One song can make a career.
And it’s not “Margaritaville,” the anthem of good times, it’s “A Pirate Looks At Forty.”
F. was from Tallahassee, back before hanging chads and FSU championship teams. Back then it was more like Georgia than Miami, probably still is, haven’t been there for decades, but for a while I experienced it, and Florida is different.
She drove to L.A. with “Hard Nose The Highway” and “A1A,” she testified about Jimmy Buffett and I thought he was just the wimpy guy singing “Come Monday,” boy was I wrong. Then again, I had no idea what A1A was, probably most of you still don’t, but if you watch “Bloodline” you realize there’s a whole ‘nother lifestyle out there, far from the city rat race, it’s tempting, but beware, it’s populated with drinking and bad behavior, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Oh, who am I kidding, that’s how you get in trouble, and sometimes it goes on your permanent record.
Now we never played the “A1A” 8-track in F.’s car, because we rarely drove in her Mazda, and I didn’t want to listen to it anyway. But when I saw “Son Of A Son Of A Sailor” in the promo bin at the record store, I bought it for her, and got hooked on the title track. It felt like a lifestyle I’d led in the hinterlands, far from the fast lane, where you know everybody and pursue a dream that seems far from the mainstream, but which is everything to you. The mountains, the water, they call to you. To this day, when I see mountains my heart pitter-patters, they promise adventure.
And that album contains the hit “Cheeseburger In Paradise,” but I didn’t become a certified Parrothead until the double live album follow-up “You Had To Be There,” wherein Jimmy changes the lyrics of the opening cut, the aforementioned “Son Of A Son Of A Sailor,” singing that his cast is no blast and it feels like he’s pulling a trailer and you instantly become a fan, of a man who’s willing to mix it up and show some personality. And that double LP is full of hits and humor, stories, and the definitive version of “A Pirate Looks At Forty,” it’s the one that closed me, that pushed me over to the dark side, that made me a fan.
“I wrote this for an old friend of mine down in Key West who just couldn’t quite find his occupation here in the twentieth century, couldn’t work at Sears…”
I can’t find mine in the twenty first.
Actually, they sold us a bill of goods back in the twentieth, told us we could be all we wanted to be before we found out life was hard and we had to sell out, even though we didn’t want to. We did, and have regretted it ever since, it’s why we go to the shows of the classic rock acts, to remind us of what once could be.
“Mother, mother ocean, I have heard you call Wanted to sail upon your waters since I was three feet tall”
Some of us want to be firemen, others nurses or sanitary engineers, but usually we cast aside childhood dreams, but a few of us don’t, we get an urge, we get a desire, and it sticks with us.
“Watched the men who rode you switch from sails to steam”
It’s all about the passage of time, it’s the secret of life according to James Taylor, you think you matter but you don’t, you’re just part of a long continuum, the only thing that’s constant is change, evolution.
“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”
Ever think you missed your moment? Or that your moment never was? You can see it clearly in your brain, but you just can’t touch it. It’s like being a beatnik in the twenty first century, when no one can afford to be.
“And I have been drunk now for over two weeks I passed out and I rallied and I sprung a few leaks”
They drink in Tallahassee. I learned how to do this in Vermont. Back before the attention economy, when we had time to kill, Catskill, and didn’t know how to fill it, when we bought Michelob on the weekends and Schlitz on the weekdays and strove to have the night of our lives as we sipped and discovered we never had it, although we did have some good times. But the southerners were not ragers, it was more of a lifestyle, you drank to cope.
I used to drink to cope.
And so did F.
And there were good times and bad times, just like in that Led Zeppelin song. Laughing and crying, it’s the same release. You’re eating Mexican food in the Valley snuggling and storytelling and then you’re home staring at the ceiling arguing in bed, could switch just that fast, that’s the power of alcohol.
“I go for younger women, lived with several a while”
This line emanated from my radio as I pulled away from the Bel-Air Hotel after midnight tonight, my stereo was on the Margaritaville channel, where I’d been listening to a live Jimmy Buffett concert on the drive over, I loved hearing Mac McAnally sing “That’s Where I Come From,” Jimmy’s always featured players in his band, and Mac is one of the best.
And I knew the songs streaming out of the stereo on the way over, but long after dark it was “A Pirate Looks At Forty” that set my mind adrift.
Jimmy’s built an empire on it. He’s convinced a plethora of people if they come to his show they can forget about their life for a while and dream of a better one, full of fun, where they’re desirable and happy and everything works out.
“Though I ran ’em away, they’d come back one day Still could manage to smile Just takes a while, just takes a while”
He’s living the dream, punching above his weight, achieving the impossible, flying on a wing and a prayer, his personality and his smarts, his charisma, are delivering what those playing the game cannot get, he’s a screw-up, but he’s irresistible, don’t we all want to be this pirate at forty, fifty or sixty?
“Mother, mother ocean, after all the years I’ve found My occupational hazard being my occupation’s just not around I feel like I’ve drowned, gonna head uptown I feel like I’ve drowned, gonna head uptown”
Maybe he’s blown not only his chance, but his life, but still…
He’s gonna continue to march forward. Because that’s all you can do in life, keep on keepin’ on.
While the powerful and popular are purveying platitudes, Jimmy Buffett is speaking truth, and it’s truth that resonates and pays dividends. You think your fine automobile and billfold will get you what you want, but life is not two-dimensional, it’s all about who you are. Character is king.
Eventually, we broke up, after too many long drunken nights.
But the alcohol remained, until I got into too much trouble and had to stop, and I’ve never taken another sip, not that that was the plan, I just had to pull myself up from the hole I’d fallen into. And when I’d done this, I’d gained perspective.
But I never forgot where I once was. Sure, I marveled that I survived, how many mornings did I run out to see if my car was in one piece, and I’m not proud of these stories, but they happened, and if I want to revisit those days I listen to “A Pirate Looks At Forty.”
I’m not really a pirate, and I’m no longer forty, and at times I feel a failure and at others a winner, but when I listen to this record I know I can keep putting one foot in front of the other.
And that’s all you can do.
Head uptown and get drunk, even if it’s on Vitamin Water.