A pirate's life
Jimmy Buffett isn't wastin' away in Margaritaville, or anywhere else
Web posted on: Wednesday, June 24, 1998 5:51:57 PM EDT
(CNN) -- Singer and chief Parrothead Jimmy Buffett visited Larry King on June 20 to talk about his new autobiography.
LARRY KING: Right now, one of the great entertainers, one of my favorite people; who wrote one of the all-time great songs ever written: "Margaritaville"; Jimmy Buffett, who is now the author of "A Pirate Looks at Fifty".
I would gather the pirate is you?
JIMMY BUFFETT, AUTHOR OF "A PIRATE LOOKS AT FIFTY": The pirate is me, Larry.
KING: What prompted this autobiography?
KING: Still funny, Buffett.
BUFFETT: Actually, when I did turn 50 -- now, almost two years ago -- I wanted to do something to mark that occasion, so we were looking at what kind of a trip to take; and it boiled down, after exploring the options from everything around the world to around the Caribbean, I took my seaplane and did a trip around South America.
KING: Flying it yourself?
BUFFETT: I fly by myself. I have pilots who go with me, but I fly part of the time. It kind of became the central theme of something to hinge, all these stories. It's been a pretty interesting 50 years.
KING: You hinge it with the travel...
BUFFETT: ... Yeah, I just kind of hinge the stories on the little airplane trip around South America.
KING: You crashed in a plane?
BUFFETT: I crashed once.
KING: Where, Nantucket?
KING: Why do you fly again? I wouldn't.
BUFFETT: It's interesting, because after the accident -- it happened so fast -- one of the pieces in there is a -- is a story about the crash, because at the time it's happening, fortunately, I had gone up in an F-14, on a carrier; before that, I had gone to naval survival school in Norfolk, Virginia, where they make you go as a civilian before you go on an aircraft, particularly on a carrier.
And I remember -- that training basically saved my life. I remember bubbles up; because in a crash you get disoriented, and bubbles do go up.
KING: Follow the bubbles.
BUFFETT: Follow the bubbles.
KING: Were you injured?
BUFFETT: No, I was kind of cut and scratched.
KING: You were alone in the plane?
BUFFETT: I was alone in the plane. There was a -- striped bass in the back, which was...
KING: How panicky was it?
BUFFETT: At the time? The thing that I kept saying to myself: if I don't panic, I can get out of here -- because of that Navy training. This week I spent in Norfolk, Virginia, which was probably a year before the crash...
KING: It helped a lot?
BUFFETT: ... Yeah, they try to drown you, basically. And if you can survive that -- you know, I kept my wits about me enough to be able to...
KING: How about the next time you flew?
BUFFETT: I got in about four days later. I just wanted to make sure I could go do it, and, then, I did. I think I -- I know I'm a better pilot for it, and I'm glad I lived through it.
KING: How would Jimmy Buffett describe to an unknown from a planet what kind of artist he is? Are you country? Are you rock? Are you folk?
BUFFETT: I would probably consider myself a sponge.
I try to act...
KING: All of the above.
BUFFETT: ... I can -- I pick up, just -- if I'm an artist, I'm an artist of the ear, because I kind of listen to things; and travel is the other thing that I love to do; and if you can travel and keep your ears open, there are always stories out there.
KING: Do you like writing as much as singing?
BUFFETT: I like it in a way -- my old friend and collaborator, Herman Wouk -- when we were working on "Don't Stop the Carnival" -- told me the greatest piece of advice for writing that I ever got, which was: write a page a day. And, when you think of it, it sounds kind of simple, 30 days, it's 30 pages, so, that little piece gave me -- it was an incredible piece of advice, because whether it's a book, whether it's a song, or whether it's just writing a letter to someone, if you keep your chops up, it's like anything else.
KING: If ever there an unlikely combination, it's you and the Caribbean and the orthodox Jew, and the great author Herman Wouk, who's currently in Israel -- getting together on "Don't Stop the Carnival" -- which is going to be a Broadway musical. Right. You've been promising me.
BUFFETT: I've been promising you this, Larry -- where -- the carnival has not stopped -- we're tacking and we're looking for a different course to sail. Herman gets back from Israel, I think, next week.
KING: Are you going to write all the music?
BUFFETT: The music is done, and we did an album of the music, which we put out -- which we'll tour with this summer. And we're looking, basically right now, I'll tell you, at a concept show based around the music more the narration -- and then hopefully take it on the road -- we kind of got to circumnavigate, and hopefully that'll take us back into Broadway. But as far as a frontal attack, un-huh.
KING: But it's not dead-dead?
