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Head Parrot Pops Up

The prophet addresses his flock in Key West:

    Jimmy Buffett … surprised a gathering of avid fans with a rare impromptu street concert in the Florida island city that he nicknamed “Margaritaville.”

    The 55-year-old Buffett greeted about 3,000 members of the Parrot Heads in Paradise Inc. fan club, celebrating their 11th annual Meeting of the Minds convention, with favorite hits during a street festival on Friday.

    “The last time I sang on Duval Street I got arrested,” Buffett quipped, referring to Key West’s main drag, known for its lively strip of nightclubs and bars.

    “But the mayor’s back there so I’m OK. Hi there, Jimmy,” said Buffett, greeting Key West Mayor Jimmy Weekley.

    ….He reportedly maintains a house in Key West, where he launched his career and co-founded Margaritaville Cafe. Buffett formed the Coral Reefer Band in 1975.

    “I was just a lounge singer in a Key West bar,” he told adoring fans. “I don’t deserve this, but thank you. I just love being in Key West.”

    Many of Buffett’s songs celebrate a laid-back lifestyle in the Florida Keys, a chain of islands about 160 miles south of Miami.

    Parrot Heads have nearly 157 clubs with 18,000 members. The annual gathering, themed “Far Side of the Keys,” ends on Sunday.

    The group typically dons tropical regalia such as foam parrot hats, grass skirts and loudly flowered shirts and shorts. Many in Key West sported bald heads and are graying.

    “This is ground zero for Parrot Heads and to see Jimmy play is just magic,” said Ray Campbell, 45, a poet-carpenter and member of Parrot Heads chapters in Key West and Washington, D.C.

    Buffett last played at a Parrot Heads convention in 1998.

I like Jimmy Buffett and all, but I am certain that deep down his fans are more enamored of the lifestyle Buffett represents than the music itself, which has had its moments, but not very many in the last 20 years or so.

In fact, all of Buffett’s best moments came with the great Norbert Putnam as producer. Norbert Putnam was an ace session bassman in Muscle Shoals and Nashville in the ’60s before he became one of the most important and successful producers of folk- and country-rock in the ’70s and early ’80s with Joan Baez, Jimmy Buffett, Dan Fogelberg, John Hiatt, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Pousette-Dart Band, Jesse Winchester, and many others, in addition to being a studio-owner and music publisher.

Putnam made his greatest impact when he reconnected with the pitch-challenged former-journalist Jimmy Buffett for a series of gold and platinum albums in the late ’70s and early ’80s. In ’76 Buffett and Putnam went down to Miami to hang out on Buffett’s sailboat, and in the process they created a new subgenre (and later a movement, the “Parrotheads”) by blending elements of calypso, mariachi, country and rock ‘n’ roll into a beach-strolling hybrid Putnam calls “Caribbean rock.”

Their first album together, Changes In Latitudes, Changes In Attitudes, is still the quintessential Buffett album, containing his only Top 10 hit, the classic of tropical dissipation and wavering self-deception, “Margaritaville.”

“Margaritaville” represents Buffett at his most appealing and insightful. The song’s story takes place in Mexico, always a refuge for Americans at odds with the American Dream – a dream hung on the twin hooks of individual opportunity and individual responsibility. Some people need to escape the responsibility hook for a while to facilitate soul exploration or just to decompress. Where would you rather be? Basking in the perpetual summer of a snow white playa sipping margaritas and chuckling at the tourists, or huddled around a short-circuiting space heater in a Buffalo hovel? Fictional characters including Fred C. Dobbs, Augie March, and Buffet’s semiautobiographical persona have chosen the Mexican alternative.

“Margaritaville’s” Caribbean/mariachi/country melody is cheerful yet reflective, its lilt tempered with an aftertaste of regret. The song’s power lies in its acknowledgment that the life of dissipation must be the shadow against which real life shines, not the screen that real life is shown upon. Responsibility can be an awesome weight, but ultimately we must accept responsibility for what it is: the internal demand to live up to our own values. Clearly, the character’s lifestyle here doesn’t coincide with his values. Rather than living a life of ease, he is living a life of intense internal conflict – a life he can only perpetuate with liberal applications of alcohol. Buffet doesn’t even want to face up to the fact that he is drinking alcohol, which he disguises with mixes and rituals – rituals that are wearing thin.

Buffet’s character’s acceptance of the possibility that he bears culpability (“Some
people claim that there’s a woman to blame, Now I think, Hell, it could be my fault”) for his actions is the great turning point. This reckoning requires such an effort that Buffet needs an instrumental break to contemplate it, where we are again reminded by the music’s languid splendor how pleasant this dissipation can be; and we are reminded why an army of weekend sailors, beach bums and dissipants have retreated into Buffett’s world for 30 years, but it was under Putnam’s watch that the archetype was perfected and found its finest expression.

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: [email protected], Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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