Much has been written and said lately about our loss of Pascagoula’s own Jimmy Buffett on September 1. I guess it just took me a while to process the situation, but I’d still like to lay out some thoughts related to native son Jimmy.
First off, of course, there is the music. I didn’t just like Jimmy Buffett because he was “from here,” I liked him because I absolutely love his music. From standards like “Come Monday” ( “I got my hush puppies on/I guess I never was meant for glitter rock and roll”) and “Cheeseburger in Paradise” (“Heinz 57 and French fried potatoes/Big kosher pickle and a cold draft beer/Well good God Almighty, which way do I steer?”), through lesser-known favorites such as “Pencil Thin Mustache” (“Yeah, they send you off to college, to gain a little knowledge/But all you want to do is learn how to score”) and “Gypsies in the Palace” (“We ain’t got no money, we ain’t got no rights/But we’re gypsies in the palace, we got it all tonight”), Mr. Buffett kept us all enthralled.
Jimmy was clearly one of the best entertainers of our generation, with varying talents and skills. If you had to pick out his greatest strength as a musician — and critics and aficionados mostly agree with this — it would be as a lyricist. The man just had a way with words, placing him squarely in the pantheon of his home state’s historically exceptional writer group (In fact, Jimmy has also written several books, most of which have been best-sellers).
Obviously, one of my big connections with Jimmy is that he is, after all, from Pascagoula. Yeah, he grew up in Mobile and has since lived all over, but he is essentially a Goula Guy, and his bonds are strong. He was born two years before me, both of us at the old Jackson County Hospital (predecessor of Singing River) on Telephone Road. His family lived over on Roosevelt Street, and he attended South Elementary School.
Jimmy was also part of the Lumpkin family, many of whom lived on Parsley Street. He had first cousins like Patricia Lumpkin Penton, who went to Pascagoula High School with me, and Baxter Lumpkin, who graduated with my brother Bob. One of that family’s businesses was Roy’s Bar on Polk Street (still there today under new ownership). His grandfather famously took him to the mouth of Baptiste Bayou, which empties into the Mississippi Sound near 11th Street, and said, “start here,” meaning get out there, explore, and follow your dreams. Those words are what Jimmy wrote while signing Buffett Bridge on Beach Boulevard when it was dedicated in 2015.
Oh, and the free concert he performed on the beach in Pascagoula on the day of the dedication — who will ever forget that? Being there that day was truly a highlight of my life, standing on the sand and watching Jimmy talk about his time in and memories of Pascagoula and then just killing it with a playlist of his memorable tunes.
Another of my favorite Southern icons, the late writer and humorist Lewis Grizzard, once wrote a book entitled Elvis is Dead, and I Don’t Feel So Good Myself. In some ways, I felt those words with Jimmy’s passing. Of course, Jimmy would want us to carry right on, and that’s what we’ll do, cherishing great memories of how he made our lives more enjoyable. Kinda like Jimmy said in his classic hometown homage/paean, “The Pascagoula Run”:
“It’s time to see the world, it’s time to kiss a girl
It’s time to cross the wild meridian…
Kid, you’re going to see the morning sun
On the Pascagoula run
The Pascagoula run
The Pascagoula run.”