Lucky son-of-a-gun.

I was never much of a Jimmy Buffett fan. Which is to say, I didn’t dislike him, but I didn’t buy his records or certainly, lord knows, call myself a Parrothead. The first song of his I remember hearing was “A Pirate Looks at Forty,” which I loved, and still do. But everything else? Overplayed and ultimately drilled into my brain by aggressive radio programmers. I’d purely love to never hear “Margaritaville” again. But I won’t be that lucky.

In 2016, in the days after we returned from Iceland, my friend Dustin took me with him to the Buffett show at Pine Knob amphitheater here. It was …fine, I guess. Nothing objectionable about it. Here’s a picture from that night, with Jimmy out front in blue:

That’s a big ensemble for a singer-songwriter; I count three guitars, keys, two background singers, steel drums, conga drums, regular drums, bass, a shaky-percussion-stuff guy and I’m not sure about the guy at the top left – maybe steel guitar? Can’t tell. That’s 12 souls making music; pretty easy to make a big sound that way. I’m sure this was during the number I wrote about on this very blog at the time:

That said, it was fun, although by the end I could fairly say I was sick of steel drums, the stupid talking coconut and especially the insistent pandering to the locals. By which I mean? The song – don’t ask me to name it, because I don’t know – about beautiful places. The accompanying video montage started with images of Buffettville, beaches and swaying palms and so on, but transitioned to the cool blue lakes and pine forests of Michigan, before ending with a giant map of Michigan, just in case the drunker members of the audience didn’t get it.

But how can you argue with his success? And that, it seems to me, came down to the exquisite timing of certain boomers, who right-place-right-timed it into a fortune. Much of his music was crap, but he was perfectly positioned to cash in on the rest of it. Parrotheads were the original superfan cult, way before the Beyhive and Swifties, formed before social media – or even the internet – made it possible to connect online. (I recall reading one power city for Parrotheads was Cincinnati, stocked as it was with fresh-scrubbed Procter & Gamble sales people whose professional lives were so bland and boring they leapt at the chance to spend a night pretending to be a sozzled beach bum.) Opening the Margaritaville restaurants was a natural move at a time when places like the Hard Rock Cafe and Planet Hollywood were making millions. The books? Why not? His brother-in-law was Thomas McGuane.

Basically, Jimmy was “extending his brand,” as we say these days, years before Gwyneth, Rhianna, Lizzo or any other pop-music celebrity was. Showbiz is gig work, forever and ever, and even successful gig workers can fall off a financial cliff. It’s nice to have multiple income streams. Diversify.

Couple other points to make: I really liked this piece by Greg Olear, on Substack, about “Margaritaville,” both song and concept:

Margaritaville is not a place; it’s a state of mind. And it’s not a healthy state of mind, not a lucid state of mind, not a happy state of mind. “Margaritaville” is awesome; Margaritaville sucks. What’s more, our drunken narrator knows it sucks. That’s why he calls it that, channeling the Rat Pack: to be ironic. He’s not bragging about being wasted on cheap tequila, as it appears at first glance, and as college kids who take to the song assume; he’s articulating his shame—confessing his sins—and by doing so, coming to terms with his pain.

…He is heartbroken. He is wallowing in self-pity. But there is no blame game—not anymore. Unlike certain FPOTUSes that come to mind, he is able to accept responsibility and own the consequences of his actions. There is no festering grievance. There is no embrace of full-on misogyny. He doesn’t start up a podcast and emulate Andrew Tate or Jordan Peterson. He doesn’t take the red pill. He doesn’t text Mark Meadows about barges coming for the Biden crime family. He looks deep within himself, admits the error of his ways, and grows from the experience.

“Margaritaville” is about a brokenhearted guy who hits rock bottom before turning his life around. That’s the genius of the song. The genius of Jimmy Buffett is that he was able to parlay the chill, fun-in-the-sun vibes of his greatest hit into a commercial empire.

It goes on from there, and is absolutely correct, although anyone who watched Reagan youth waving the stars and stripes to “Born in the USA,” an angry, bitter song about the loss of the American dream, can only shrug. I disagree the song is genius; it’s just misunderstood, probably thanks to the bouncy melody, marimbas and all the rest of it. Even “A Pirate Looks at Forty,” another song about regret and bad choices, is embraced by the fans as romantic, not tragic. The marimbas are subtler in that song, but you can hear them in the background, like the sound from a party a ways down the beach. American pop-music fans aren’t deep thinkers. As they used to say on “American Bandstand,” if it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it, it’ll be a hit.

