In a summer unlike any other in history, Jimmy Buffett is coming to the rescue with an charming and thoughtful new album called Life on the Flip Side. In the second half of our exclusive interview, the legendary entertainer explains how Zoom will impact future generations of performers, his longtime connection to frontline healthcare workers, and how a quote from Mark Twain changed the way he sees the world.
CMT: My favorite song on your new album might be “Who Gets to Live Like This.” I see you wrote that with Lukas Nelson and Mac McAnally.
Yeah, I knew Lukas as a kid because he and my daughter Savannah kind of grew up backstage at all the Willie Picnics years ago. He came up here to play a few years ago — I’m at my summer house in Sag Harbor — and he was just wonderful, as a player and as a songwriter. He’s got a lot of his dad in him, but he’s his own person too. I picked up on that immediately. And we just became best of friends.
We ended up in Hawaii together, but on two different islands. We’d always talked about writing something. Mac McAnally and I started that song, and I sent Lukas a groove thing, from an old record that I really liked the groove on, so we collaborated and wrote it. We were texting and sending pages to each other from two islands apart in Hawaii!
That song has a great vibe, and so does “Live, Like It’s Your Last Day.” There’s a Caribbean feel to those, and an African music influence, too.
Yeah, I listen to a lot of African music. … That groove just sits there and the Aboriginals called those “songlines.” The groove was always there. They would go to walking groove — a fast-walking groove, or a slow-walking groove, in Africa, or in Aboriginal Australia. Then they would write a story to that groove, and they would know by a certain point of a story where they were going to be. And there would be a mention of that place in the lyrics. It’s a very cool way to write songs!
You have that multicultural component in your band, and you definitely do on your records. Why is it so satisfying for you to have that global perspective in the music you make?
I came from a family of sailors and travelers. And as a child, everybody had been out there. There’s a Mark Twain quote about how travel is good for the soul, and it does away with bigotry and small-mindedness. He says if you see the world, and see other men, women, and things that excite you, it’s much better than living your life in one place.
It’s been one of my credos for a long time, and music was the same way. What was exciting to me was to pick up on the music that people were listening to, and the music that was part of the culture that you visited. It’s an amazing way to see countries, if you listen to the music when you’re visiting there.
To me, the album’s final song “Book on the Shelf” expresses your gratitude to your fans, and to your band and crew. You’re sharing with us that you’re not done yet. I’m curious, what compels you to keep going and keep creating?
That there are always stories out there. Life changes — and we’re in one of the biggest curveballs now. I think one of the things about it is, there will be an end to this virus and these hard times, and things hopefully will get better. But in the meantime, the intimacy that was created by all performers and audiences having to be quarantined, I don’t think that’s ever happened in the history of the planet! People who love music couldn’t go hear it live! In the world!
That’s a big, big thing, because music soothes the savage beast, as they always say. It’s that little fabric of cohesiveness that can keep people from going crazy. These days it’s a very polarized world, so being able to share that music intimately, with somebody you like who’s playing it for 20 people on Zoom — I think that future artists will have to be good at that, in order to find an audience that will come see you live. I really believe that.
I’m sure those Zoom calls that you’ve done lately with medical workers are as uplifting for you as it is for them.
You know, we went to our Parrotheads because I’ve known for a long time that I have a lot of good friends and a lot of good fans who are in the healthcare business and first responders. And I know how much our music has meant to them before there ever was a pandemic. So when it came along, I went to that source to say, even with the strain and stress of what’s going on, there still has to be some fun in life.
I had read your quote that says, “There will be a time and place when we emerge from these troubled waters and things will change will change for the better.” I thought that was a beautiful way to phrase that. It’s encouraging.
Yeah, and I always say too, “When that is, where that is, it’s going to be a hell of a show!” (laughs)
Where you do you get your sense of optimism and hope?
I’ve always been that way because I had to deal with a lot of failure and rejection! So you had to laugh at a lot of stuff. It wasn’t easy getting here. It wasn’t that way for everybody, you know? Television these days has made it look easier, on some of these shows, but it’s not. I always caution people that want to do this — you better be ready for rejection and be able to deal with failure. Those things are what make you strong enough to be successful.
The simple fact that I get to live where I live, and do what I do, and somehow I have the ability to take a look at the world and put it in songs that reflect on people — as I said in “Book on the Shelf,” these songs aren’t for me, they’re for you. And I really believe that.