My wife and I have been “Parrot Heads” our entire adult lives. When news of Jimmy Buffett’s passing on Sept 1st was announced, we were saddened, but we both smiled. We didn’t embrace his implied endorsement for MJH, but we did embrace his joy and love of life. His music crossed over from jazz to reggae and always with kettle drums and a Caribbean vibe.
At a concert in Las Vegas at Caesars Palace he told a great American Story of hope and persistence that has inspired me for years.
He said that he had struggled as a young song writer and performer when early in his career he entered a singing contest in Atlanta. He had no money after he had recently lost his job in Nashville, and the prize of $5000 would help him relocate to LA. He was broken and broke and had nowhere to go.
There were 7 contestants in the contest and the one that performed before him was none other than at the time the unknown Lionel Richie. Lionel brought down the house and Jimmy knew he couldn’t back up Lionel’s performance. So be brought out an “old family favorite” —LETS GET DRUNK AND S— The crowd went crazy, he had his first hit, and he won the prize. He adjusted to the circumstances.
He took a train to Vegas and by the time he got there he had spent all the $5000 so he stood on the street in front of Flamingo with his guitar and he sung so he could continue his trip to Hollywood. He failed in Hollywood also. He went back to New Orleans and sang in bars and on the street and finally found a success that in his own words—could only be realized in America.
Before his final encore—Margaritaville, he said to the crowd “I don’t mean to brag, but this morning I just bought the Flamingo against the advice of all my accountants and business consultants”. He brought out all the parties to the sidewalk on the street to sign the final documents. The same spot where 50 years to the day he had been singing for his train ticket.
Our lives are a series of choices and decisions. We must be able to always “adjust on the fly”. It seems to me that those who succeed and have climbed the mountains of their lives have several common characteristics that are exemplified in the Jimmy Buffett story.
They first have failed many times over before they have achieved their success. They have had to adjust many times over, and in the case of a businessman, a farmer or a scientist, they have had to change the “experiment” all together. The road to success is never ever a straight line. Thomas Edison, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Brady failed and played second string before they ever found success, and when they had reached the “Top of the Mountain”, they always looked for other mountains to climb. They never stopped trying, failing, and succeeding.
The return on the investment for believing in himself, for continuing to write and sing songs when everyone else thought he would never succeed, was the billion-dollar Margaritaville empire. There were turning points to be sure—changing his song after Lionel Richie brought down the house, or simply persevering in the hot Vegas sun for a train trip to Hollywood. He, like a million others that have found success in our country always believed in themselves. They also had to believe that they were lucky to be in the right country to leverage their intellect and talent.
Success is found in the soul of you,
And not in the realm of luck.
The world will furnish the work to do.
But you must provide the pluck,
It is all in the start that you make young man,
You must believe that you will do it” Edgar Allen Guest
Jimmy Buffett was an American success story because he believed in himself, and he believed in the opportunity that America gave him. In the end, he understood the difference between being happy and being “joyful”. He made many of us Joyful.