Monday, April 19, 2010

The Best of Citizen Nothing: A Pirate Looks at Beachfront Entertainment Edition

Here's a surefire bar bet, at least if the bar is on a bigger body of water than, say, Buckeye Lake.
When the guy up on the little open-air stage gets done tuning his guitar and checking his microphone, the song he launches into will be something written by Jimmy Buffett. If you can get odds -- two mojitos to one, perhaps -- specify Margaritaville, unless the singer appears middle-aged, in which case you should go with A Pirate Looks at 40.
You'll find Buffett songs everywhere you find tourists, booze and the smell of fish. At any moment during business hours, renditions of Cheeseburger in Paradise are being performed in at least 57 venues, all of them eligible for federal flood insurance.
Although water is a requirement, a tropical climate is not. I'm sure I could take a dog sled across the ice to South Bass Island in mid-January and still find some guy in the shadow of Perry's Monument singing Fins for drinks and tips -- which is ironic, considering the heroine of that song "came down from Cincinnati."
I often wonder what these coastal bar singers sang B.B. -- before Buffett. Don Ho, maybe?
I don't begrudge these musicians the good thing they have going. In the Buffett songbook, they're bound to find at least one familiar tune able to pry a tip from the fingers of even the stingiest tourists, at least those with a blood-alcohol level of .05 percent or higher.
But I ofter wonder whether aspiring singer-songwriters, after hearing the 10,000th request for Why Don't We Get Drunk?, feel resentful of the monopoly that Buffett has on the coastal bar scene.
The last time I was in Key West, I had lunch on a patio where some young guy with a guitar was playing the fourth Buffett request of the set. I got the impression that this forced homage was painful to him.
So I pulled out a fiver, grandly placed it in his tip pitcher, and requested "A tune of your own, my good man."
"Thanks, dude," he said, and happily changed gears.
I don't remember much about what came next, except thinking, "Dang. There's five bucks wasted," and slinking away while the other patrons gave me the stink eye.
OK. There's a reason Buffett is Buffett.
A few weeks ago I was sitting on the patio of a little place on a barrier island, enjoying a mahi sandwich and a pint of Palmetto Pale Ale, watching a gray-beard guitar picker set up for his lunchtime show.
I was alone, so I couldn't place a bet. Sure enough, though, the guy led off with A Pirate Looks at 40. But he looked as if he had made his peace with that, long ago.
So I put a five in the tip pitcher -- without a request.
Although I've never been a Parrot Head, after hearing Buffett songs so many times in so many places, they eventually attached themselves to my brain, like remoras. I finally broke down and bought a greatest-hits collection on a trip to some coastal city -- maybe Pensacola, maybe San Juan, maybe Saugatuck.
Sometimes, when I catch a whiff of something that smells of salt water, or at least of sardines, I'll play my favorite track: Buffett's cover of Van Morrison's Brown Eyed Girl.

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