People chase money and fame so they can live like Jimmy Buffett. Beaches, margaritas, cheeseburgers, sea captain hats. The thing is, as a new profile in the New York Times outlines, Buffett hasn’t been a card-carrying resident of Margaritaville in years. He has an apartment in New York City’s bustling Columbus Circle, finds refuge in shopping malls, quit smoking pot in favor of occasional vaping, and only consumes sugar on Sundays. He calls Warren Buffet “Uncle Warren”; not because they’re related, but because they’re friends and are very, very rich.
That’s not to call him a “sell-out” or any such thing. In Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s thorough profile, she paints Buffett as a workhorse devoted to maintaining the quality of a brand that, while built on a fantasy, has nearly spiraled out of control. Only Krusty The Clown surpasses Buffett in the sheer volume of their branded products.
“I think it was just the way I was brought up in a seafaring family,” he says. “I wanted to be in charge, like a captain of the boat.”
And, god bless him, he’s really trying to uphold the vision of paradise his music (some of which, the piece points out, is actually quite sad) imparts to loyal Parrotheads. These days, that’s through his multi-million dollar Broadway musical, Escape to Margaritaville, which he likens more to Rocky Horror than he does a traditional musical.
As Brodesser-Akner recounts:
For the past week, he’d been having meetings with the bartenders and food and beverage managers at the theater. It’s not enough to sell someone a margarita. You have to make sure they feel like they’re on island time, too. “I wrote a note to the team and I said, I appreciate everything everybody’s doing but what I’m doing here, you’ve got to understand the uniqueness of where we’re doing this show in the Marquis Theater with a hotel attached with 1,800 rooms. It’s like vertical tailgating.”
He’s going to speak with the ushers, too. “They’re like 60 years old, up to 80. They come out and tell you, “‘You’ve got to sit down!’ and ‘You can’t do this.’ ‘You can’t do that.’ It’s like having a schoolteacher.” Mr. Buffett wants his ushers to understand that this show is more like “Rocky Horror” than a conventional musical. “There’s an opportunity here to give people a really great, full experience,” he told them. “They’ve paid money to be here. They deserve it.”
And this exemplifies a struggle: Creating the illusion of leisure takes a shitload of work. If there’s one sentiment you’ll be left with after reading it’s that Buffett could really use a vacation. But you’ll also be left knowing he probably wouldn’t be able to enjoy it.