“Jimmy Buffett’s here.”
I knew he was playing golf that day, that’s why I was there on my day off. I’d seen his name on the reservation sheet the day before.
The golf course where I worked hosted many famous people, giving me the opportunity to meet people as varied as John Denver, Bruce Hornsby, and broadcaster Jim McKay, to Vice President Dan Quail, and Senators Sam Nunn, Ted Kennedy, and Rudy Boswitch.
Even in the late 1980s, Buffett was well known and attracted attention.
According to the New York Times, “peopled with pirates, smugglers, beach bums and barflies, Mr. Buffett’s genial, self-deprecating songs conjured a world of sun, salt water and nonstop parties animated by the calypso country-rock of his limber Coral Reefer Band. His live shows abounded with singalong anthems and festive tropical iconography, making him a perennial draw on the summer concert circuit, where he built an ardent fan base akin to the Grateful Dead’s Deadheads.”
He had performed an arena show in New York or New Jersey the night before, and was playing golf in Williamsburg, Virginia, when one of the lifeguards excitedly told me he was on the course. He had another show scheduled the next night.
Several of us waited in the cart yard watching him finish the final hole with his playing partner and drive over to us.
His partner immediately left the cart and went inside while the lifeguards and waitresses gathered around to express their admiration.
“I just want to thank you,” I said, holding out my hand.
“For what?” he asked, shaking hands.
“For making the music of my life.”
“I thought you were a narc.”
I was in a white Oxford shirt, jeans, and penny loafers; what I wore most days for years.
“Can I get your autograph,” I asked, holding out the well-worn cassette insert to my copy of Son of a Son of a Sailor.
“I always have an autograph for a paying customer,” he said, signing his name.
He chitchatted amiably with us for a couple of minutes before he got up to go inside.
“Do you ever get tired of the grind?” I asked, as he walked away.
“I never get tired of making music.”
He was a little odd. Beyond being told I looked like a narc, (Ironically, I went on to play federal agents in movies and television shows, so maybe he was right.), something about him wasn’t quite right. He had an aura of strangeness that I’ve often found in artists.
It’s possible he was on cocaine, after having performed late the night before and making an early tee-time several states away.
Whatever it was, after meeting him I lost interest for nearly a decade.
When I moved to Iowa, I missed the ocean and the beach and returned to his music.
Over the years, I bought more of his albums than any other performer.
I sang his Little Miss Magic to my daughter as I rocked her to sleep.
“Constantly amazed by the blades of the fan on the ceiling
The clever little glances she gives me can’t help but be appealing
She loves to ride into town with the top down
Feel that warm breeze on her gentle skin
She is my next of kin”
I’ve read most of his books.
When I worked in public relations, I enjoyed his song Public Relations, from the musical he created with novelist Herman Wouk, Don’t Stop the Carnival.
“Public Relations, Public Relations
Boozing and schmoozing, that’s what I do
PR’s my vocation
And I’m a sensation
I was a Deadhead for the same reason I enjoyed Buffett – I loved the complex pictures painted by the few simple words in song. But I never saw him in concert.
I wasn’t a fan of the ‘scene,’ the circus, what some would call the party of his concerts. I like intricate lyrics played on an acoustic guitar, not rollicking party songs sung along to by 30,000 people.
During the pandemic Buffett and daughter Delaney recorded a wonderful docuseries sharing the stories and inspirations behind some of his older, beloved songs. Songs he very seldom performed but that many of us loved.
For many of us, Buffett and his songs are interwoven into the fabric of our lives.
“He’s somewhere on the ocean now,
the place he ought to be;
with one hand on the starboard rail,
he’s waving back at me.
For the Captain and this kid.”