When I was growing up on James Island, my dad’s friend Jimmy was always one of my favorite people. I remember him driving us to watch one of his friends play polo in his beat-up old Jeep and him coming over to go surfing or stand-up paddling in the creek behind our house.
He always gave me a big hug and would crouch down and talk to me like I was the most important person in the house. I’d get to play and camp with my family in his bright green “Fried Green Tomato” camper van. Sometimes, my mom and dad would take me to hear him sing at small “rehearsal shows.” There were usually only a handful of people there. I was always happy to give him an audience and dance. I knew that my dad had worked for Jimmy from before I was born — and still worked with sometimes — but that was about it.
One year, a friend and I rehearsed a dance for my school talent show. The lyrics went, “Fins to the left, fins to the right.” As soon as I rehearsed at home, my parents broke into peals of laughter. “Do you know whose song that is?” my dad asked. What a silly question. I was 5 and only doing the dance for the shark costume. “Jimmy sings that,” he said. I brushed it off, thinking it must be Jimmy’s favorite song, and his choice to sing on karaoke night. Perhaps we shared a love of sharks.
Soon after, I remember my parents having some friends over, and all the grown-ups were drinking mysterious beverages called Landsharks. I remember wanting it very badly because of the silly name. Upon asking for a Landshark Lager at the ripe age of 5 (and a half), my mother told me “No, this is for grown-ups only. Did you know this is Jimmy’s beer?” This was rather puzzling. If it was Jimmy’s, why was my mom drinking it? Surely she could get her own.
Once on a trip to Myrtle Beach, we stopped at the only restaurant with a passing food grade. “This is Margaritaville, Jimmy’s restaurant,” my mom said. I wasn’t aware Jimmy worked in a restaurant and I was sorely disappointed when he was not our waiter.
A few years later, my family took me to see Jimmy’s band play at the North Charleston Coliseum. Traffic was bumper to bumper, and I was not happy. “Can we turn around?” I asked, “We can see Jimmy any old time.” My dad just laughed and said “No, they’re all waiting to see Jimmy too.” Surely Jimmy didn’t have enough friends to congest Charleston traffic.
Two hours later, I was royally pissed. We get to a jam-packed parking lot with a strange demographic — thousands of old people with drinks in their hands, coconut bras, hula skirts and parrots on their heads. Surely we made a wrong turn. Alas, we eventually bypassed the lines and ended up backstage at a stadium. Jimmy came over to talk to us, but he got whisked away by harried looking people forcing a head mike on him.
Dad then introduced me to a lady named Helen Hiatt, who was Jimmy’s band’s costume designer. Mom told me she also worked for Cher, Paula Abdul and Prince. I was getting very into Mom’s music at the time and hearing Jimmy’s name in the same sentence as those three almost sent me into a coma. I was starstruck and thought that Jimmy was very lucky to work with someone as famous as Helen Hiatt.
Heading into the crowd for the actual show, I understood the traffic. The stadium was bursting with these strange parrot people. Soon after, Jimmy’s and his band walked onto the stage and we were met with ear splitting applause. The woman next to me started crying. Hearing thousands of people shouting Jimmy’s name rocked my world.
That’s when it really clicked. All of these people were there for Jimmy. When he came out onstage, folks positively went insane. The shows I had seen before were only practices. This was the real thing. I got to see my talent show performance of “Fins” live, with all the parrot people doing the dance with me.
Jimmy Buffett was not, in fact, a waiter in Myrtle Beach.
After that night, I saw him differently. It was strange to know how famous he was, but also heartwarming that he still took time out of his busy schedule to invite us to his home, take a leisurely paddle out on our creek and make sure to see us whenever he was in town.
Recently he told me about a memory of me dancing at one of his rehearsals, one that I was too young to remember. He had given me a personal shout out. “Look how good Lucy’s dancing out there.” I wish I remembered it myself.
It surely is a bit unbelievable that I didn’t know the extent of Jimmy Buffett’s fame for seven years. But it makes a bit more sense if you have ever talked to him. He was so unpretentious, and fun, and in my eyes he was just a cool guy who liked the ocean and sometimes hanging out with my dad. As understated as that statement may be, fame doesn’t change it. To me, the iconic singer will always just be my dad’s friend Jimmy.
Lucy Dixon, 18, is a freshman at the University of South Carolina from James Island.
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