Tarpon :: A Soundtrack (1974)

Before Jimmy Buffett became a corporation, he was a rangy and somewhat ragged country-folk singer/songwriter living a low finance life, still discovering his marketable Margaritaville persona. One of the projects he worked on in those early 70s Key West days was the soundtrack for a now mostly forgotten, but oft-times beautiful impressionistic fishing film / hippie travelogue called Tarpon.

At the time, Buffett was hanging out with a group of fellow cosmic American artists, all in search of fun and adventure. These included writers Tom McGuane, Richard Brautigan, and Jim Harrison, painter Russell Chatham and film makers Guy de la Valdene and Christian Odasso (Odasso had recently completed We Have Come For Your Daughters, which followed a 154 person bus and truck tour spreading “the gospel of flower power” throughout the U.S.). In a 1986 posthumous article about Brautigan in Rolling Stone, this group was described as a loose collective of “rough cut, highly competitive male artists.”

And though they were competitive, there was an overriding camaraderie among the men — evident in de la Valdene’s and Odassos’ Tarpon film. Tarpon is a fishing film in the same way John Lurie’s surreal early 90s Fishing With John series is about fishing. The sport is partly a vehicle to explore larger philosophic questions and reflect on nature and humanity.

Tarpon :: Soundtrack Excerpt One

Buffett’s soundtrack is low-key, laid back country akin to the textures on his albums of the time - A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean, Living and Dying in  ¾ Time, and A1A — but all instrumental. The music accentuates the cinema verite / pseudo-documentary nature of the film. The hippies, the tourists, the grizzled old salts; atmospheric, moody shots of fly fishing in the sub-tropical heat and giant tarpon jumping in the scattered sun (bringing to mind the cinematography of Peter Fonda’s 1971 The Hired Hand). Informal interviews with McGuane and Brautigan are highlights, Brautigan’s in particular as he expounds from a hammock, one of the only existing instances of him ever captured on film.

It’s not all existential mellowness, however. In a particularly brutal and jarring sequence, a deckhand on a tourist excursion fishing boat wears a “shark killer” t-shirt and seems to take perverse pleasure in clubbing small sharks to a bloody death while the passengers watch uneasily, not sure whether to laugh or look away.

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