The beach-bum version of Jimmy Buffett has become a huge brand® with financial interests in foodstuffs, hotels, casinos, and even adult living communities. Buffett is the original escapist who has long escaped his original slacker identity. A businessman wrapped in a Hawaiian shirt, he’s worth more money than Bruce Springsteen. (Not bad for a guy who only had one top ten song, compared to Springsteen, who has had 12.) Taffy Brodesser-Akner profiles Buffett for The New York Times.
Jimmy Buffett is not really Jimmy Buffett anymore. He hasn’t been for a while. Jimmy Buffett — the nibbling on sponge cake, watching the sun bake, getting drunk and screwing, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere Jimmy Buffett — has been replaced with a well-preserved businessman who is leveraging the Jimmy Buffett of yore in order to keep the Jimmy Buffett of now in the manner to which the old Jimmy Buffett never dreamed he could become accustomed. And therein lies the Margaritaville® Mesquite BBQ Rub: The more successful you become at selling the Jimmy Buffett lifestyle, the less you are seen as believably living the Jimmy Buffett lifestyle.
Mr. Buffett has given his fans a path to a simulacrum of the island life. In the course of it, he’s gotten very rich. How rich? According to Forbes, in 2016 Mr. Buffett, who has only had one Top 10 song (“Margaritaville” reached No. 8), was worth a reported $550 million. (Bruce Springsteen is worth a mere $460 million, according to that same list.)
To be Jimmy Buffett is to understand that the Jimmy Buffett lifestyle is one not simply of leisure, but of a leisure born of resistance to middle-class convention and upward mobility: We work too many long hours, we would rather be at a bar, we would rather be Gone Fishin’, our other car is a surfboard, our other coffee mug is a beer bottle, we would rather be lying on a beach, our skin the texture of Margaritaville® Sweet & Spicy chicken wings (recipe available online!). The Jimmy Buffett lifestyle shakes its fist at the Man even while, Jimmy Buffett, with his 5,000 employees, is basically now the Man. So he is stuck with a conundrum: How do you maintain a brand that is about being chill when it is maybe the least chill thing in the world to wake up in the grip of panic about your new multimillion-dollar musical?