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I've got some business travel that is going to keep me from doing a regular MNB today and Monday, but this morning I'd like to offer something a little different.  September began with the passing of Jimmy Buffett after a four-year battle with skin cancer, and it has been extraordinary to me how many stories - with a plethora of business and life lessons - have appeared.  MNB readers know what a big Buffett fan I am, and so I thought I would end September with an all-Jimmy Buffett edition of MNB, featuring some of the stories and lessons I've tracked.  (Won't be much in the way of commentary here - I think most of these lessons speak for themselves.)

I'll be back Tuesday.  In the meantime, Fins Up!

Inc. had a piece by investor Howard Tullman in which he remembered his friend Jimmy Buffett:

"Everyone who ever worked with Jimmy Buffett, and I did, will tell you the same thing about him. Which is that they took far more away from the experience--however fleeting it may have been--than simply a love for the guy and his music. He was every bit as successful an entrepreneur as he was an entertainer, and he brought the same focus, passion, and enthusiasm to whatever he did.

"The insiders' joke was that he was about the least 'laid-back' guy you were ever gonna meet. Whether it was music, his Margaritaville-themed businesses, charity, or politics, it was the same story - if he was in, he was in 110 percent, and he did everything with a vengeance. Jimmy was direct, down-to-earth, and deliberate in his dealings with you whether you were a peasant or a prince, although he never paid attention to those kinds of distinctions. And that openness, attitude, and approach never changed over the more than 30 years that I knew him.

"So, it's a little surprising to hear from so many people that they had no real idea that he was such a substantial businessman in addition to being a great writer and musician. I'm reluctant to add "philosopher" to the encomium because he always hated it when anyone used such 'high-falutin'' terms to describe him. He was thoughtful and certainly took a great deal of pride in his craft and worked his butt off to make that happen."

Tullman also offers three lessons he learned from Buffett:

1. Your work is what you do, not who you are."

"It's difficult for any new business builder to separate himself from the business--the best entrepreneurs never leave much of anything at the office at day's end--and taking things personally and to heart is critical to their eventual success. The ones who care the most win. But maintaining a healthy distance between what you do and your own identity and self-worth is crucial to your mental health … Success is fleeting, but excellence is forever. His work was a wonderful part of his life, but making a living was only a part of making a life worth living."

2. "Take your work seriously, but not yourself.

"Jimmy could always laugh at himself. He'd sometimes catch himself pressing a little too hard, lecturing out loud, or even pontificating, and--full stop--he'd just shut up and shake his head and say: 'Where'd I go wrong?' or 'Who is this guy anyway?' He knew he could get caught up in the work and in the moment, and he would never compromise the take or the music or the project. But he'd often take himself to task, take a short break and a mental reset, and then come back--a little sheepishly--and hit things twice as hard.

"He knew that, from time to time, the person most likely to get in the way of moving things forward was Jimmy Buffett, and he always kept an eye out for times when he thought he was getting too full of himself or ahead of the game."

3. Never expect to get what you give--not everyone's heart is as big as yours.

"He didn't measure, he didn't compete, he didn't lose his faith, and he never stopped giving back. He did everything he could, never expected anything in return, and never tried to impose his contributions and commitments on others."

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Rolling Stone had an interview with Jimmy Buffett in which he talked about jump-starting his music career - and figuring out how important control was - while working in Nashville as a journalist for Billboard:

"During that period, I learned what the music business really was. And to a large extent, it’s still stacked against you as a performer unless you take command of your own situation.

So when it came to my career, I wanted to take care of business. When I first started, they took everything away. They’d say, 'You want a record deal? Well, you can keep your publishing (rights), but you won’t have a record deal.' 

"Through that gauntlet of experiences, I knew I wasn’t that good a guitar player or singer, but I could perform well on stage. That was my go-to while trying to create other opportunities. I wanted to be a working musician, playing on stage. So, during that whole process, I started thinking, 'Why would I rent a piano at the price promoters charge when I could buy one and pay it off in 10 shows?'  I thought about building my own bus and renting it to others when I wasn’t using it. Those ideas came from being raised in a shipbuilding family. I was thinking about ways to make performing easier and less expensive. It all started there."

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When receiving an honorary degree from the University of Miami in 2015, Jimmy Buffett gave a commencement speech in which he offered several pieces of advice to the graduates, but two items stick out.