Anyway, farewell to Jimmy Buffett, a brother-in-law whose books far outsold a great novelist, a restaurateur who made a fortune on cheeseburgers, a musician who cashed in magnificently on a few happy-sounding tunes, a guy who toured when he felt like it, paying 11 people to back him up. I don’t know if he had any last words, but if he did, I hope they were “use sunscreen.”

A simple Parrothead couple at Pine Knob, 2016: A cooler, a kiddie pool and a summer late afternoon.

Posted at 2:48 pm in Popculch |

38 responses to “Lucky son-of-a-gun.”

  1. Dorothy said on September 7, 2023 at 3:13 pm

    I just had two biopsies done of two places on my back, one of which was in line with my left bra strap and rarely got exposed to sun. The other is in the center of my back, not far from my hairline, between my shoulder blades. That one is going to be removed via a frozen something or other procedure in November. The other one is not pre-cancerous but of course I’m going to step up my use of sunscreen, especially because my husband did have basal cell carcinoma on his left arm last August, and had a fairly deep cut in his arm to go deep enough to get it all. They took some lymph nodes at his arm pit, too, and thankfully they got it all. But he too has had at least 6 other moles removed and sampled ever since that one on his arm a year ago. He’s more freckle-y than me so he’ll likely always have more places to have snipped.

    I too was never a fan of Jimmy Buffett’s music. His appeal escaped me, but everybody loves who they love, right? My daughter had tickets to see Bruce in D.C. this month but now of course he’s postponed because of a health issue. She bought them from a co-worker who had bought tickets for his D.C. show in August, which was postponed. Now my daughter has offered to sell the tickets back to the co-worker so she could see the show when it’s rescheduled, which I thought was a very nice thing to do. Behavior like that brings good karma into your life, right? At least that’s the hope.

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  2. Sherri said on September 7, 2023 at 3:35 pm

    Once upon a time, a long time ago, a fairly mediocre NBA player managed to luck into a big money contract by having a good year at just the right time. He was under no illusions about his ability, but as he said, “what am I supposed to do, turn the money down?”

    Jimmy Buffet wasn’t my music, but it was inoffensive, and he doesn’t seem to have been an asshole, so, hey, it’s happened to worse people with worse music. A lot of success is getting lucky at the right time.

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  3. alex said on September 7, 2023 at 3:56 pm

    Read this earlier when it was first posted and haven’t been able to shake this execrable earworm. Marimba madness!

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  4. Sherri said on September 7, 2023 at 3:58 pm

    On a different topic, remember the praying football coach? The conservative majority on SCOTUS made up a story that he was being prevented from having a quite personal prayer after football games by the evil school district, which was not even close to what our football coach was doing, he was making his after game prayers as big and noisy as possible and making sure they got on the news. Whatever, the school district fired him, he sued, and moved to Florida, SCOTUS said the district had to rehire him, so they did. The first game was this week. You know what happened, right? He held his big, noisy prayer, none of the players paid him any attention, and he quit. Because he lives in Florida, and he needs to be a victim to make money on the right wing grievance circuit. He hinted at retaliation from the school district in his resignation later, but again, he lives in Florida; it’s a long commute from from Florida to Bremerton, WA for a part time gig as an assistant coach.

    Easier to sell his “faith” in Florida.

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  5. LAMARY said on September 7, 2023 at 5:51 pm

    Totally with you about JB and the misunderstanding of Mville. And I too cringe a little when Maga fools get all fist pumpy over Born in the USA. It’s about failure and despair for chrissakes. JB died a billionaire. He owned a retirement community called Margaritaville. Sigh.

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  6. Julie Robinson said on September 7, 2023 at 5:58 pm

    Dorothy, fingers crossed your biopsies are benign. Since moving here I never walk outside without sunscreen and dark sunglasses. In the pool I cover my whole face with that white mineral sunscreen and wear a long sleeved rash guard shirt. Still working on some other members of the family.

    It’s been St. Jimmy this and that down here, though one commentator agreed with Nance on his ability to monetize his lifestyle, noting that he would charge for sunshine and add a resort fee if he could. Mostly I think it’s envy and nostalgia for “Old Florida”, a mythic place where you didn’t need money and could drift along drunk and half baked. Old Florida doesn’t want to rebuild homes to higher standards after hurricanes because it will cost too much, and let FEMA up in their business. Old Florida doesn’t worry much about education, thus electing a lot of idiots.