BUFFETT: It's not. The carnival is not stopped.
KING: Jimmy Buffett has written a memoir, I guess we'd call it, right?
BUFFETT: It's a memoir.
KING: "A Pirate Looks at Fifty." Why this affinity for Cuba?
BUFFETT: In my world, it goes back to my family. My grandfather was a sailing ship captain, and in my heritage from on my grandfather's side, he spent a lot of time in Cuba, as a sailor ship captain.
My father spent his first birthday, which is a great story that went through our family -- when all the captains raised flags in the harbor -- so I've had this for a long time in my family history; and then moving to Key West, Florida, in the early '70's, where Key West was basically more attached to Havana than Miami.
And all the incredible history, back and forth; and I went to Cuba, actually during the time of the Grenada invasion. I was in Havana -- I was sailing over -- I was working on a documentary of Hemingway, and jokingly, I said: well, I hope I'm not in Cuba when there's an international incident. And so, there we were.
KING: Was there any trouble?
BUFFETT: They detained us for a small bit of time at the airport, but then we went back; and that was almost 15 years ago.
KING: You also had refugees show up at your place.
BUFFETT: I did. I was with my dad -- we were getting ready to go fishing in front of my house in Key West -- these people appeared; and I thought they were just lobstering in the canal; and I didn't speak much Spanish, then. But finally I figured out that they had come not from Islamorada; they had come from Havana.
And I went back last year as a reporter for "Rolling Stone" and covered the pope's visit.
KING: Did they get to stay, those refugees?
BUFFETT: Yeah, I gave them a tape when they hit the shore. I knew that once they got to Miami, all they'd get was Julio; so I wanted to give them a Jimmy Buffett tape.
KING: Is "Margaritaville" the song that they're going to play 100 years from now, or "Come Monday?" But -- I would bet "Margaritaville."
BUFFETT: "Margaritaville" -- it's just -- I feel very lucky, you know, that I came along. I wrote it in about 10 minutes after a trip to Austin, Texas, and coming back to Key West. And I was lucky enough...
KING: Where were you, on a plane?
BUFFETT: I was driving back down to the Florida Keys, and it was like the huge weekend that there had been a huge influx of tourism -- this was like 1975 -- and the roads were just packed and crowded, and I kind of had this vision of things to come.
KING: So how does an idea form? What came first; did "Margaritaville"? Did that come first? "Wasting away again"?
BUFFETT: "Margaritaville" came first from this margarita at this great bar in Austin, Texas, so I was thinking of that as I was on the road on U.S. 1 -- driving to Key West on this crowded tourist day; and I got home and wrote it down. And I was lucky to get my thumb on the pulse of something that has, fortunately, stayed around.
KING: And remains a classic.
KING: Do you think musically all the time? Might you leave this studio, and think of a tune in the elevator?
BUFFETT: I think of, like, titles and one-liners. If you write a chorus to a song, if you can get a hook line, that's always the thing that I go for first; so that when I got into writing books and things like that, I don't know how to do anything to pace a show, or pace an album -- when I write my books, I like to put titles in of all he chapters.
KING: Is it still a kick to go on the stage?
BUFFETT: It's still the biggest kick. You know, I was watching the other night, and I saw a replay of the Sinatra special with Walter Cronkite that Don Hewitt did -- and he was 50 in 65 -- and I'm 52 in '98 -- I mean, I'm not comparing myself vocally to Frank Sinatra -- but, as a performer, it was magic to see that now that he has passed away, he did 30 years past where I am now; so it charged me up to go on the road this summer.
KING: Do you feel like a pirate?
KING: I mean, it's an interesting title. You feel like -- you're a swashbuckler, huh, Buffett?
BUFFETT: Well, I think so, Larry. I mean, as I said in the book, my heroes weren't presidents, initially, they were pirates. Jean Lafitte ... I was more interested than in Thomas Jefferson.
KING: Were these pirates good guys? Were they like Robin Hood's of the sea, or were they really scavengers?
BUFFETT: Well, I hate to tell you...
KING: Break it to me.
BUFFETT: Some of them were good, some of them were bad. Sort of like politicians.
KING: What about Lafitte?
BUFFETT: Lafitte was a good guy -- saved New Orleans.
KING: Where is home?
BUFFETT: Home is half the year in Florida and half the year in Long Island.
KING: Not a bad life.
BUFFETT: No, you know; winter's in the right place; summer's in the right place.
KING: When do you tour again?
BUFFETT: I go out next week. We'll be out all summer again.
KING: Jimmy, you're the best.
BUFFETT: Thanks, Larry.
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