Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefers at iThink Financial Amp 12.9.21 with Mac McAnally ©jskolnickphotographyJimmy Buffett – A Pirate’s Life Well-Lived

By Debbie Brautman
Photos: Jay Skolnick

He sure didn’t sound like he was dying on his latest and final album Equal Stain On All Parts. He sounded energetic and great. Jimmy Buffett, the son of a son of a sailor, aged 76, died on September 1, 2023, after a four-year battle with skin cancer that progressed into lymphoma. He had a very rare and aggressive skin cancer called Merkel Cell Carcinoma. Long-term sun exposure increases your risk of getting it and Buffett spent more time in the sun than most. He passed away surrounded by his family, friends, music, and dogs. Even if you were not a Buffett fan, most people felt the loss of this iconic musician, singer-songwriter, and successful businessman who made a huge impact on the world. With his strong presence in South Florida, he was a local institution, especially in Key West. He was a big ray of positivity with his upbeat island-influenced beach/rock/folk music and lyrics sprinkled with margaritas and adventurous tales of wanderlust.

One of his biggest hits is “Margaritaville” with his famous lyrics “Wastin’ away again in Margaritaville, searchin’ for my lost shaker of salt.” Well, he found his lost shaker of salt in Key West. While he was a struggling musician in Nashville, he met the gypsy songman Jerry Jeff Walker, who would change his life. Walker, an established musician with the hit song, “Mr. Bojangles,” met Buffett at a music event and they bonded over a ton of alcohol. Walker lived in Coconut Grove and invited Buffett to look him up if ever down in Miami and a year later, Buffett did just that. Buffett divorced his wife and went down to Miami to play a gig and stayed in Walker’s guest house. While there, he met folk singer-songwriter Fred Neil (Everybody’s Talkin’), Dion, David Crosby, Joni Mitchell, and other great musicians escaping the cold winters and hanging down in Miami. One day Walker, whose girlfriend was from Key West, told Buffett he was taking him down to Key West and Buffett loved it so much that he got a job there and stayed. Buffett, on his special relationship with the Florida Keys, explains, “always will be a part of me, I really found myself as a writer down there.” Not only had he found his home but he seemed to be on a permanent vacation. Through Buffett’s songs, we all wanted to join him in his margarita paradise, escaping the real world. He was true to himself and a spokesman for the average man. He always looked like the average guy. On his hit song, “Come Monday,” he sings, “I got my hush puppies on, I guess I never was meant for glitter rock ‘n’ roll.” At first, coming from a big love of glitter rock, I deemed him uncool and possibly missed his whole point. Years later, I began to understand it better and now Hawaiian shirts and baggy cargo shorts are even in style. You can’t always judge a book by its hushpuppies. He identifies with his song, “Nobody from Nowhere,” saying, “I’m one of those people.” But he was far from being a nobody, and this self-professed “nobody” was deeply loved. Jimmy Buffett was much more than Margaritaville. He was more than just another billionaire. He was a sensitive singer-songwriter whose songs went way beyond his campy hits. “He was a man who made the world more sincere,” said Tim Marchin, Culture reporter at Mashable. Marchin spoke to a person who worked closely with Buffett who spoke glowingly of him, “Yes, he was who you hoped he was. He was a good man who liked sailing, warm weather, great friends, and good songs.”

Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefers at iThink Financial Amp 12.9.21 with Mac McAnally ©jskolnickphotographyBuffett was a master storyteller who painted vivid pictures of his life that captured the hearts of millions of fans who called themselves Parrot Heads. What is a Parrot Head you may ask? They are Jimmy Buffet fans coming from all different backgrounds, united in escapism song lines and the love of everything tropical. Like the Grateful Dead or Taylor Swift, he had legions of loyal fans who would follow and support him, making it possible for him to become a billionaire, along with his keen business investment sense. It led him to owning hotels, restaurants, retirement communities and products like Landshark Beer, just to name a few. In his spare time, he wrote books, fought to save Florida’s manatees, and many other humanitarian causes. In 2015, the University of Miami gave Buffett an honorary doctorate in music. Do you want more credibility? In a 2009 interview, Bob Dylan cited Buffett’s “Death of an Unpopular Poet,” and “He Went to Paris” as two of his favorite songs. Dylan and Joan Baez also covered Buffett’s reflective song, “A Pirate Looks at 40.” Buffett had two biological daughters and one adopted son with his second wife of 44 years, Jane Slagvol.

