How many of Jimmy Buffett’s Big Eight (now the Big Ten) could you name? A few weeks ago I could’ve gotten two for sure, maybe three, I’m no Parrothead. When I thought of “Jimmy Buffett,” I thought of MW’s story of listening to his greatest hits on cassette on their way to family vacation, with his mom reaching over to frantically fast forward whenever “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw” came around.
In Mile Marker Zero I loved the origin story of Jimmy Buffett: down on his luck in Nashville, goes to Miami for a gig, only to find either he or the club owner got the dates wrong. Stuck, he calls his friend Jerry Jeff Walker, whose girlfriend suggests they take the unexpected week and go down to Key West. When Jimmy Buffett sees the lifestyle there he knows he’s in the right place and never turns back.
The Margaritaville retirement community was profiled in The New Yorker. How many of the singer-songwriters of the ’70s have a retirement community based on their worldview? John Prine? Kris Kristofferson? Only one. At the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting they sold a Jimmy Buffett boat. The man is a phenomenon. Why?
On a warm spring morning driving from Chapel HIll to Wilmington, NC in a rented Ford Escape armed with Sirius Satellite XM, I put on Parrothead Radio. They were playing a live concert from March 2001. “Before 9/11,” I thought. The contagious fun of this man came through, and the joy of the audience. It’s strange since, can you even really picture Jimmy Buffett? You can picture what kind of shirt he wears.
He’s in that kinda shirt on the cover of the mass market paperback of A Pirate Looks at Fifty. On a sunny beach obviously. Behind him is an enormous Albatross seaplane, the Hemisphere II.
This is a travel book, and a great one. I’d rank it up there with Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines, which it references a few times. I bet more of A Pirate Looks at Fifty is true. I saved this book to read on the beach in Malibu – perfect setting. The book, leisurely, describes a trip around the Caribbean Sea to commemorate his fiftieth birthday, with stops in Grand Cayman, Costa Rica, Cartagena, St. Barts. A treasure map opens the book, you can follow the voyage. Along the way, Buffett tells of his rise and his adventures. He desired to be a Serious Southern Writer, but that wasn’t him. As a boy he was struck by a parade at Mobile Mardi Gras of Folly chasing Death. That was him. Catholicism plays a bigger role than you may suspect, with St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans his home church, but plenty of bad behavior to balance the ledger. A friend at Auburn teaches him the D and C chords on a guitar. He busks on the corner of Chartres and Conti in New Orleans.
My talent came in working an audience.
Buffett begins the book with four hundred words summing up his life to present. An excerpt:
I signed a record deal, got married, moved to Nashville, had my guitars stolen, bought a Mercedes, worked at Billboard magazine, put out my first album, went broke, met Jerry Jeff Walker, wrecked the Mercedes, got divorced, and moved to Key West. I sang and worked on a fishing boat, went totally crazy, did a lot of dope, met the right girl, made another record, had a hit, bought a bought, and sailed away to the Caribbean.
Having brought us up to speed, he gets going. This is a memoir more of flying and fishing than of music. Buffett is a pilot, and recounts many adventures in the air, usually flying somewhere to fish or surf.
In looking back, I see there wasn’t that much difference between Jimi Hendrix playing “The Star-Spangled Banner at dawn at Woodstock and Jimmy Stewart playing Charles Lindbergh in “The Spirit of St. Louis.”
Memorable meals are described: cucumber and tomato sandwiches at the brassiere on the Trocadero in Paris for example. And bars: Buck Forty Nine, New Orleans; Trade Winds, St. Augustine; The Hub Pub Club, Boone NC; Big Pine Inn; The Hangout, Gulf Shores; The Vapors, Biloxi; Le Select, St. Barts.
Of a visit to paintings of Winslow Homer and Frederick Edward Church:
I can’t put the feeling into words; the closest I can come is to say that the sights and sounds of such things may enter the body through the senses but they find their way to the heart, and that is what art is really about.
Anyone bellying up to a bar with a few shots of tequila swimming around the bloodstream can tell a story. The challenge is to wake up the next day and carve through the hangover minefield and a million other excuses and be able to cohesively get it down on paper.
