A Caribbean Soul: Greater Antilles (Cuba)


Havana daydreamin’, oh he’s just dreamin’ his life away‚”

You can dream of Havana, but unless you fit into some very specific categories, you can’t go there. Restrictions on U.S. citizens’ travel to Cuba, even via a third country such as Mexico or Jamaica, are serious, and enforcement recently has increased. Go without a U.S. government-issued visa and face civil penalties and criminal prosecution. It used to be possible, but with passports now required for travel to the Caribbean and Mexico, your U.S. passport would get an extra entry stamp upon your return from Cuba en route back to the U.S. Two entry points in one trip? You’d have some ‘splainin’ to do.It is possible, but extremely difficult, to get a license to travel to Cuba, or to travel under the auspices of a licensed group, such as an educational, religious or charitable organization. But as licenses for these organizations expire, many are not being renewed, so it’s harder to join a group and even harder to go solo.

For specifics, check with the U.S. State Department. To get a license, you go through the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Cuba has definitely inspired Jimmy over the years. He’s been there, and even performed “Havana Daydreamin’” at the Bodega del Medio in downtown Havana, with CIA, KGB and Cuban secret police in the audience.

“Cuban Crime of Passion” (on the album “A White Sport Coat & A Pink Crustacean”) tells the story of one Billy Voltaire, “a piano player up from Miami way,” who ended up in Havana. He fell in love with a dancer named Meritta, “half woman, half child, she drove him half wild.”

’Til one night he did find her in the arms of Shrimper Dan
So he pulled a knife, took poor Danny’s life
And then he turned his own cold hand.

And it’s just a Cuban crime of passion
Messy and old fashioned.

Yes, this is the same Billy who taught Slade Patterson to play piano in the “I Wish Lunch Could Last Forever” short story (from the book “Tales from Margaritaville”).

Jimmy’s love of Caribbean history is woven together with a very personal family tale in the lyrics to “False Echoes” (on the album “Banana Wind”), which takes place in 1921, back before Castro and travel restrictions.

The skies over Cuba turned pink with the light
And the waterfront ritual began to ignite.
All the ships in the harbor were warmed by the sun,
Twenty-fifth of November, 1921.

On the old Chicamauga the signal jacks flew
And the message they spelled out caused a great ballyhoo.
Every ship in Havana then hoisted away.
All the pennants were flyin’ on my dad’s first birthday.

As it often does with Jimmy, the song comes back to family. His songs can reveal pieces of his past, capture recent moments with great immediacy and pay tribute to those family members who touch him the most.

The bottom line: traveling is fun, but going home to those you love is the most fun of all.

Leave a Reply