His 32nd and final album was released on November 3rd and the title Equal Strains On All Parts comes from a saying that Buffett’s grandfather would use to describe “a good nap.” The theme of his album is a road trip of his life with encouraging words to hang in there, relax and enjoy how good life can be. The album kicks off with Buffett getting his education at “The University of Bourbon Street,” where he followed his dancin’ feet and got the Po’ Boy Master’s Degree. It features the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, giving it that swinging New Orleans vibe. It continues with plenty of humor throughout, like the song “My Gummie Just Kicked In,” which was inspired by a real-life event at a dinner party attended by Buffett, his wife Jane, Paul McCartney and his wife Nancy Shevell. Buffett was concerned about Shevell and asked about her well-being, and her response became the title of the song. We’re not talking gummy bears either but cannabis edibles. McCartney even played bass on the track. The album is jam-packed with various high energy, fun and thoughtful songs. His vocals sound wonderful and his talented band complements. Mac McAnally plays guitar, keyboard, and vocals on the album. He also co-produced it with Michael Utley who has played keyboards with Buffett since 1973. Both were part of Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band. McAnally spoke of Buffett’s satisfaction with the album by saying, “When he heard the whole album in sequence, he was so proud of this one in a way that I’ve never seen him be. And that may be because he knew it was the last one and he got it right.” I’d have to agree with Buffett because it is a strong and impressive album with great variety. Quite frankly, it’s a perfect final album.

Another song showing Buffett’s playfulness is his cover of Scott Emerick and Harley Allen’s “Like My Dog” with the chorus “I want you to love me like my dog.” Buffett loved his dogs – Lola, Kingston, Pepper, Rosie, Ajax, and Kody. “Johnny’s Rhum” pays tribute to the “French Elvis” Johnny Halliday. “Nobody Works On Friday” is another fun song that compares overworking in America to other countries that value time off. “Close Calls” is a humorous, countrified romp of survival from his earlier mischievous escapades. “Fish Porn” is a collaboration with Buffett, author/former Miami Herald journalist Carl Hiaasen and Mac McAnally. Hiaasen is a talented fly fisherman, so he has experience with fish porn as this light-hearted song captures the lives of the fish obsessed. Hiaasen explains, “The phrase ‘Fish Porn’ refers to fishermen texting photos or videos of themselves showing off a big catch. Jimmy thought it was funny enough for a song title, and we started playing around with it about a year ago in the Bahamas. My contribution was only a handful of lyrics but Jimmy generously gave me a writing credit.”

Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefers at iThink Financial Amp 12.9.21 with Mac McAnally ©jskolnickphotography

“Ti Punch Café” has a catchy chorus with tropical influences and superb guest vocals by Grammy Award winner Angélique Kidjo. “Portugal or PEI” is a clever song that captures the modern world problems and questions “Where’m I gonna go when the volcano blows, everybody’s askin’ all the time. My life is always better when you add a little island. A lot of oysters, love and wine. Maybe a pub on PEI.” The PEI he is talking about is Prince Edwards Islands in Canada. He was planning on visiting Lennie Gallant, a musician friend, who lives there, but he never made it. He did give him co-credit on the song. “Bubbles Up” is a diving term for following the bubbles to find your way out of trouble and lead you to safety. The song is an uplifting and reflective song of hope. It’s a ballad co-written with Will Kimbrough about finding your way for those lost or struggling through tough times. A delightful highlight is the cover of Bob Dylan and Jacques Levy’s “Mozambique,” with Emmylou Harris guesting, just as she did on Dylan’s original. It’s such a great song and this island-style version works and hints at his wanderlust for travel to far-off lands and adventures. McCartney summed up his thoughts on Buffett, “Jimmy had a most amazing lust for life and a beautiful sense of humor. When we swapped tales about the past, his were so exotic and lush and involved sailing trips and surfing and so many exciting stories that it was hard to keep up with him. Right up til the last minute his eyes still twinkled with a humour that said, I love this world and I am going to enjoy every minute.” That he did, but the joy he brought to the world through his music lives on. The Parrot Heads understand. If we can learn one thing from Buffett’s wisdom, it’s how to be happy. Buffett is sadly gone now but his legacy lives on forever. Bubbles up!

Gems Jimmy Buffett leaves us with:

  • Some make the world go around, others watch it turn.
  • Some people think there’s a woman to blame, but I know- It’s my own damn fault.
  • Without geography, you’re nowhere.
  • I’m growing older but not up.
  • It takes no more time to see the good side of life than to see the bad.
  • Only time will tell if it was time well-spent.
  • Some of it’s magic and some of it’s tragic, but I had a good life all the way.
  • It’s those changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes, nothing remains quite the same. With all of our running and all of our cunning, if we couldn’t laugh we’d all go insane.
  • Is it time for your medication or mine?
  • I’d rather die while I’m living than live while I’m dead.
  • If there’s a heaven for me, I’m sure it has a beach attached.

Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefers at iThink Financial Amp 12.9.21 with Mac McAnally ©jskolnickphotography

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