"If you haven't the strength to impose your own terms upon life, you must accept the terms it offers you." T.S. Elliot
Friday, February 3, 2012
I Belong In A Pirate Town
In many ways last night’s Jimmy Buffett Concert at the North Charleston Coliseum was a familiar spectacle for me. You see, my wife and I have been to many Buffett shows through the years and last night when Jimmy walked on stage it was one of those Déjà Vu type moments. All of the ingredients from past shows were on-hand.
The parrotheads, Jimmy’s fan club army, were in full regalia just like they are at every venue where he performs; the grass skirts, coconut bras, cheeseburger hats and tropical leis were abundant. The parking lot before the show was full of tailgaters tailgating as only parrot-heads can tailgate, an emphasis on frozen concoctions with a hint of lime and abundance of tequila. Once again you could have easily closed your eyes, turned around in a circle five times, clicked your heels like Dorothy and woke up in a stadium parking lot in Cincinnati or some other arena parking lot where the caravan frequents on an annual basis. As Jimmy likes to say, he has the “coolest summer job” in the world and when he hit the stage last night in Charleston, barefoot, wearing shorts and a Hank’s Seafood t-shirt (see this) early February became mid-July in the Holy City, feeling hot, hot, hot.
While the scenery and the songs were the same last night’s show was just different. First of all, the other umpteen times we have seen Jimmy, it has been at an outdoor venue. In fact all of our former concerts have been in Pittsburgh PA at an outdoor amphitheatre in the summertime. So last night attending a show during the winter months,indoor was a new experience. Although based upon the 76 degree high yesterday afternoon it didn’t seem like a winter-time experience. But that’s not what accounts for the “difference”. Midway through the show, Jimmy drifted away from his normal Finland song set, and inserted a section “only to be performed tonight in the Lowcountry” that he called "the shrimp and grits section.” Jimmy noted when he first came on stage, “finally, I come to Charleston and I get to perform a show.” Jimmy Buffett by his own admission spends some time on the Coast of Carolina, in fact, as he performed the song Coast of Carolina a video montage appeared on the huge screens that are part of the Finland Concert stage featuring video shot through the years of Jimmy sailing, fishing, paddling and frolicking in the waters that surround the Lowcountry. The video included scenery very recognizable to those of us who are lucky to call the Lowcountry our home and showed Jimmy with hair, lots of it, and Jimmy as he appears now, with just a hint of hair. Unlike all of the other Buffett shows I have attended, this one was like a homecoming show, and for good reason. Jimmy married a South Carolina girl and his son even attends college here. Oh sure Jimmy works the crowd, dropping local names and mentioning popular local dives at all of his concerts, and you don’t tour for forty plus years without making friends at every port of call, but you got a sense that last night Jimmy was connected to a lot of people in the crowd, and he was. During the “shrimp and grits” portion of the show, he paid homage to Pat Conroy for being an inspiration, and as he launched into Prince of Tides, a Buffett Classic based loosely on the novel of the same name by Citadel Alum and Lowcountry resident Conroy, I realized something as I heard him recite the dialogue at the beginning of the song: “the sun, red and enormous began to sink into the western sky and simultaneously the moon began to rise on the other side of the river with its own glorious shade of red, coming up out of the trees like a russet firebird. The sun and the moon seem to acknowledge each other and they moved in both apposition and concordance in a breath taking dance of light across the oaks and the palm. Father watched it and I thought he would cry again, he had returned to the sea, and his heart was a low country heart.” What I realized was that for the first time of hearing that song performed live, I actually understood what he was talking and singing about.
I experience that “breath taking dance of light across the oaks and palms,” quite regularly in fact. So, unlike, the experience of hearing those words and imagining the image from some field outside of Pittsburgh, my perspective on the song now is completely different.
I have watched Jimmy Buffett grow old, and in some ways as he catches a glimpse of me from the back and top of the arena, he has watched me grow old as well. Along with all the other parrotheads in attendance, when did the parrotheads get so old? I couldn’t help but think of my old friend, Steve Crawford, the pharmacist from Elkins, WV with whom I had attended several Buffett shows with. From time to time during the show as Jimmy shared his memories with the crowd, I reflected on my memories as well. And, as I often experience during my day-to-day experience of life here in the Land of Palm Trees there was affirmation in our decision to become Lowcountry Transplants. Near the end of the concert, Jimmy paused to introduce the next song saying, “a song about pirates, this town knows a little bit about pirates” referring to the historic past of pirates in Charleston, think Stede Bonnet and Blackbeard, after all Charleston’s historic past isn’t all about the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. As Jimmy crooned the familiar verse, “yes I am a pirate, two-hundred years too late. The cannons don’t thunder there’s nothing to plunder I’m an over forty victim of fate, arriving too late, arriving too late” he added a new line to the end of the song, “mother, mother ocean, after all these years I’ve found, my occupational hazard being my occupations just not around, I feel like I’ve drowned, I belong in a pirate town…” And so do I Jimmy, so do I.