When I heard about the passing of Jimmy Buffett on Saturday, I wrote a condolence email to his longtime friend and novelist Thomas McGuane. When I tried to get Buffett to talk to me last year, McGuane was the marriage of Buffett’s sister Laurie, and I was covering a story about Latitude Margaritaville, a retirement community or Community, actually in theory, is the embodiment of the beachy/relaxed/drunk spirit expressed in his songs. Buffett has become rich, and even more famous, by turning his creations into lifestyle brands. That kind of success, which gave him the freedom to say no, and perhaps some lingering, though unacknowledged, misgivings about the relationship between his commercial success and his songwriting made him feel less comfortable with The interview was disturbing, or at any rate, this time. McGuane referred to Buffett as Bubba, and he said something. Bubba and I zoomed in. He is very pleasant.
In his Sunday reply, McGuane wrote that he had just returned from Telluride, where he helped introduce a film about Buffett and their friends and how they lived in Key West as artists and fishermen half a century ago. New documentary on the life of . It’s called “All Sacred,” and it’s directed by Scott Ballou. (The film has yet to find a distributor.) Buffett was supposed to go to Telluride, too, but alas, he lies dying at his home in Sag Harbor, Long Island. Of the characters in the film — among them Jim Harrison, Richard Brautigan, Russell Chatham — McGuane is now the only survivor. “It was just the two of us at the show on Friday, and it was just me on Saturday,” he wrote.
In the film, McGuane says he hates old photos and generally despises nostalgia. At just half an hour long, “Everything Is Sacred” is a scathing rebuttal, or at least a dose of comfort to anyone who might disagree. The film is based on footage from an old documentary called Tarpon, produced in 1973 by Guy de la Valdene and Christian Odasso , but almost no one has seen it for years. (While it was never released, bootlegs eventually turned it into a pike drifter version of the 1972 hit surf film “Morning on Earth.”) It documents the Key West scene, focusing more on fishing than on writing. For the tarpon shots alone (filmed by a French crew setting up a platform in the apartment), it’s a gem, but Harrison’s many glimpses of youth, with his gaping teeth, contorted eyes, wide smile, and McGee Guarn, with his long hair and sly smile, Buffett remains a true embodiment of the sand pirate fantasia he soon became famous for, evoking, as the film says, a sort of hippie Algonquin Round Table. These are the guys who take their jobs, and maybe even their fishing, seriously, but spend their spare time like crazy. Tequila, marijuana, cocaine, acid, drugs. The atmosphere is strong, but the tourist traffic is low. What a wonderful time to be alive.
“These are people who come together for one reason or another, and then surprisingly, as they get older, people basically disperse,” McGuane, 83, who lives in Montana, wrote in Everything It’s all like that,” said. sacred. “We’re very lucky that this happened. Most of us feel that those are some of the best times of our lives. (Nostalgia? Well then, he contradicts himself.)
Buffett composed the soundtrack for Tarpon. At the time he was more or less a nobody, a Nashville bum drinking beers at the local bar. But he’s also about to release his second album, A White Sport and a Pink Crustacean (not counting a bluegrass album that came out years later), and it’s the one that keeps him going. Anyway, that left him with enough money to buy a boat. He slowly built an audience based on the songs and the ease and charisma with which he performed them. It was the experiences of that time in Key West that created the material and spirit for much of the work and, ultimately, the Nautilus Empire. It was an important metamorphosis stage in his glorious and unique American journey from Mobile, Alabama, to the bars of New Orleans, to his own giant Margaritaville, his version eventually involving ships, planes and Friends in high places. He doesn’t seem to have left any malice behind.
Whether alive or dead, the kitsch and eccentricity often overshadowed the songwriting on earlier albums—like the first six or ten. He is an artist who is both underrated and overrated. His fame and fortune, and the silliness of the sacrament of the parrot head, may have made him an easier target for some critical snickering, or outright dismissal; I am also guilty. As I wrote in a story last year, “A poor man’s Gordon Lightfoot grows up to be an alcoholic’s Martha Stewart, barely needing to change his tune.” But the song’s technique is solid and the lyrics deft , often sad and wise beneath the celebratory hedonism. Other artists whose work is taken more seriously—from Paul McCartney to James Taylor to Jason Isbell—for his work and this man, Nothing but lovely reviews. Not everyone with a guitar needs to be Lou Reed.
Residents held a vigil Sunday night outside a house Buffett owns in Margaritaville, a Daytona Beach latitude. They made a little shrine with surfboards, straw hats, flowers, a bottle of pre-mixed margaritas and a Presidential Jimmy Buffett T-shirt. I reached out via text message to the two people who taught me pickle ball when I visited the stadium in December 2021 — Hershey McChesney and Allen Farkas.
“He used his music to create a world that ordinary people could escape from,” McChesney replied. “It’s become a reality for the people here. None of this would have happened without him.”
Farkas texted that he had to skip the vigil. “Give me some, Hersh. I have my fantasy draft tonight.”
As John Cohlan, CEO of Margaritaville Holdings and a friend of Buffett’s, wrote me about what he thought was a tribute article in a newspaper, “There’s no rear-view mirror. That’s Jimmy .” ❖