On the tiny French Caribbean Island of St. Barts, a playground to the rich and famous, there’s a non-descript bar-restaurant in the centre of the capital, Gustavia. Le Select stands out on an island renown for super high-end (and very expensive) dining. But if you just want cheap burger and fries to go with your Carib or rum punch (potent stuff), this is the place. It’s also the inspiration for this song.
Jimmy Buffett loved St. Barts. For years, he had a house across the harbour that had a line-of-sight on Le Select. He performed local shows to raise money for the hospital and other projects. About five years ago, he tore down that house built a brand-new one about twice the size. (There were a couple of years where my wife and I rented a little villa kitty-corner to Buffett’s property, so he was technically our next-door neighbour. Never saw him, though. Not once. But we’ve eaten a lot of cheeseburgers at Le Select.)
He could certainly afford it. Over the years, Buffett amassed a huge fanbase known as Parrotheads who were into anything Jimmy had to offer. When he played a concert–he attracted thousands per gig–his management was routinely get Jimmy 105% of ticket sales. How was that possible? Parrotheads had a reputation of drinking so much at Buffett concerts that he was able to get a cut of alcohol sales.
There was so much more to Buffett, too. He created an empire that included restaurants (the Margaritaville chain with its 23 locations), real estate offerings in the form of a US$1 billion retirement community in Daytona Beach, Florida, (read up on it here), some vacation resorts, a huge line of merch, online radio, and online TV. His net worth was somewhere north of US$1 billion.
In an announcement that shocked all Parrotheads, Jimmy died yesterday (September 1) at the age of 76. A statement from his family reads ” :Jimmy passed away peacefully on the night of 1 September surrounded by his family, friends, music and dogs. He lived his life like a song till the very last breath and will be missed beyond measure by so many.”
Yacht rock, that smooth adult-contemporary sound with overtones of serene beach bum lifestyle, would not be the thing that it is without Buffett. This song about a largely imaginary port-of-call somewhere (but in truth was inspired largely by Key West, Florida), exemplifies the yacht rock feel.
We don’t know why he died or where he was for his final days. [EDIT: Apparently, he was waging a very private battle against skin cancer which turned into lymphoma. A very, very rare form of skin cancer, too. Too much sun, it appears. Paul McCartney came by to sing to him in his final days.] We do know he canceled some shows earlier this year due to some sort of illness that saw him hospitalized. He acknowledged that but never said what the problem was.
If you have time over this Labor Day weekend, you might want to order a frozen concoction and nibble on a little sponge cake in honour of a guy who turned a couple of songs into a multi-billion-dollar empire.