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Remembering Jimmy Buffett

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Trop rock icon Jimmy Buffett has died at the age of 76. A statement on Buffett's website announced the news, saying, he lived his life like a song - to the very last breath. A classic Jimmy Buffett song would make that seem like a pretty nice life - relaxed, carefree, maybe hiding a little bit from life's pressures and responsibilities.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

JIMMY BUFFETT: I love doing the shows. And, you know, people say, how the hell can you play "Margaritaville" for the 257,000th time? And it's because I watch the crowd, and it - you know, it's their song. It's not mine. I'm just singing. It's background music to their lives, and that's the way I look at it.

DETROW: That was Buffett talking to NPR's Morning Edition in 1999. Even though "Margaritaville" was his only top 10 hit, Buffett's sold out venues for decades. His fans, known as Parrotheads, developed their own subculture, rivaling - maybe even surpassing - the Grateful Dead and its Deadheads. Talking to Morning Edition again in 2018, Buffett tried to make sense of it to NPR's David Greene.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

DAVID GREENE: What is the culture? So for people who are not Parrotheads, like, what - how do you define it?

BUFFETT: It's just escapism, you know, and it's fun and getting away from the rigors of real life.

GREENE: That's what you're doing for people.

BUFFETT: And these days, I think we need it more than ever.

GREENE: Do you think there are some rigors out there?

BUFFETT: You know, I'm telling (ph) - people need a little fun.

DETROW: Longtime Buffett fan Mike Flaherty says those concerts were the best parties in the world.

MIKE FLAHERTY: It was one of those parties where everybody was there to have the same good time.

DETROW: OK, I will say Flaherty is my friend, going back to high school, but he's the first person I thought of when I saw the news because he is the biggest Parrothead I know. Over the years, his Buffett concert total hit double digits. Flaherty says, for him, the big draw was that feeling of community. Starting with the tailgates before the show, everybody seemed to be in the same groove.

FLAHERTY: People would be, you know, jumping back and forth between from tailgate to tailgate, sharing food, sharing drinks, sharing stories.

DETROW: Jimmy Buffett's persona was a little bit of a facade, though, because over the years, he built that laid-back island brand into a sprawling business empire - restaurants, hotels, merchandise, even retirement communities. In 2018, David Greene asked him if there was any contradiction in that success.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BUFFETT: The work-to-play ratio is, I think what's important, and it's not a demand for products, it's a demand for a feeling that we need. You need to get away.

DETROW: President Biden released a statement today. He called Buffett a poet of paradise and, quote, "an American music icon who inspired generations to step back and find the joy in life and in one another."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ONE PARTICULAR HARBOR")

BUFFETT: (Singing) I see the days as they fade away. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.