49. “Knee Deep (feat. Jimmy Buffett)” by Zac Brown Band (2011)

The JOAT 50 Song Countdown is a blog series where every weekday for 10 weeks I am posting a brand new long form essay where I have ranked and written about my 50 favorite songs of all-time. From Adele to Zac Brown Band, Patsy Cline to Plasma Canvas, Ludacris to Rise Against, this series offers a personal essay about the 50 songs that hit me the absolute hardest.

Of my most unpopular opinions – everyone should be required to drive a car with a manual stick shift for one year and then pass a competency test at the conclusion of that year; and football is not only boring, but fascist, among them – declaring how much I think Jimmy Buffett sucks is right near the top of that list. So it’s with some surprise that I find him, if only in a featured role, on my list of Top 50 songs of all-time.

First, let me just get this out of my system. Jimmy Buffett’s music is thoroughly whatever to me. His banal brand of island escapism doesn’t speak to me one way or the other. It’s coconut-scented Muzak. Palm tree wallpaper in audio form. What bugs me is that his whole brand has always felt like disingenuous Boomer hucksterism.

Sex, drugs and rock n roll in the 60s, man! —> “Just Say No” and parental advisory stickers on CDs in the 80s, young man.

“I worked a minimum wage job in the 70s and went to college on that, and then bought a house!” —> “Young people need to get off their asses and grow up. Oh and by the way, we’ve bought all the real estate as investment properties, obliterated the social safety net, and jacked up the prices on everything. Fuck you and your avocado toast, junior.”

“Hi, I’m Jimmy Buffett. I sing about hamburgers and getting drunk on the beach. Aren’t I a cool every man beach bum?” —> “Hi, I’m Jimmy Buffett, I’ve weaponized this aesthetic into 14 fucking brand extensions and am a literal billionaire selling dorky merchandise, chain restaurants, shitty beer, casinos, and literal ass retirement communities with my stupid name on them. Aren’t I a cute ultra-capitalist?”

Whatever. Even if I’m not wrong here, I’m wrong. I get why people like him and his shit. I also don’t care. I think the music is dull, and the brand is for lame poseurs and uncreative, rich Boomer asswipes.

So, hi! Let me now say some nice things about a song he’s in!

Zac Brown Band is an odd case in my history of fandom in that I can’t remember where I started liking them. When I worked my corporate gig, our company bought a giant VIP package to Cheyenne Frontier Days that included a lot of all-access perks including great seats to all the concerts throughout the week. Zac Brown Band was headlining the Saturday show that year, and I seem to remember hearing buzz about him prior to that. But even now, spending many minutes over multiple days writing and prepping this very piece, part of me feels like I’m just making shit up at this point. Because I can’t remember anything leading up to my decision to invite my friend Mikey up to Cheyenne for the night and catch this show. I might’ve just thought that was a cool looking name. I can’t remember!

In any event, we went to the show and it kicked fucking ass. Zac Brown Band combines my favorite elements of old school outlaw country with a keen pop sensibility, and a hard rock undercurrent bubbling just beneath the surface. We had grand old dirtbag time!

The next year I invited my wife up because he was somehow playing CFD again – where we also saw Merle Haggard and The Charlie Daniels Band – and enjoyed that one even more because now I had a whole year of fandom under my belt. We caught him one more time at Fiddlers Green shortly before our first child was born.

The best part about listening to Zac Brown Band is they seem like they’d be a great hang. Even their breakthrough single “Chicken Fried,” which isn’t among my favorites of theirs, has a great story that involves Zac taking a stand and essentially telling Joe Galante, who ran Sony Music Nashville at the time, to fuck off (more about that here). I like picturing that.  

And that’s Zac Brown Band. They make me picture fun shit. Here’s the chorus:

Wishin’ I was knee deep in the water somewhere
Got the blue sky breeze and it don’t seem fair
Only worry in the world is the tide gonna reach my chair

Sunrise there’s a fire in the sky
Never been so happy never felt so high
And I think I might’ve found me my own kind of paradise

As I write this, it’s cold as hell in Denver and I want nothing more than to escape this bitterness right now onto whatever beach Zac Brown is on. But I think that every single time this song comes on sorta no matter what I’m doing, whatever the weather, or whether the whiskey’s gone or not. Zac Brown is an instant teleporter in this and many other songs (including its obvious cousin “Toes”).

Jimmy Buffett shows up and sings a few inoffensive bars sounding like he recorded them after a plate of Eggs Florentine and two mimosas, and that’s fine. He brings a certain old man charm to the proceedings and doesn’t detract from the experience, so whatever. I love this song all the same anyway.

The real reason this song is on my list is because the strongest memory I have is while in the midst of the personal hell that is infertility treatment, we called a moratorium on all discussions of having children and absconded to Mexico for a few days in January of 2014. It was absolutely restorative, and very little will top the experience of sitting on a warm Mexican beach drinking a Pacifico and listening to this song on a portable player with my favorite person.

Because when you lose yourself, you find the key to paradise.

Goddammit, I ended this fucking thing actually quoting Jimmy Buffett.

Up next: My very first girlfriend and “our song.”

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