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PJ Media
PJ Media
2 Sep 2023
Chris Queen


NextImg:Farewell to the Pirate: Jimmy Buffett, 1946-2023

Celebrity deaths don’t often throw me for a loop, but when I woke up on Saturday morning to the news that singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett had passed away at the age of 76, it devastated me.

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James William Buffett was born in Pascagoula, Miss., on Christmas Day 1946, and grew up on the Gulf Coast of Alabama. He graduated from a Catholic high school and went on to major in history in college. Stints as first mate on a yacht and writing for Billboard magazine were just stepping stones to a now-legendary music career.

Many of his songs are so well-loved that it’s easy to forget that he didn’t generate a ton of hit singles in the ’70s. “Margaritaville” made the Top 10, while other famous songs of his like “Fins,” “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” and “Come Monday” dented the bottom of the Top 40.

Buffett was the consummate entertainer, and he put on shows to energetic crowds of his “Parrothead” fans. Because so much of his music epitomized a party lifestyle, critics dismissed him as a lightweight, but those who looked down on his style missed some incredible poetry.

It took relentless touring and a certain business savvy to develop a unique brand that made those songs the stuff of legend. He spent years and years on the road with an impressive band and a memorable stage presence until health issues forced him off the concert stage in May. He had planned on going back on tour until he passed away.

“Parrothead” fans would show up at Buffett shows dressed in outrageous costumes and plenty of alcohol in their bloodstream. A Jimmy Buffett concert was an interactive event, with calls and responses and inside jokes from the audience. The music of Jimmy Buffett and the unique atmosphere of his live shows reflected an idealized beach life that served as an escape from the reality of modern life.

“It’s pure escapism is all it is,” the Associated Press quoted him from an Arizona Republic interview from 2021. “I’m not the first one to do it, nor shall I probably be the last. But I think it’s really a part of the human condition that you’ve got to have some fun. You’ve got to get away from whatever you do to make a living or other parts of life that stress you out. I try to make it at least 50/50 fun to work and so far it’s worked out.”

Jimmy Buffett played a major role in my family. I’ve been to more of his shows than I can remember, and naturally, we would tailgate in the parking lot of the legendary Lakewood Amphitheater south of Atlanta. My aunt was married to the cousin of Buffett’s longtime harmonica player Greg “Fingers” Taylor, which meant that my brother got to go backstage at one show.

For one wintertime show at Philips Arena in Atlanta — indoor Buffett shows aren’t quite as fun — we got to arrive in a limousine thanks to the generosity of a friend. At least one of my nieces’ experienced her first concert at a Buffett show, so three generations of my family have enjoyed the Parrothead life.

Buffett had an amazing business sense as well. From Margaritaville restaurants to clothing and lifestyle items to resorts, tequila, and beer, he built an amazing brand that turned into an empire. Many people who might not have otherwise heard a single Buffett song are familiar with his music because of the products that bear his brand.

One of the aspects of his career that people tend to overlook is his prowess as a writer. I’m not just talking about the poetry of his songs — he wrote best-selling and critically acclaimed books as well. Roger Sollenberger of the Daily Beast pointed out that Buffett was one of six authors in the 20th century to top the best-seller list on the fiction and non-fiction sides, putting him in league with authors like Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, and William Styron.

Tributes have poured in:

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There was nobody like Jimmy Buffett before, and there won’t be again. A friend of mine who lives in Key West lovingly called him “the Elvis for drunk people” and said that “Key West will probably be in a state of mourning for a month.” He was unequivocally a part of the Boomer generation, but his appeal stretched into younger generations as well. My family will sorely miss him, and millions of other fans will too.

I heard him say multiple times that he would announce his retirement with a five-night stand at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre, but I always pictured him making music until he died. I just didn’t expect it to happen this soon.

There’s a line from “Son of a Son of a Sailor” that has resonated with me: “Where it all ends I can’t fathom my friends / If I knew I might toss out my anchor.” Jimmy Buffett never had to toss out his anchor, and how he’s sailing into eternity. At least we still have the music and the memories.