Life On the Beach with Jimmy Buffett A Successful Pirate Looks at Fifty
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.
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
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
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."
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
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.