From Pirates to Parrot Heads – Tribute to Jimmy Buffett

Some of the most loyal fans in music are lovingly referred to as “Parrot Heads,” given the name by the focus of their attention, the wannabe pirate, Jimmy Buffett. The singer, songwriter and pied-piper romanticizes the rebel deep within all of us by envying the pirate lifestyle of few rules and more imbibing. From one of his reflective songs, “A Pirate Looks at 40,” Buffett sings:

Yes, I am a pirate two hundred years too late
Cannons don’t thunder there’s nothin’ to plunder
I’m an over forty victim of fate
Arriving too late, arriving too late

While it is truly hard to find a Buffett song where imbibing does not occur, his words are extremely reflective of humanity and our imperfections. Like a sailor away from port, he often thinks fondly of people, places and times. Since he is a sailor as well, this may be where his songwriting originates. My favorite Buffett song “He Went to Paris” is one of those reflective songs, where an old sailor retired to the islands recounts his story when prodded. He went off to Paris, full of energy and then… Here are the first few verses:

He went to Paris looking for answers
To questions that bothered him so
He was impressive, young and aggressive
Saving the world on his own

But the warm summer breezes
The French wines and cheeses
Put his ambition at bay
The summers and winters
Scattered like splinters
And four or five years slipped away

Then he went to England, played the piano
And married an actress named Kim
They had a fine life, she was a good wife
And bore him a young son named Jim

And all of the answers and all of the questions
Locked in his attic one day
‘Cause he liked the quiet clean country living
And twenty more years slipped away

This song is extra special to me as I would sing it to my kids as we rocked in the glider before they fell asleep. Probably, my second favorite Buffett song and one of his bigger hits is “Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude.”  Here are a few of his reflections:

Reading departure signs in some big airport
Reminds me of the places I’ve been
Visions of good times that brought so much pleasure
Makes me want to go back again
If it suddenly ended tomorrow
I could somehow adjust to the fall
Good times and riches and son of a bitches
I’ve seen more than I can recall

But, Buffett had a fun side, where he explained his and our own foibles. One of those songs has a fun title “We are the People our Parents Warned about.”

We are the people there isn’t any doubt
We are the people they still can’t figure out
We are the people who love to sing twist and shout
Shake it up baby
We are the people our parents warned us about (do do do dooo)

I also enjoy some of the clever references in many of his songs which provide mental context, such as what Desi Arnaz wore in “I Love Lucy.”  In “Pencil Thin Mustache,” he sings:

That’s why I wish I had a pencil thin mustache
The Boston blackie kind
A two-toned Ricky Ricardo jacket
And an autographed picture of Andy Devine

Oh, I could be anyone I wanted to be
Maybe suave Errol Flynn or the sheik of Araby
If I only had a pencil thin mustache
Then I could do some cruisin’ too

Buffett has a huge inventory of songs that his Parrot Heads can sing word for word. I think that is why he chose the name of his fans. His biggest hits “Come Monday” and “Margaritaville” are surrounded by wonderful songs such “Boat Drinks,” “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” “The Captain and the Kid,” “The Last Tango in Paris,” “Grapefruit-Juicy Fruit,” “Volcano,” and  so on. As this tribute could go on forever, let me end with our sailor theme with words from another classic “A Son of a Son of a Sailor.”

As the son of a son of a sailor
I went out on the sea for adventure
Expanding the view of the captain and crew
Like a man just released from indenture

As a dreamer of dreams and a travelin’ man
I have chalked up many a mile
Read dozens of books about heroes and crooks
And I learned much from both of their styles

I love Buffett’s ability to make us also romanticize, reflect, laugh and sometimes cry. It may be because he dared to be the rebel on occasion, but it his ability to tell us about it that brings us Parrot Heads along for the journey.

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6 thoughts on “From Pirates to Parrot Heads – Tribute to Jimmy Buffett

  1. “Come Monday” is a favorite, as is the duet he did with Alan Jackson, “It must be 5 o’clock somewhere.” another great review.

  2. JB reminds me of all those once young, but now “older” boys who slept at the beach on their surf boards…swimming in booze and howling at the moon. A piece of yesterday brought back with every chord struck and note sung….thanks for the memories, btg!

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