Lulu talks about her brother Jimmy, before his Birmingham concert on SaturdayBuffett on Buffett: Lucy talks about brother Jimmy, who's soon to perform in Birmingham
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- He’s the master of Margaritaville, a hugely popular singer-songwriter, a touring powerhouse beloved by fans around the world.
But Jimmy Buffett, an extremely public figure, actually is a private kind of guy.
Who knows him best? Family members and friends, of course. And we’re lucky enough to have one of those living right here in Alabama.
Lucy Buffett, sister of the famous Jimmy, is a celebrity in her own right as the proprietress of a Gulf Shores restaurant, LuLu’s at Homeport Marina.
She’s also a really good sport. When asked to share a few thoughts about her brother and his music -- just a few days before Jimmy and the Coral Reefers perform in Birmingham -- this Buffett responded with cordial enthusiasm.
Q: Jimmy Buffett’s fans are legion, and very devoted. Why do you think his music has such widespread and enduring appeal?
A: Any expression of art that makes its way to an appreciation from the masses always taps into a mythic theme. When you really examine the lyrics of many of Jimmy’s songs, you’ll find he does this whether it’s love lost or gained, enjoyment, parents, adventure or his most prominent theme: escapism. Of course, he’s talented and driven, but I believe one of the reasons he has sustained for so long is because he has that baby-boomer work ethic. We inherited it from our parents, who both worked at a shipyard for over 30 years. Quite simply, he’s a hard worker and he gives his fans what they want. He realizes he is working for them. It’s the same philosophy I’ve embraced at LuLu’s and it’s worked pretty well there, as well.
Q: Some have said that casual fans -- the ones who only know “Margaritaville”and “Cheeseburger in Paradise” -- are missing out on the real Buffett, who expresses himself more eloquently in other tunes. Do you agree or disagree, and why?
A: Totally agree. I think in his box set, that’s really quite old now, one of the CDs contains a lot of his slow, pretty ballads. Some of them are so sweet and moving without being sappy. You know, Jimmy is really a storyteller and when you listen to some of his songs, they truly resonate as contemporary poetry put to music. His hits represent his playful side, but when you look at his entire catalog, you can’t help but appreciate his deep emotional side. Much to his own chagrin, I might add. He's really quite modest and private; like most men, he won’t wallow in the emotional side of things for very long. He really is more of a “breathe in, breathe out, move on” kind of guy.
Q: Do you have a favorite Buffett song? If so, why?
A: “Havana Daydreamin’” is one of my favorite old songs. I was living in Key West when that album came out, so I knew all the characters and contexts. He wrote a beautiful tribute to my dad that’s very touching, but it’s not one you will ever hear him perform. I’m particularly fond of the one about “oysters and beer for dinner every day of the year.” That’s the one I can relate to. It was also one of my mother’s favorites. That, and “He Went to Paris.” Ironically, I don’t know the titles of all his songs, but I do know most of the lyrics.
Q: When your brother started his career as a musician, did you ever imagine that he’d reach these heights of success? When did you first realize, “Oh, boy, he's really famous”?
A: From my point of view as the baby sister who’s seven years younger than he is, I thought he had made it when mama, daddy and I drove over to Hattiesburg to watch him open for Jerry Jeff Walker in some small, coffee-house type venue. He sang and people applauded; I thought right then that he was a star. And the fact that he was also playing on Bourbon Street in New Orleans in his first group meant he had made it. If not to the big time, at least he’d made it out of Mobile, and I knew he would never come back home to live.
Q: Fans say there’s a fantasy element to many of the Buffett songs they love -- a way he has of taking them away from the mundane to an island haven. Do you ever feel that way?
A: Well, it’s that escapism thing again. In the beginning, those songs about Key West and the Gulf Coast were all born from his experience. He was always an adventurer at heart. He was particularly inspired by my paternal grandfather, who was a ship’s master and had sailed and steamed around the entire world. He knew at a very early age he wanted to see the world. Later on, I think he figured out what he’d tapped into -- why his success continued long after he even thought it would subside. So he decided to keep giving his fans what they wanted. Also, his success enabled him to truly explore the world, and that really fed his creative drive. Sometimes recording artists get tired of doing their hits. They go in a different direction that’s not as appealing to their fans. Jimmy believes that doing his hits is his job. If he wants or needs to do something to feed his creative drive, he learns to fly a plane or surf.
Q: How do his Alabama roots show up in the music? What impact do you think they’ve had on his songbook or sound?
A: There’s a truly lovely nostalgic piece to Jimmy. I think he credits a lot of his success to his Gulf Coast roots. They gave him the foundation that’s sustained his success. You can't grow up around water and not develop an almost cellular longing to be out in a boat on that water. So many of his songs resonate with his love of exploring the ocean. That notion was born in his youth on Mobile Bay, Dauphin Island, Gulf Shores and the Mississippi barrier islands. He still regularly stops by LuLu’s for a bowl of gumbo when he’s zipping across the country. Only a few years ago, he came out with “Tonight I Just Need My Guitar,” with references to Mobile Bay.
Q: Anything else you'd like to say about your brother?
A: Jimmy’s a very practical fellow. He can iron his own clothes, prefers to drive himself around, and is extremely self sufficient. He’s not afraid to laugh at himself, but he’s really smart and has great instincts, especially about business. He’s a very early riser, and most of his emails come to me between 5 and 6 in the morning. No, he's not out partying all night in Margaritaville -- LOL!
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