Thursday, July 03, 2008

Jimmy Buffett Featured in USA Today

Jimmy Buffett: No Trouble in Paradise

This summer, the music legend is back playing to sold-out stadiums. Here, he reveals how 40 years on the road have strengthened his family -- and his ever-growing empire.

By Ann Oldenburg

When Jimmy Buffett was trying to come up with a name for his annual tour, he got together with a group of buddies and bandmates to brainstorm. "We said, 'What are we going to call this after 40 years? What do we do now that we're still here?' " he says.

"And that became this summer's motto: The Year of Still Here."
At 61, the poster boy for laid-back living is in the middle of a 28-concert tour, filled with third-generation fans. No, Buffett says, he isn't tired of it. And if you haven't seen thousands of so-called Parrotheads acting like sharks -- with hands clasped above their heads -- all singing, "fins" moving in unison, you've missed a cultural phenomenon.

"He's among a very elite handful of performers -- people like Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty -- I would even compare him to the Dave Matthews Band," says "Rolling Stone" associate editor Austin Scaggs. "They sell out arenas and amphitheaters at the drop of a hat. These are people who have such a strong fan base and such an amazing relationship and rapport with their fans that they're able to do the impossible in the music industry -- which is to last and to keep it going."

On this sunny spring morning, Buffett's back "home," as he calls New Orleans, flashing an occasional weathered, impish grin, gobbling scrambled eggs and remembering his early days of playing bars in the French Quarter and family visits with his grandfather, who was a steamship captain here. (For the record, Buffett's real homes are in Palm Beach, Fla., St. Barts in the Caribbean, and Sag Harbor, N.Y.) He was in New Orleans 10 days after Katrina hit and still remembers it as "sorrowful."

But, despite appearances, Buffett is more than just an aging, flip-flop-wearing, margarita-soaked legend. He's a wistful dad of two teenagers, thinking a few years ahead about life after kids. He's also a romantic rock star who has defied the odds by staying married for 30 years (although he and wife Jane separated for seven years in the '80s), the author of seven books (including a new novel, "Swine Not?") and a concerned American who says our government has made a "mess" of things.

Buffett, describing himself as "an old hippie" and "Southern radical," says now, "I'm an Obama person."

"Everybody knows my politics [he campaigned for Jimmy Carter and Al Gore and has played twice at Bill Clinton birthday parties]. But half my audience is Republicans -- and that's OK. People should be communicating, which is the biggest factor to me."

He has been opposed to the war in Iraq since the beginning. "Anybody who makes policy in this country oughta have to walk by the Vietnam memorial on the way to work," Buffett says.
So why not vote for Vietnam vet John McCain? "I respect John McCain, but it's old stuff. John McCain is older than I am!"

Buffett's three kids have not exactly followed him into the fame game. At least not yet. Delaney 16, attends boarding school in the Northeast, as does Cameron, 14, his only son. Savannah, 29, is a host for Radio Margaritaville, a Sirius station that features all things Buffett. Ask Buffett what kind of dad he is, and he'll say what most fathers say: "A good one, I hope."

In his book "Swine Not?" the dad character isn't really a presence in the family. He's happy-go-lucky, but rarely home. Could it be a reflection of a certain singer who toured a lot while his kids were growing up? "I'm a dad that's gone a lot, but I look back at it, and I tried to make my time at home have as much quality as possible," he says.

Fans may have spotted the kids on the side of the stage through the years, as Buffett concerts became their summer camp. "All my kids came on the road because they liked to see the circus," says their father, referring to what's usually a sea of grass skirts, coconut bras, Hawaiian shirts and crazy hats. "I wanted them to have a better sense of the world at an earlier age than I did. It took me a long time to discover, coming out of the segregated South, that [racism] actually wasn't right."

Buffett is humble about his parenting skills. "I'm not a good disciplinarian," he confesses. "I'm Peter Pan, and Jane runs the show. But I do pay the rent. And everybody's happy about that."
While Buffett may be an unconventional father, he has never been one to trot out his family for the press. Don't expect a photo spread of the Buffett clan in Vanity Fair (at least not at press time). His wife, in fact, has stayed out of the spotlight through the decades. "She prefers the sideline," Buffett says. The secret to their relationship, he adds, is that she learned a long time ago to have "low expectations."

Of course, Buffett's real romance always has been with the sea, the sun, boat drinks and ballads, as his songs say. He seems to mean it when he repeats the sentiment of one of his 1977 hits, "Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes," saying now: "If it all went away tomorrow, I'd be happy living on an island fishing. And there are times I thought it would be that -- in the '70s and '80s. I had enough money to buy a boat and play in a bar. That wouldn't have been bad. But it just didn't happen that way."

No, instead, he became a multimillionaire brand, with everything from his own Margaritaville flip-flops and blenders to themed restaurants and casinos (including two in the works in Atlantic City and Katrina-ravaged Biloxi, Miss.). In 2006, "Rolling Stone" ranked him as the seventh richest rock star of the year, estimating that he made $44 million. When he was in St. Barts last winter, he ran into an old chum who complimented him on one of his products: "Steven Spielberg waved me over and wanted to ask me a boat question and told me how much he liked my beer."
Buffett admits playing venues of 30,000-plus people isn't as easy as it used to be. How does he gear up? "I take a nap," he deadpans. Otherwise, he swims, does yoga and rides his bike. Oh, and don't forget the "board meetings," as he calls them. "Surfing's my passion," he says.

But does he feel old? "No," adding, with a twinkle in his eye, "I'm certainly not acting my age."

Cover illustration of Jimmy Buffett by Andy Ward for USA WEEKEND

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