Buffett recalled an evening when he performed a show hungover;  "I cashed in way to many fun tickets the night before," he said, adding, "It all worked out … I made it through the show, but I was mad at myself for not giving the crowd their money's worth.  Nobody in the crowd knew, but I sure did.  It's not a pretty thing to see talent wasted, it's an even sadder thing to waste it yourself … that is when I had to reorganize my priorities, and remind myself of how lucky I was to call what I do for a living a 'job'."

Buffett also called on the students to be generous going forward:  "Be Santa Claus when you can. Just being a graduate of this great university makes you a lot luckier than most. Don’t ever take this opportunity as something you deserved."

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Garden & Gun had a piece by Chris Dixon, a journalist who was hired early in his career by Jimmy Buffett because he had two skills - he could surf and he could code HTML.  Buffett was looking for someone to help him produce "a sort of proto blog we would call Travels with a Pirate," documenting Buffett's life, adventures and tour.

"I would come to learn many truths about Jimmy Buffett, but for purposes of this story, here are three," Dixon writes.  "First: Jimmy Buffett was pretty much exactly the person you hoped he’d be. Second: Beyond his well-documented lust for life, he was witty and kind. (You know how some folks say you should never meet your heroes? Well, Jimmy wasn’t my hero until after we met.) Third: Jimmy Buffett was an endlessly entertaining, truly fascinating, and occasionally terrifying person to try and keep up with. By the time I came on board, he had pretty much given up on the harder-partying aspects of his piratical life. What that meant in practical terms was that he channeled his boundless energy into seeking out adventures that regularly scared the crap out of his entourage, and occasionally me.

"I never had the chance to survive a ship-sinking offshore gale with him like fellow G&G scribe Jimbo Meador, or wake-surf amid the 1,400-horsepower prop-wash of Jimmy’s massive old Albatross like his righthand man Mike Ramos, but I did sit behind Jimmy as he banked that Albatross so hard above the blue Gulf Stream that I nearly passed out. I gaped as he piloted his Cessna Caravan seaplane down onto blue Bahamian water, and later between two crags onto the tiny runway of St. Barths’ Gustavia Airport. In 2008, I helped him very nearly drown his one-of-a-kind, veggie-oil-powered Sportsmobile camper—a vehicle I’d helped him build out—during a rising tide at Montauk Beach. A couple of years after that, I again death-gripped the armrests as he buzzed and banked, literally at dune level, around the Cape Hatteras lighthouse during a Wright brothers pilgrimage."

Writing about his last visit with Buffett, when the singer visited him at his home on the water, Dixon notes that "I was aware Jimmy had been under the weather, but aside from looking a bit thin, he was as energetic as ever. We stroked out of the small tidal creek and cruised toward an uninhabited island near my house in search of tailing redfish and bottlenose dolphins. Out on Folly Creek, we intercepted a full bottlenose family frolicking along a shoal of oyster beds and spartina grass. The mama and her babies made lazy circles around us—close enough we could whisper to them—and then moved off. Nearing the forested island, Jimmy pointed to a break in the trees. 'What’s over there?' he asked. 'There’s gotta be redfish in those shallows.'  I’d honestly never even noticed it, but Jimmy somehow found a break in the marsh that led through a maze-like creek to where the trees parted. Redfish were indeed popping through the shallows. We heard the screech of a bald eagle and the knock-knock-knock of a big woodpecker. Soon, that mini maze opened up to a tiny sand beach that curved around into a stunning tidal creek bisecting the island. Pushed along by the rising tide, we paddled through a cathedral of trees until the creek simply petered out. Luke and Scott nailed the footage, but Jimmy was too mesmerized to notice. 'Jesus, dude,' he said, pulling up onto the sandbar. 'This place is beautiful.'

"The next day, Jimmy rolled up around daybreak so we could get in a paddle before his noon flight back to Sag Harbor. The tide was quite high, so we reckoned we’d cruise across a different flat in the direction of Morris Island. But as we left our little creek, a pair of dolphins surfaced, so we followed them at a distance. We tracked them, silently, just watching and listening as they breathed in and out."

Later on, Buffett would observe about what they experienced that day, "We don’t have to go to church. It’s right here.”  

Dixon writes, "I didn’t want to dwell on Jimmy’s health, but I was, of course, concerned. 'It’s been a rough go, honestly,' he said. 'But things are looking up. I think I’m actually gonna be able to go on tour. It’s really true, you know. Getting old ain’t for the faint of heart'."

And Dixon concludes:

"As I type these final words, the tears are starting to well, so maybe it’s time to close the computer and get out on the water. I’ll leave you all with a few parting thoughts. 

