Sacramento Bee Interview
A new book, a new album, another tour. Jimmy Buffett may sing about wasting away in Margaritaville, but in real life he never wastes a minute. He is one of the hardest-working artists of his generation. Unlike most of us, his work also happens to be his play.
“I’m not trying to win Grammy’s or any of that stuff,” Buffett says. “I am just trying to make things that if you are a fan, you could add to your collection.”
For many of his Parrothead fans, that collection is about to grow.
Buffett recently released an album, “Don’t Stop the Carnival,” based on the Caribbean-inspired musical he co-wrote with Herman Wouk that debuted in Miami last year. And he’s just issued an autobiography, “A Pirate Looks at Fifty” (Random House, $24.95), culled from trips he made in his seaplane around the Caribbean to celebrate his 50th birthday (on Christmas 1996).
“I also do some time-traveling and tell some rock ‘n’ roll stories in the book,” Buffett says. “But it’s not one of those hair-raising, titillating autobiographies. It’s not a tell-all. Hell, no.”
Buffett even found time recently to cover the pope’s visit to Cuba for Rolling Stone magazine. There was a credential mix-up, however, which caused him to be unable to get close to the pope. So, he ended up writing, quite colorfully, about people on the streets as the pope’s motorcade passed through.
“I had my little Rolling Stone press card, but you had to have the official pope papal visit credential, which was just a way to make money, so I didn’t even bother,” Buffett says. “But it was great to be back in Cuba. You know change is coming there, and the country is inevitably going to turn into another cruise ship destination.. . . But I wound up thinking that I didn’t want it to change all that fast.”
Besides being a singer whose best-known songs are the picaresque “Margaritaville” and “Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude,” Buffett continues to pursue new challenges. He is eagerly trying to set up an interview with then-astronaut, now-senator John Glenn and “go flying with him for a day.”
Speaking of fishing, he just went angling during a Caribbean vacation and kept a 10- to 12-page fishing journal that he hopes to publish somewhere.
“Now that I’ve got some slight piece of credibility, I can kind of get away with it,” he says of his journalistic endeavors, which bring him full circle to his youth, when he was a journalism major at the University of Southern Mississippi before taking off to Key West to create the near-mythological image that defines him.
The most ambitious of his recent pursuits, though, is “Don’t Stop the Carnival,” based on a Wouk novel about a New York public relations maven who moves to the Caribbean to escape the big, bad city, but encounters misadventures galore.
Buffett wrote 20 songs that appear on the new disc. His Coral Reefer Band performed, bridging the playfully burnt-out “Island Fever” and cynical “Hill Crowd,” about rich islanders who don’t know what to do with themselves.
It’s a happy-go-lucky story, in styles ranging from pop-rock to calypso, tango and jazz. But the outcome hasn’t been as happy, because Buffett had wanted to take the musical to Broadway but has been scared off by what happened to friend Paul Simon’s “Capeman.” That musical closed recently after a brief run and losses in excess of $10 million, much of it shouldered by Simon.
“I’ve decided to forget about raising that kind of money and going into that kind of environment in New York,” Buffett says. “That’s the learning process. I mean, we were offered to take the show there, but the changes that the producer wanted to make were more than I wanted to make.”
Instead, Buffett plans to insert some of the “Carnival” songs into his summer show.
“I’m going to slide some in that I think would work with our established `you got to play these or get killed’ songs.. . . The tour is called `Carnival,’ but that’s more in a metaphorical sense. It’s not that we’re doing every single song from `Carnival.’ We’re just going to do a show that pleases the fans, but I’m gonna try to slip in the feeling of `Carnival.’ ” A carnival atmosphere is nothing new to Buffett, who has been rock’s reigning court jester for more than 20 years. And along those lines he’s even hiring magicians to spice his shows this summer.
“When I think about it, I have carnival roots, because I was a child of the Mardi Gras,” says Buffett. “And Mardi Gras to me always meant that for a couple days a year, there were no rules. And I think that explains what happens when we come to town. It’s a carnival. So we’ve got a couple of skits that we’re working on, trying to keep that carnival theme going.”
Buffett is a perennial touring act, but he now tours out of the sheer joy of it.
“Fortunately, things are going well, and it’s wonderful to be at the point where the demands of finances do not dictate whether you tour or not. So that’s a big load off your shoulders, because I don’t have to get up there and slog around. I want to do it. And it’s fun. I mean, I get a rush on that stage. No doubt, it’s the best drug out there. It still is the best rush.”
- Sacramento Bee, June 19, 1998