Paying Homage to the Pascagoula Pirate

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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

— A Pirate Looks at Forty by Jimmy Buffett


I last saw Jimmy Buffett in concert in the mid 1990s, when I was about 40, though far from being a pirate. We both had a lot more hair back then. Buffett performed at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in the Woodlands, a vast planned community between Conroe and Houston. The Mitchell Pavilion is a lovely outdoor venue when it isn’t 100 degrees. It was a lovely autumn evening when we saw Buffett, a soft breeze wafting the smell of weed over the crowd.

I was there at the invitation of my friend and newspaper mentor, Jim Chionsini, and his wife, Macy. They kindly provided my ticket. That concert was my introduction to the Parrot Heads —  Buffett fans who wear funny hats and Hawaiian-style shirts and catch every Buffett concert they can — sort of a Southern version of Dead Heads, the avid followers of the Grateful Dead. The Parrot Heads were everywhere, drinking margaritas and singing along with many of the songs. We had a great time at the concert. We declined to wear the silly hats but drank our share of margaritas. “A Pirate Looks at Forty” remains one of my favorite songs, always spurring memories of that concert when I hear it.

Buffett died from a rare form of skin cancer last weekend at 76. He is being mourned by his legions of fans and fellow musicians. Photos of him with Willie Nelson, Paul McCartney, Lyle Lovett and many other musical luminaries filled my Facebook feed. Daughter Meredith pointed out she has been listening to Buffett since she was in diapers, thanks to me. She is now 42.

I admit I haven’t listened to much of his music in recent years, preferring to sample newer singer-songwriters. But I spent a pleasant hour or so the day after his death was announced listening to Buffett on Spotify. It was time well spent. There is a joyousness to his music that is contagious.

Two things stand out in my mind about Buffett. He appeared to have been a truly happy person. I did a Google image search and could not find a single photo where he isn’t smiling broadly. The tributes from his fellow musicians are further proof of how highly he was regarded.

“Right up to the last minute, his eyes still twinkled with a humor that said, ‘I love this world and I’m going to enjoy every minute of it,’” Paul McCartney

Second, I admired both his talent and business acumen. He wrote best-selling novels and memoirs, such as “Tales from Margaritaville” and “Where is Joe Merchant?” as well as “A Pirate Looks at Fifty.”

He turned his most-famous song, “Margaritaville,” into a business empire, with more than two dozen restaurants bearing its name. We went to the Destin, Florida location a few years ago, a huge venue on the Boardwalk. Buffett, along with his business partners, built casinos, resorts and even an over-55 housing projects called “Latitude Margaritaville” in Florida and South Carolina.

Buffett told Forbes magazine that he figured out in the late 1980s that he would not be able to rely on selling CDs to make a viable living, as he watched fellow artists — Bonnie Raitt and Van Morrison, for example — get dropped by their labels in favor of younger musicians. He figured out that “Margaritaville” was a brand on which he could capitalize. He wisely sought out investment advice from his friend, billionaire Warren Buffett (who is no relation). At the time of his death, Jimmy Buffett’s net worth was $1 billion, according to Forbes magazine. And he still filled concert venues on his annual tours.

Not bad for a pirate from Pascagoula, Mississippi. Rest easy, Jimmy.

Photo by Howard Livingston, Florida Keys News Bureau

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