CA$HING IN ON GRIEF
R. Brian Campbell
On Friday, September 1, 2023, a hero of mine, Jimmy Buffett, passed away at the age of 76. This was sad news, but not entirely surprising, as Jimmy had been forced to cancel and reschedule a number of concerts in the last year, due to doctor’s orders. Parrotheads (Jimmy Buffett fans) knew something was wrong, we just didn’t know what it was. It turned out that Jimmy had been battling a rare form of skin cancer for the last four years.
This was upsetting news for Parrotheads, but, as it turned out, the worst was yet to come. It probably shouldn’t have surprised anyone when his CDs were suddenly selling at more than three times the original price, if you could find them at all. Memories of Colonel Parker cashing in on Elvis’s death quickly comes to mind. Still, not a big problem for most fans. We already have an extensive collection of his music, books and other paraphernalia. We can ride the wave before purchasing that one item we failed to get previously.
No, that wasn’t the most upsetting occurrence. What upset me most, was the sudden appearance of literally dozens upon dozens of Jimmy Buffett biographies. In the days following Jimmy’s death, Amazon was virtually deluged with “Definitive Jimmy Buffett Biographies” by “Expert Biographers” all offering the official and complete story of Jimmy’s life and death. These books were all dated anywhere between September 2nd and 5th, 2023, and the number of books is still rising. Many of these “complete stories” are between 20 and 60 pages long, definitely all you need to tell the full story of a career spanning more than 50 years.
I have little doubt that the vast majority, if not the entirety of these biographies were created within hours, using AI, by people who knew very little, if anything at all about Jimmy before the announcement of his death. From reading the summaries, I quickly came to the conclusion that most of the so called biographies fall into two categories. The “Just The Facts” stories, which used AI to gather up as much information about Jimmy from Wikipedia, past news articles, magazine stories, and existing biographies, to very quickly create a short, but detailed history of Jimmy’s life.
Some of the summaries, I have to admit, appear accurate, more or less, but are about as interesting to read as a dictionary. This one from Gloria Fletcher, for example, written in all caps: “JIMMY BUFFETT’S LIFE WAS FILLED WITH MUSIC, ADVENTURE, AND A LOVE FOR THE SEA. HE WAS BORN ON DECEMBER 25, 1946, IN MISSISSIPPI. HE CREATED A UNIQUE STYLE OF MUSIC CALLED “CARIBBEAN ROCK N’ ROLL” THAT MADE PEOPLE FEEL LIKE THEY WERE ON VACATION. HE WAS ALSO A SAILOR AND A PILOT, WHICH ADDED EXCITEMENT TO HIS LIFE. HE MARRIED TWICE AND HAD CHILDREN. BUFFETT WAS A SUPPORTER OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY AND HELPED RAISE MONEY FOR POLITICIANS HE BELIEVED IN. IN 2023, A NEW TYPE OF CRUSTACEAN WAS NAMED AFTER HIM, CALLED GNATHIA JIMMYBUFFETTI. SADLY, HE PASSED AWAY ON SEPTEMBER 1, 2023, BUT HIS MUSIC AND ADVENTURES WILL ALWAYS BE REMEMBERED.”
The second type, I call, “Tell Me a Story,” where the author, and I use that term loosely, tries to be creative and entertaining, with little regard for the facts. Here is an example from Michelle Moore. “One day, as Jimmy strolled along the sandy shoreline with his faithful guitar, he met a group of locals who shared his love for music and the good life. They formed a band called “The Coral Breeze,” with Jimmy as the lead singer and songwriter. Their music was a blend of tropical rhythms, island vibes, and the stories of their everyday lives.”
Right now, Parrotheads are rolling on the floor laughing. But for the rest of you, I’d better explain why this is funny. Jimmy’s band was the Coral Reefers, not the Coral Breeze, and they came together over a period of time, with members coming and going over the years, including a number of honorary members. In fact, the first Coral Reefer Band consisted of Jimmy, his guitar, and several made-up characters, such as Marvin Gardens, Al Vacado and Miss Kitty Litter. But then, why let the truth interfere with creative storytelling.
Some of the biographers are, well I won’t go so far as to call them liars, but the options are either that or lazy. For instance, there’s Eric O. Kelley. “He is the father of tropical rock, the lead singer of the Parrot Heads.”
Sigh… If I got a detail like that wrong in Journalism class, I would have failed.
Then there are the ones who try to spice up their AI created story by peppering it with random adjectives. Take this example, by Hubert Larson. “Getaway to a universe of sun-splashed sea shores, influencing palm trees, and the mitigating songs of Jimmy Buffett in this enamoring memoir. “Margaritaville Dreams” offers a cozy excursion through the life and tradition of the unbelievable artist, business visionary, and narrator, Jimmy Buffett. From his unassuming starting points along the Bay Coast to his ascent as the ruler of trop rock, Buffett’s life has been a wonderful experience loaded up with music, imagination, and a profound association with his fans. Find the beginnings of immortal works of art like “Margaritaville” and “Cheeseburger in Heaven,” and investigate the way of thinking that roused a worldwide local area of committed parrotheads.”
My, my, my. Where do I start? Oh well, I think you get the point.
Some of the books even offer “the secret” behind his death. There is no secret. You can find out about his fight with cancer, simply by checking the news, or by going to the Margaritaville website.
Some covers are mind blowing, as well, strange caricatures, pictures of someone who isn’t Jimmy, and even one with the title, “Jimmy Buffett Kicks the Bucket @ 76.” For God’s sake. One cover even has his last name misspelled.
The point I am trying to make is that, while there have always been people who have tried making a buck off of tragedy and grief, it now appears that the combination of AI and self-publishing has found a way to make it much easier. Anyone can, by typing in just a few basic details about a dead celebrity, have an “Authentic Biography” created in just a few hours, or less, with little or no knowledge of the subject matter or, for that matter, little or no writing ability. Amazon will allow you to self-publish anything you want, as long as they get their cut. I’ve been told that the same thing was done when Bob Barker died. Is this the future of journalism? Of writing, in general? I hope not, but I worry that it is.
By the way, for those of you who may want to read an actual biography of Jimmy Buffett, by a real journalist, who actually studied Jimmy, met the people he associated with, and did his due diligence, there are a few options. The best, by far, is Jimmy Buffett, A Good Life All The Way, by Ryan White, written in 2017.
The next, would be the unauthorized biography, Jimmy Buffett, The Man from Margaritaville Revealed, written by Steve Eng in 1996, which includes a letter from Jimmy himself, who explained, in no uncertain terms, why he felt that Steve should not write the biography. And Steve was a real journalist, who actually did the legwork, interviewed people close to Jimmy, and researched him properly. Imagine what Jimmy would think of these parasites.
Of course, if you want to get the scoop first-hand, read A Pirate Looks at Fifty, written by Jimmy Buffett himself in 1998, as sort of a rebuttal to Steve Eng’s book. Another option would be Jimmy Buffett: The Key West Years, by Tom Corcoran, but this one may have reached rare vintage status. Expensive, if you can find it at all. Mind you, at this point, all of these books may be priced out of the average person’s range. But be patient, the prices will come back down eventually. Don’t lower yourself to feeding these remora. Wait for the real deal.
Fins Up, Parrotheads. Bubbles Up.