White Illuminates the Man Behind Margaritaville
Author Ryan White shared his vision and meaning behind Jimmy Buffett: A Good Life All the Way with members of the Florida Southern and Lakeland community last Thursday.
Named twice as one of the top feature writers in the country by Society for Features Journalism, White spent 16 years at The Oregonian where he covered sports, music and culture, has written for The Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, and appeared on the public radio show Live Wire!
White grew up enduring frigid winters in Ann Arbor, Mich., but he and his parents would take a road trip down to Florida every two to three years to visit his uncle in Tampa.
As he grew older, White began to notice how his father would take walks on the beach and stare blankly out into the ocean. For years, he wondered what thoughts were going through his father’s mind as it seemed weights were falling of his shoulders as he stared out into the Gulf of Mexico.
A few years ago, while sitting in a Vegas bar, White called his father and asked what he had been thinking about all those years ago as he wandered the beach. His father replied, “I was thinking about Jimmy Buffett.”
In college, a friend of White’s from Cincinnati got him interested in Buffett’s music. Fast forward, and White would sometimes even find himself singing along to Buffett’s Margaritaville on the way to day care with his daughter.
“I’d push her into day care at two and a half and she’d be singing ‘I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know,’ and I’d look at the staff like ‘sorry,’” White said.
White was fascinated with with the way Margaritaville traveled through four decades of American culture.
“There was a whole world in that music; there was this whole borderless world,” White said.
Just eight months ago, Jimmy Buffett: A Good Life All the Way was published after an astronomical amount of time and energy was put in by White behind the scenes.
As White interviewed people for his book and traveled around Florida, he encountered numerous people who had experiences or run-ins with Buffett over the years. It was 1977 when Buffett wrote Margaritaville, but he was told it would be a a failure because there was no conflict.
Although Margaritaville was only the 14th top hit of 1977, Buffett is still headlining. White’s story explains how Margaritaville isn’t just a song, but the first lifestyle brand. Universal Studios eventually bought MCA, Buffett’s record company, and built CityWalk’s Margaritaville, which is is the highest grossing restaurant in Orlando.
“There were a million scripts of movies that were never made,” White said. “One of them you can read if you go to the library up at the University of Florida. When I went up to this research library, the guy in front of me was looking for a book about war crimes and then I step up like ‘Can I get the Buffett Collection? Is it okay if I brought my cooler?’”
White believes that when contemplating life as a whole, the idea of Buffett is fantastic.
White’s book states, “Everything Margaritaville does is about taking you away, in one form or another. Transporting you from where you are to wherever you dream to be. Why? Because of Jimmy Buffett. There is no Tommy Bahama. There’s a real person behind this whole idea of Margaritaville.”
Buffett’s life story has taught White that although Key West has changed since 1977 – there may be more people, new buildings and more traffic – we are all 10 years too late if we allow our enthusiasm to diminish. We must take opportunities as they present themselves and know that the choices is always ours.