There was a time (1998?) when you’d hear the album Buena Vista Social Club all the time. If you travel along the tourist trail of Central America you will not go far without hearing it again.
The first song on the album is called Chan Chan. Here are the lyrics:
Lyrically, the song is set on the beach and revolves around two central characters called Juanica and Chan Chan.The most complete explanation says: ‘The song relates the story of a man and a woman (Chan Chan and Juanica) who are building a house, and go to the beach to get some sand. Chan Chan collects the sand and puts it on the jibe (a sieve for sand). Juanica shakes it, and to do so she shakes herself, making Chan Chan embarrassed. […] The origin of this tale is a farmer song learnt by Compay Segundo when he was twelve years old.’
The most recognizable part of the song is its chorus, whose lyrics are as follows:
|De Alto Cedro voy para MarcanéLlego a Cueto voy para Mayarí||From Alto Cedro I go to MarcanéI get to Cueto, then head for Mayarí|
I like that the song is sort of a set of directions. You can think of the song as being “here are directions to see a girl who moves her butt like a cement mixer.”
Cuba in the news again.
But the driving force, according to sources at both State and the Vice President’s office, was that the president and first lady very much wanted a family trip, and the March 20-23 dates coincided with spring break at Sidwell Friends School for daughters Malia, who’s been studying Spanish, and Sasha
How much world diplomacy comes down to school vacations? from this interesting article in Politico about Obama’s trip to Cuba.
The Obama family made the requisite tourist stops, including the city’s grand Cathedral, built in 1777 from blocks of coral; they took a walking tour led by Havana’s remarkable official historian, Eusebio Leal. Despite failing health and being in considerable pain, Leal gamely guided the Obamas through historic Havana in and around the Plaza de Armas.
The buzz of la bola en la calle—Cuban street gossip—was that the visit had prompted previously unimaginable upgrades to parts of the capital. Every building that the Obama entourage passed had been repainted, and every road his limousine traversed had been repaved. Some streets were still being paved and re-striped just hours before his arrival. “Come visit us,” cried out residents of neglected, pot-holed barrios in what became a weeklong running joke, “y llevar el asfalto!” — “and bring the asphalt!”
Eusebio Leal, a diminutive, silver-haired man in a dark suit, sips sweet Cuban coffee in an elegant salon of the Cuban Interests Section mansion on 16th Street NW and recalls the day they began calling him crazy in Havana.
The year was 1967, in a country not known for rewarding dissent, and Leal, then 25, was relatively new on the job as a city preservationist. He was leading a project to skin the asphalt off a historic street, revealing the original wooden surface, and he had a special load of vintage wood to restore the centuries-old grandeur. But government officials told him the street would have to be paved over immediately so it could be used for an important diplomatic visit.
The next morning, crews came to do the work — and Leal lay in front of the trucks to save the street.
“The mayor had to come to persuade me,” Leal recalls in his deep voice, through an official interpreter. “I didn’t get up until he guaranteed that we could complete our work. He kept his word. It was a very tense moment. Then they started saying I was a madman — but in that kind of aspect in which being a madman is a good thing.”
(Is Havana Cathedral the largest building made of coral in the world?) As for this picture:
As the conference streamed live, Cubans watched a flustered Raul lose his cool, then abruptly end the news conference and march over to Obama to raise his arm in a victory salute. A bemused Obama was having none of it, and let his arm dangle. “Oh my god,” said a former Cuban diplomat. “It made Raul look weak. No one here has ever seen anything like that.”
from this interesting 2010 article in The Atlantic by Jeffrey Goldberg about a visit to Cuba, we learn what Che Guevara’s daughter is up to:
In the early years Korda was most interested in fashion because it allowed him to pursue his two favorite things, photography and beautiful women. Korda became Cuba’s premiere fashion photographer. Korda disliked artificial lighting he said it was “a travesty of reality” and only used natural light in his studio…. “My main aim was to meet women”, he once confessed. His second wife, Natalia (Norka) Menendez, was a well known Cuban fashion model.