Anyone who’s observed Jimmy Buffett’s music career and heard his song lyrics knows that his main product is carefree optimism. But Jimmy has a little secret: he’s been a workaholic for 30 years. As we learn in his memoir, A Pirate Looks at Fifty, he works just as hard at having good times as he does earning them.
The book is a travelogue with flashbacks — and not the kind you might fear. Insightful and entertaining, this detailed instruction on how to live a rewarding life might well be deemed the ultimate self-help manual.
We spoke to Mr. Buffett recently, just after he’d spent several days in New Orleans, "revisiting his youth."
Tom Corcoran: In A Pirate Looks at Fifty you say that you squeeze 36 hours into every day. How did you find time to create a 400-page book?
Jimmy Buffett: I had a deadline! I’d started a novel before I got involved in the musical production of Herman Wouk’s Don’t Stop the Carnival. That was fun, but a creative sidetrack. I still owed the publisher a book. I pulled out my old journals and took a lesson from David Niven, who wrote a wonderful non-tell-all biography called The Moon Is a Balloon. It was informative, yet entertaining to the point of near-fiction in which he’d made himself a character. I decided to write about a journey during which I reflected on events in my life. A lot of it was already on paper. Plus, that deadline . . .
TC: How much of your wanderlust can we attribute to your reading?
JB: Almost all of it, from my youth up till today. I hate to mention age, but I come from an era when we weren’t consumed by technology and television. My mother insisted that her children read. To describe my scarce leisure time in today’s terms, I always default to reading. It didn’t hurt that I came from a Gulf Coast storytelling tradition. I went to the Caribbean because my grandfather sang calypso songs. Simple as that.
TC: You state in this book that you’ve tried to follow your instincts and keep your sense of humor. Creativity aside, how much of your success can you attribute to instinct and humor?
JB: Ninety percent of it. Instinct taught me 20 years ago to pace a song or a concert performance. That translates into pacing a story, pleasing a reading audience. I don’t know where I got it. It must be instinct. 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.
TC: A Pirate Looks at Fifty demonstrates your fascination with many people, not necessarily for what they do, but how well they do it. Do you judge yourself the same way?
JB: I remember the excruciating school task of writing a three-page term paper. But, oh, that feeling when I was done! I think I drive myself for that feeling of accomplishment. Herman Wouk told me, "Write a page a day. It will add up." So I make sure to do it. Whether it’s a letter, song lyrics, part of a novel, or instructions on how to fix a kitchen sink, it’s writing. You keep your craft honed, you acquire the discipline to finish things. You turn into a self-taskmaster.
TC: Twenty years ago you were sailing the Caribbean. For the past decade you’ve been flying all kinds of aircraft, all over the hemisphere. How do you foresee your introduction to "A Pirate Looks at Sixty"?
JB: I’m inspired by people who keep on rolling, no matter their age. I’ve talked recently with Harry Belafonte and with Mose Allison, two musicians who continue to enjoy performing and life. Quitting doesn’t enter my mind. I want to keep going as I have, to travel, read, perform, write, and enjoy my family. I’ve promised myself only this: no more Laundromats, no more two-shows-a-night, and no more deadlines. I’ll work at my own pace.