Patterico's Pontifications


Jimmy Buffett, 1946-2023

Filed under: General — JVW @ 10:00 am

[guest post by JVW]

On the first evening of September the world lost singer/songwriter James William Buffett, known to one and all as Jimmy. Though no cause of death was initally announced, he had cancelled concerts in recent months and acknowledged on social media that he had been hospitalized for a spell. The family has now acknowledged that he suffered from Merkel cell cancer, a rare but aggressive type of skin cancer.

Certainly not everybody was a fan of Jimmy Buffett’s music, and a good deal of it — especially the ditties most beloved by his adoring fan club, the Parrotheads — could be kind of bland and pedestrian. I never cared for his most massive hit, “Margaritaville,” the story of a guy content to while away his life drinking and playing his guitar on his front porch, but it spawned a restaurant and resort chain and led to its author becoming a billionaire. Sadly, songs like “Cheeseburger in Paradise” and, especially, “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw” are so frat boy stupid (and this comes from an aging frat boy) that they aren’t worth even contemplating.

Yet Jimmy Buffett also wrote some heartbreakingly beautiful songs. “He Went to Paris”, from Jimmy’s third album A White Sport Coat and Pink Crustacean (itself a clever homage to Marty Robbins) turned 50 years old this year. It tells the story of an American expat in Paris in the years following the First World War, and a life of joy, grief, despair, and in the end acceptance, when the subject of the song delivers his validiction: “Jimmy, some of it’s magic, and some of it’s tragic, but I’ve had a good life all the way.” It was said that for some reason he chose not to perform the song live for years, until he found out that none other than Bob Dylan thought highly of the song.

An avid boatsman known to spend a large part of the year sailing up and down the Atlantic Coast from his home in Key West, Jimmy Buffett also wrote marvelous nautical-themed songs. “Son of a Son of a Sailor” is a tribute to his grandfather, who left his home in Nova Scotia and ultimately settled in Mobile, Alabama, where Jimmy was reared. In the song, the narrator tells us that he has “read dozens of books about heroes and crooks, and learned much from both of their styles,” and concludes that “the sea’s in my veins, my tradition remains, I’m just glad I don’t live in a trailer.”

My favorite Jimmy Buffett song also alludes to a life on the seas, but is really a meditation on reaching middle age and yearning for a world that is long lost. Like “He Went to Paris,” Jimmy’s “A Pirate Looks at 40” is a song based upon the life of a real figure, a legendary drug smuggler whom Jimmy had met at a Key West bar.

Yes I am a pirate
Two hundred years too late
The cannons don’t thunder, there’s nothing to plunder
I’m an over-forty victim of fate
Arriving too late, arriving too late

I’m done a bit of smuggling
And I’ve run my share of grass
I made enough money to buy Miami
But I pissed it away so fast
Never meant to last, never meant to last

And it contains a lovely verse about lost love, but no harm done:

I go for younger women
Lived with several awhile
Though I ran them away, they come back one day
And still can manage a smile
It just takes awhile, just takes awhile

Jimmy Buffett acknowledged this as one of his favorite songs among the hundreds that he has written.

The one time I saw Jimmy Buffett live was in May 2006 at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. This was only eight months after Hurricane Katrina had devastated the city. JazzFest itself is held at the New Orleans Fairgrounds, which saw some of the worst flooding that the city had endured. Jimmy was the final act on the main stage the second night of the second weekend, and I was surprised to hear in the introduction that as a young musician he had once busked on Bourbon Street while waiting for his big break. Performers that year were on edge, knowing that the community needed a great event to help rally the city’s spirits and return to normalcy. Jimmy took the stage with his guitar, strode to the microphone, and opened with an incredible solo acoustic version of the great Steve Goodman song, “City of New Orleans” (this version is from a performance at Wrigley Field which took place in the immediate aftermath of Katrina), and somehow — just somehow — everyone who heard it knew that the city would endure. The rest of his set was magnificent too.

Godspeed to a great performer who lived life on his own terms.


3 Responses to “Jimmy Buffett, 1946-2023”

  1. Since today is Labor Day, it’s appropriate to salute him for “Come Monday,” a song he said brought him out of a suicidal depression.

    Headin’ up to San Francisco
    For the Labor Day weekend show,
    I’ve got my hush-puppies on,
    I guess I never was meant for
    Glitter rock and roll.
    And honey I didn’t know
    That I’d be missin’ you so.

    Come Monday It’ll be all right,
    Come Monday I’ll be holding you tight.
    I spent four lonely days in a brown L.A. haze
    And I just want you back by my side.

    JVW (1ad43e)

  2. steve harwell and gary wright RIP.

    asset (56a740)

  3. What a wonderful tribute, JVW. You have a knack for writing about music.

    norcal (cbfd8e)

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