap into their resources, build a musical empire and a personal fortune, and leave mostly good memories behind.
The book appeals to everyone interested in Buffett from casual fans who've enjoyed his songs while seated in a bar or in occaisonal radio plays, or a chance album purchase to dedicated Parrot Heads who follow him and the the Coral Reefers ceaselessly. They pay over a $1000 a piece for tickets, because these baby boomers and later have enjoyed Buffett, living his life vicariously while mostly staying sober and industrious, making successes of themselves, just like their hero. Sometimes the book seems to get pretty deep into the details of song development, recordings, and contracts, but it is, therefore, a Buffett feast for Parrot Heads while never becoming overwhelming for the more general reader interested in Buffett as a singer and a phenomenon.
Twice named one of the top writers in the country by the Society for Features Journalism, Ryan White spent nearly 16 years at the Oregonian covering sports, music, and culture. He's appeared on the public radio variety show Live Wire! as both an interviewer and an essayist. He has also written for Sports Illustrated, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Washington Post, the Portland Mercury, and Portland Monthly magazine. A perfectly OK beer league hockey player, he lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and daughter. (Amazon profile)
In Jimmy Buffett: A Good Life All the Way by Ryan White (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 2017, 368 pp., $26.99/12.99), Ryan White has written a nuanced and thoughtful book that probably captures as much of Jimmy Buffett as can be fitted between book covers. Buffett emerges as a complex man who discovered he had become a “BRAND” and knew how to capitalize on that while continuing to write and sing songs keeping the brand alive. Seemingly easy going, offhand, even sloppy, he's detail oriented, fully self-aware. As I read the book, I was often unsure if I like Jimmy Buffett or not. But he emerges as a good man with a life well spent who has created a dream for others to drop into and then return to their more humdrum world. Not a bad legacy to leave and a wonderful reading experience to describe it. I received the book as a digital download from the publisher through Edelweiss and read it on my Kindle app.