"First, until the day I die, I will never cease to be inspired by Jimmy Buffett. He never stopped taking risks and pushing himself—even when he was battling cancer, and even when it drove those who cared about him crazy. Doing so would have been antithetical to the Fearless Man he truly was. 

"While I’ve watched that fearless man move very fast, I’ve also watched him slow down enough to spend hours in a front-porch rocking chair, recording personalized greetings and messages of hope for terminally ill fans. It’s not something he ever told folks about, but he did it just the same. I’ve seen his Singing for Change foundation fund projects that allowed hundreds of people to start their own successful philanthropic ventures. And I’ve marveled as a collection of personal surfboards he donated allowed the founder of Charleston’s Warrior Surf Foundation to quit his job and focus on the veterans’ organization full time … My stories, while unique to me, aren’t unique. If you had the chance to bask in Jimmy’s glow, whether through a chance encounter at a fishing dock, a wedding photo he crashed at a Margaritaville restaurant, a wave you shared at Ditch Plains, a beer you sipped at a Key West dive, or a massive concert filled with screaming Parrot Heads, you were a fortunate person indeed. And you knew, because it was obvious: Jimmy Buffett cared about you."

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Holly Gleason, a Nashville-based songwriter, essayist and critic, posted a lovely piece about Jimmy Buffett in which she described him as "that uncle your parents wouldn’t let babysit, even if he could talk to them about sailing, literature or Gulf Coast resorts. That made his sangfroid that much more delicious to a kid sitting on a worktable in a back room, not getting all the references."

The essay, "Beyond The Coral Reefer: Jimmy Buffett Finds That One Particular Harbor," remembers him this way:

"Jimmy Buffett believed in his songs, his friends, the characters who’d inspired him. As long as he had those people, a little imagination, he’d find a way. Oh, and that way made him a billionaire; he had the last laugh on the music business know-it-alls.

"Not that that was his motivation. Standing onstage, with the smile slicing his face like wide open like a ripe mango, eyes sparkling at the naughtiness of Parrotheads converging on Paris in some kind of electric mojito acid test, there was revelry to be had – and songs, poetic and ribald to be sung.

"That way the joy and the mission: honor what is however it was, remember the beauty, hang onto the high jinks and never, ever doubt the songs … Even when the king of the parrot pirates was out flying his planes or chasing the sun, talking about good times or creating more memories, he was always braising those songs. Living like he sang, laughing like he wrote, it was all the same beautiful ecosystem so many people drew their moments of release, of elation, of crazy wild 'oh yeah' from."

And there's this line from Gleason's essay:

"Buffett was snide about the right stuff, tender with the good stuff and savoring of the naughty stuff. Even before he turned into a billionaire industrial conglomerate of frozen drink machines and retirement communities, he understood not just what mattered, but how."

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One of Jimmy Buffett's daughters, Sarah, who goes by the name Delaney, wrote the following on Instagram:

""I knew my dad my whole life but in his final days, I saw who he was a man who spirit could not be broken … Despite the pain, he smiled everyday. He was kind when he had every excuse not to be. He told us not to be sad or scared, but to keep the party going. And as much as I'd like to use that as an excuse to drink myself into oblivion worthy of his literary heroes, I know it's  not what he meant. Yes, he loved his weed and his wine, but the truth is, most of the time, he was just high on life, and that is what he wanted for everyone: to enjoy the fantastic trip that life can be."

She continued:  "My dad was the joy he sang about. He was the hardest working person I've ever seen. He was a great man and an even better dad to my brother, sister and me. He was generous with his friends and strangers alike. He had a deep admiration for the people he worked with, and he never took himself too seriously, which is probably what I loved most about him."

And:  "Over the past few days, people have thanked me for sharing my dad with them, but I know he would have wanted me to thank his fans for sharing their lives with him.  We are his family but the stage was his home, and you, his band, and everyone on the road gave him the strength to keep going back. I'll pass something along my mom said to me, 'Whenever you feel sad or lost, look for the messages in the music. There are plenty.'"

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Writing teacher Roy Peter Clark took to Poynter with an essay entitled, "What I learned about writing by listening to Jimmy Buffett."

An excerpt:

"Buffett produced the kind of music where you could hear and understand those lyrics clearly. That made them easier to remember and sing along with, something I have been doing since I heard the news that the Pied Piper of his fans, called Parrotheads, died. It seemed weirdly inevitable that a man so devoted to the sun and the sea would die from a rare form of skin cancer.

