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I remember an interview that I once participated in, with my brother-in-law, Thomas McGuane, Rusell Chatham, The Painter and Jim Harrison in my back yard. The young reporter was talking to us as if we were legendary which to me always meant dead. Since at this point, I don’t feel myself to be close to either, I think of what Jim said to the nervous young reporter who was asking our observations on the good, bad, and ugly evolution of Key West, Florida. Harrison said simply, “It seems every place I go to get away these days, somebody always says, “You should have been here ten years ago.” All these years later, there is a still a soul to this rock in the middle of the ocean, there are those, of course, who don’t see it and never will. They are focused on land development, get rich quick schemes and other carpetbagger ploys. We seem to spend a lot more time than we should have to keep these thieves and predators at bay, but that is life in the tropics.
The soul of Key West is made up of the characters who blazed the trail to the end of the road. We only follow in their wake. I hope there are some characters in the making who were here and are some characters in the making roaming the streets these days but I can only speak of a few who were here and are now gone-each different but collectively a part of that soul that is still alive, but doesn’t slow quite as bright now that they are gone.
Floy Thompson… Nobody knew more about living at the end of the road than Floy, my dearly departed friend and patron. Beauty queen, Rockette, counselor to the struggling artist and independent woman of the world when it wasn’t a chic label. She made a cameo appearance as my landlady in the archival “Introducing Jimmy Buffett” film that was shot as a music video, before the letters of the alphabet M and V had ever been combined. An impromptu visit to her house could result in anything from tea with Tennessee Williams to having to help the yard man clean her pool. She had “been there and done that” long before most of us ever thought of being wild.
Miss Floy – I am sorry you didn’t get to hear this record before it was finished… so tonight, I will go out on the beach, point my blaster toward the Pleiades and crank it up. Somewhere between here and there, I hope you will be listening.
Phillip Burton – I have been blessed in recent years to look into the eyes of age and learn from the experience. Phillip Burton came to Key West twenty years ago to die, but didn’t. Instead, he found a new lease on life in the tropics which he gave back to those who were fortunate enough to make his acquaintance. Phillip was a teacher and my afternoons spent at his little frame house on Angela Street discussing plots and characters, tours and projects were times I will never forget.
I remember when I was trying to develop my villain colonel Cairo for the Joe Merchant book and was having trouble and I asked Phillip for some advice. He just looked at me across the room and said “Jimmy, it all goes back to Shakespeare”, and handed me a copy of Richard III. I headed home that evening loaded down with more books and homework then I had ever done in 18 years of supposed schooling. Colonel Cairo became a true villain thanks to Phillip. I last saw him at a rest home in central Florida where we chatted in the sun and took pictures with his caretakers in a small grove or orange trees. He knew he would never leave the rest home, but now he felt better because I was walking out of there with things he had taught me and I intend to pass them on when my time comes.
Howard Paul – Howard was a real Remittance man-paid to stay away from home. His exploits on the island were legendary. From his attempted suicide which is documented in the similar attempt by Lance Larimore III in Tales from Margaritaville, to the still-talked about charter ferry boats to Cuba and in the Fifties, Howard always had a story and even the sad ones somehow turned into funny moments that basically pointed out the ridiculous fallacy that we have something to his self penned obituary that appeared in the Key West Citizen, April 6, 1995.
He loved Key West and its indolent and outrageous ways. He loved to leave this strict Victorian coldness of his North country with its taboos on loose living and shocking behavior. He loved the winters of sitting around the old sands club drinking, being charming and delightfully useless with the likes of Evira Stoll, Viola Veidt, Langdon Schewedd, Tennessee and Frank-all of those talented and interesting escapes from the snow and rigors of straight lacked morality. He was one of Key West’s last reminders of a World War II era when those who were “different” were allowed to have their playground where they wrote the rules be yourself, be pleasant, play hard and have no regrets.”
This album is dedicated to the loving memory of Floy Thompson, Phillip Burton, and Howard Paul.