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Life On the Beach with Jimmy Buffett
A Successful Pirate Looks at Fifty and Beyond

By: John Shepler

On the island of his dream, Jimmy Buffett lays in bed immersed in the scent of tropical sea breezes and the sound of distant waves breaking on the beach. He is somewhere bounding the Caribbean Sea, perhaps as far north as Key West, or south to Grand Turk Island, St. Martin, or Port of Spain, Trinidad. It seems so real, this recurring dream. Perhaps because it is a dream projected from life, his life as an adventurer, troubadour and self-proclaimed pirate of these very waters.

Jimmy Buffett BookThis night, Jimmy's beach house is the one from the movie version of Hemingway's "Islands in the Stream." Suddenly a huge blue marlin floats through the window and hovers over his bed. It pokes its bill through the mosquito netting and nudges slightly at a tattoo of a sinking ship on his shoulder. He knows this fish. He battled wits with it that afternoon in the waters off Quepos, Costa Rica. Now the blue marlin speaks. "Missed me," it says, breaking into a mocking laugh and floating out the window. Some day, he'll have to come back and settle the score. For now, though, he's being pulled out of his dream by the incessant chant of "we want pancakes, we want pancakes," directly in his ear. The kids are hungry and they want dad to fix breakfast.

Jimmy Buffett at 50 is a father, a husband and a successful businessman. At mid-life, he's got it made in the same sense as his contemporaries who took the path up the corporate ladder. He's got the money, the houses and the expensive hobby, in his case a flying boat with more interior space than some condos. His body won't slough off the physical abuses of too much drink or too much rough play like it did 20 or 30 years ago. When he gets a little carried away in the bar or on the surfboard, it reminds him of that in painful terms. At 50 he's also acquired the family responsibilities of a wife, and three children still in their single digit years. But that's where the parallels stop. Jimmy may be 50, but he's a pirate at 50, which is something quite different, as he reveals in his autobiography, "A Pirate Looks at 50."

What's different? Perhaps it starts with his summer job. He claims to have kept the same summer job for the last 34 years. Actually, his summer job is the only one we really associate with Jimmy Buffett. Summer is when he tours with his band, singing songs like "Margaritaville," "Come Monday," and "Cheeseburger in Paradise." For a couple of hours, we too are pirates, making those "Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes." We become Parrotheads and sing the songs of youth and freedom and life lived for the pleasure of the moment, imagining ourselves kicking back indefinitely on the sun drenched beaches of islands with romantic names. Then Come "Our" Monday, we put away the tropical shirts and foam parrot hats and leave paradise behind.

What's different about Jimmy Buffett is that he gets to wear the beachcomber attire whenever he feels like it. He spends significant amounts of time filling out customs papers at exotic ports of call. He has over thirty albums and two hit singles to his credit, as well as several books. He has the money to finance his dreams, but he never started out to achieve wealth, social status or even fame. He was happiest when a fellow college student got him started on the guitar with the only three chords he knew. He loved the life of the bar singer in Key West and would probably have stuck with it if fame had not come and swept him into the international spotlight. Emerging from adolescence, his career aspirations had gelled into a simple answer to the complex question. What are you going to do with your life? Live a pretty interesting one!

When asked to what he credits his extraordinary success, Jimmy's quick answer is always "luck." Luck has smiled on him, both in the success of his songs and survival from the crash of his seaplane. He might have been killed instantly or drowned, trapped in a submerged coffin, the day his Grumman Widgeon flying boat hit an errant wake on takeoff and crumbled nose first under the ocean. Luck was on his side, but it was a cool head and survival school training that got him out of there intact and still breathing. It was also the desire to keep living that interesting life that got him rehabilitated and back to fishing, flying and making music again. Like the saying goes, mostly you make your own luck.

This is perhaps the essence of why we might envy the life of this fifty year old pirate. He has made his own luck, made his own way and pretty much steers his own path these days. He still catches the waves like any giddy teenager hitting the beach with life still all in the future. Yet, he also has developed a sense that the endless summer will indeed turn to fall someday. Before that happens there are places he wants to go, things he wants to do and experiences he wants to give his kids that will enrich the rest of their lives, too. When it comes time for the pirate to look back from the century mark, he'll likely still be able to smile about this life on the beach and say "Well, it has been a pretty interesting one...so far."


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Books of Interest:

A Pirate Looks at Fifty by Jimmy Buffett. In this intensely personal book, popular singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett leaves his barstool in Margaritaville and does some soul searching. The result is a hilarious account of the funny, adventurous odyssey of Buffet's life.

Tales From Margaritaville by Jimmy Buffett. Jimmy Buffett has performed throughout the world and is best known for his outrageous personality. Now he applies his classic, laid-back Southern story-telling to hilarious escapades.

Where Is Joe Merchant? by Jimmy Buffett. Where is Joe Merchant? That's what his sister Trevor Kane, the hemorrhoid ointment heiress, wants to know. For South Seas psychic Desdemona, Merchant is the missing link needed to connect her with other worlds. And the mystery of the presumed dead but often-sighted rock star's disappearance is turning renegade sea plane pilot Frank Bama's life upside down.

The Parrot Head Companion: An Insider's Guide to Jimmy Buffett by Thomas Ryan.

The Jimmy Buffett Trivia Book: 501 Questions and Answers for Parrotheads by Thomas Ryan.

Jimmy Buffet: The Man from Margaritaville Revealed by Steve Eng.


Also visit these related sites:

Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville - Jimmy Buffett's official web site includes a full listing of songs and lyrics, tour dates for his Coral Reefers band, his charitable efforts and more. The Margarita Mini-Mart sells gift items and clothing, even button down shirts and ties. You can buy his books and CDs there at list price, but check our listings below for discounted pricing.

Parrot Heads Unite - Interesting essay on the parrot head phenomena.


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