"I’ve spent the week listening to the work of Buffett, reading the lyrics, and playing his music on my piano, guitar and ukulele. One effect of this is that I can’t get the songs out of my head, as it turns out, not an unpleasant soundtrack to my dreams.

"To my ears, Buffett’s songs fall into several categories:

The nostalgic, as in 'Pencil Thin Mustache.'

The anthemic, as in 'Volcano.'

The reflective, as in 'Come Monday,' the writing of which, he has said, saved his life.

The playful, as in 'Cheeseburger in Paradise.'

And whatever category 'Why Don’t We Get Drunk (and Screw)' falls into.

"From a writer’s point of view, these categories are most instructive, and get us closer to the mystery of the writer’s voice. Shakespeare sounds like Shakespeare, whether he is writing histories, tragedies, comedies, or romances.

"Buffett, too, whatever the mood, sounds like himself.

"I am going to use a phrase that may sound too highfalutin for a writer who thought of himself as a modern-day pirate, but here it goes: To fully appreciate Buffett, we have to understand the 'power of the particular'."

Which might also be described as the poetry of the specific.

Clark goes on:

"When we take the Who (from the 5 W’s) and put it in a story it becomes a Character. And the way we make a Character in a story come to life is to create a constellation of particular characteristics, details that reveal the status, personality and motivations of a protagonist.

"In 'Margaritaville,' Buffett offers listeners or readers a buffet of details that define a way of life that, despite its seemingly carefree rhythms, is sung by a narrator in a dark place. That he can find a poetry that helps him, and all of us, escape the pit of despair feels like a kind of magic."

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Florida Weekly recalls that Jimmy Buffett's "personal history is riddled with Key West stories that include tales of playing at Mallory Square and lyrics that referenced popular spots like Captain Tony’s and Blue Heaven. These days, signs of his vast business operations are common sights that include the worlds of licensing, liquor, and lodging. Exploring Key West yields the original Margaritaville bar on Duval, years of annual Parrot Head gatherings, his blink-and-you’ll-miss-it recording studio, and even an oceanside resort."

Years ago, one writer recalls, "Jimmy Buffett came in the back entrance of Blue Heaven one night and got up on the water tower with his guitar.

"Jimmy asked, 'Did anyone pay to get in here?'

"Everyone shouted 'No-o-o-o.'

"He said, 'Then let’s rock!'

"A brief time later two police officers came in, responding to noise complaints. When they saw who it was, they just watched for a half an hour and quietly left."

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Even the National Catholic Reporter weighed in after Jimmy Buffett's passing, writing that "many outlets were fascinated to find that Buffett was raised Roman Catholic in the South. (Although astute listeners would have heard him say, 'I was supposed to have been a Jesuit priest' in 'We Are the People Our Parents Warned Us About,' and wouldn't be that surprised!) Is that surprise correlated to a feeling that Buffett's brand — a lifestyle of board shorts, frozen cocktails, and toes in the sand — could not connect with a sense of the divine? 

Perhaps there is more to the story than a pair of sunglasses and sandy toes defining Buffett's mentality. Was the world Buffett's music crafted akin to the kingdom of God?

"The truth is, many people find that type of bliss-seeking escapism to be incredibly spiritual. (And certainly, this author finds being by the water to be profoundly sacramental!) Buffett's presentation was of serenity as a spiritual pursuit, through simple avenues: a boat at sea; a lost shaker of salt; or a ground beef patty layered with lettuce, tomato and Heinz ketchup. 

"In our capitalist society and experience of adulthood, driven by how much we can produce and the glorification of busyness, Buffett's music challenges us to slow down, to set aside productivity in exchange for rest and renewal, and to see the beauty in the seemingly ordinary. His storytelling crafted a universe in which that slower pace becomes like a retreat, where turning off the noise and intensity of life allows for the voice of peace to be heard."

One example of Catholicism in Buffett's music:  "'Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes' is practically Ignatian in its detachment to adjust 'if it suddenly ended tomorrow' and consistently pointing to laughter in the spiritual life."

And, this conclusion:  "In the end, none of us can speak to Jimmy Buffett's spiritual state at the end of his life. We can only see the spirituality that ran through his music and the world he tried to create: one with less noise and stress, more peace and attentiveness; less hurt and grudges, more celebration and sunsets; and at least the occasional cheeseburger in paradise."

KC's View:

To be fair, the Denver Catholic has what essentially is a rebuttal to this perception, with the writer saying that "we as Catholics so often feel like pop culture outsiders, so it’s easy for us to want to find commonality. Which may exist, to a certain extent. But it is dangerous when we try to claim public figures as “one of us” when they most decidedly are not."

I think that both the National Catholic Reporter and the Denver Catholic are projecting a little bit.  I'd probably argue that while Jimmy Buffett was raised Catholic and occasionally used Catholic imagery in his songs, whatever spirituality he had probably was not connected to organized religion, but to something greater, more expansive, more natural. But maybe now it is me who is projecting.

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Fortune had a piece by Drew M. Dalton in which he wrote that "as a young fan in the 1980s and 1990s, I marveled at the power of Buffett’s music to carry his audience to this fantastic utopia, seeing in it nothing more than a bit of harmless fun.

"But as I matured and eventually became a professor of philosophy, I came to see Buffett’s music as less an expression of optimistic pleasure-seeking and more a reflection of a profoundly pessimistic assessment of the trials and tribulations of life. Now his work strikes me as a closer companion to the pessimistic conclusions of the 19th-century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer than to the hedonism of leisure culture.

"I see this hidden pessimism – which underlies most of Buffett’s music – as the key to its enduring power and allure."

He goes on:

"To love the music of Jimmy Buffett, in other words, is not to love life. It is to 

pessimistically admit that life is difficult and that it needs to be escaped every once in a while just to be endured.

"In Buffett’s music one catches a glimpse, however fleeting and even false, of the possibility that somewhere out there, somewhere beyond the persistent struggles and our fears and anxieties might be wiped away and we can heal from whatever grieves us."  He refers to much of Buffett's music as "comedic melancholia," and that it is the "pessimistic subtext to Buffett’s escapism that made it so excruciatingly painful and is often too much to bear, but that one must nevertheless find achingly irresistible."

KC's View:

Didn't see that one coming - Jimmy Buffett and Arthur Schopenhauer mentioned as soul brothers.

But if Catholics can argue about Buffett's relevance, I guess philosophy professors are entitled to their take on his music. I just think that it comes down to this - if we didn't laugh, we'd all go insane.

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Writer Tom McGuane spoke to Variety about Jimmy Buffett, who also happened to be his brother in law:

“Jimmy was a reader. In fact, a friend of his gave me his copy of E.B. White’s collected essays, and every sentence had his comments in the margins. He grew up in a household that was working class, but cultivated people, really, especially his mother. His mother was very literate and a very good book reader. She’d always wanted to go to college, and couldn’t afford to. And she finished her working life and went to college and graduated after starting at 65. And he read all the time. Quite apart from music or anything, he was very smart and curious and had tons of energy.

“He was always working very hard on his music, even when there was little support for that [in Key West days]. We’d all gather around and he would play his songs for us, and some of them later became famous songs that were very much professionally produced, but I was really stuck back on the version where he just picked them out on his acoustic guitar and sang them."

McGuane adds:  "One of the things I think was Buffett’s genius in terms of a long-term career is he really never changed. He didn’t become a different kind of singer. He didn’t become a disco singer. He didn’t become a metal singer. From early on to the end, you could always tell who was singing the songs. He was non-adaptable, in that way, and that served him well."

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American Songwriter had a piece about "The 20 Best Jimmy Buffett Quotes."

I'd like to pull eight of them that really resonate with me, and that I think serve as terrific business and life lessons:

•  "Wrinkles will only go where the smiles have been.”

•  “I’m inspired by people who keep on rolling, no matter their age.”

•  “Older and wiser voices can help you find the right path, if you are only willing to listen.”

•  “Humor has bailed me out of more tight situations than I can think of. If you go with your instincts and keep your humor, creativity follows. With luck, success comes, too.”

•  “It takes no more time to see the good side of life than it takes to see the bad.”

•  “People who think too much before they act don’t act too much.”

•  “These old ballparks are like cathedrals in America. We don’t have big old Gothic cathedrals like they do in Europe. But we got baseball parks.”

•  “Searching is half the fun: life is much more manageable when thought of as a scavenger hunt as opposed to a surprise party.”

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Also from the Rolling Stone interview:

Q:  "Jimmy, when you do leave us, how would you like to be remembered? What would you like people to say about you?"

Jimmy Buffett:  "I’d say 'He had a good time and made a lot of people happy' would be good.  Yeah, that’d be good."

KC's View:


RIP, Jimmy Buffett.