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  7. Deborah said on September 7, 2023 at 6:58 pm

    I wasn’t much of a Jimmy Buffet fan but that didn’t stop LB and I going out for cheeseburgers and Margaritas. We went to a touristy spot called CowGirls in Santa Fe, sat outside on a lovely afternoon and I actually had two margaritas which I never do, but it felt great.

    Jeff G, we knew you were on a tight schedule, no worries. We used to go to the Plaza Cafe for a breakfast at least each time we visited when we didn’t have a place here but for some reason now we never go, probably because we have our own kitchen.

    Today was very pleasant, hot but we drove up to the mountains, took some sandwiches and a beer and sat and listened to the wind in the pines and the aspens, it was actually a bit cool up there. I’m surprised we hadn’t done that yet all summer, but it has been a strange summer with the month long house/pet sit and some gardening projects we never made it up there. Since I’m leaving next week I wanted to get it in. It will be spectacular in about a month when the aspens turn golden, sorry I’m going to miss that but it was still beautiful today with the quivering, swaying, green, aspen forest up there.

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  8. Dorothy said on September 7, 2023 at 7:40 pm

    Julie I’m sorry for the confusion. I thought I explained that the one near my bra strap was benign, and is not pre-cancerous. “Solar lentigo” is the official name of it. Results on the other one were called actinic keratosis. It is being frozen off in the dermatologist’s office in early November.

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  9. Joe Kobiela said on September 7, 2023 at 8:59 pm

    Bought my first Buffett album in 1974 as a sophomore, never tried to make his music anything more than it is. Saw him in concert in 82-83 in Indianapolis downtown on the tennis courts with a couple thousand people, nothing like later with tens of thousands, never wanted to be part of that group. I really liked his first book tale from Margaritaville, a collection of short stories. Just one of those that you alway thought would be around. Good pilot also.
    Pilot Joe

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  10. Jeff Borden said on September 7, 2023 at 9:34 pm

    Didn’t Deadheads precede Parrotheads by several years?

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  11. susan said on September 7, 2023 at 9:46 pm

    Yeah, in addition to Deadheads as musician cults, don’t forget the Beatles and Frank Sinatra. And Franz Liszt. All preceded Parrot-heads.

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  12. tajalli said on September 7, 2023 at 10:07 pm

    Jimmy Buffett wrote Margaritaville in 1977, but it seems like “parrothead” is a take off on Deadhead (derived from pothead?), not the reverse since the Dead started up in 1965. And then there are Cheeseheads with the styrofoam cheese hats.

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  13. Brandon said on September 7, 2023 at 10:13 pm

    Coach Kennedy’s statement

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  14. Sherri said on September 7, 2023 at 10:30 pm

    Do you have a point, Brandon? That’s Kennedy’s spin on his website where he’s promoting his book, but it’s different than what he said in his resignation letter. Not a surprise, since Kennedy presentation about what happened and what actually happened has differed all along. I watched it happen long before the suspension, firing, and lawsuit, because it was in the local news here, and because, surprise, I pay attention to civil rights issues.

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  15. Brandon said on September 8, 2023 at 1:35 am

    @Sherry: I heard about Joe Kennedy’s resignation this morning. It seemed odd to me that he would resign after only one game.

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  16. Sherri said on September 8, 2023 at 1:58 am

    As I explained in my post @4 on the topic, not odd at all, completely predictable. The man has lived in Florida for several years now, he had no plans on moving across country for a part-time high school assistant football coach gig, no matter what he told the court.

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  17. Dexter Friend said on September 8, 2023 at 2:05 am

    Music grabs you or you reject it, smash or trash in the old AM radio vernacular. I never judge people on their tastes. Mick was appalled when radio waves beat into his head that “he can’t be a man cuz he doesn’t smoke—the same cigarettes as me”,
    I thought Jimmy Buffet was, to me, an annoying purveyor of stupid crappy tunes that got into your brain and stayed there, like commercials. He was smart of course, accumulating a net worth of $1B.
    However, from Detroit to here in NW Ohio at least, the ground shook and the spirit awoke from a 66 year slumber when the Lions from Detroit actually defeated the SuperBowl champs from Kansas City , crushing them, smashing them…by one point. This is the biggest, most important victory by the Lions since I was a little guy, and now I’m on the last lap of the race. Go you Lions, go! And a waiting list for Lions season tickets? Whaaat? We know we’re good. Really fucking good.
    The game was in KC but Ford Field was hosting a viewing event too.

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  18. ROGirl said on September 8, 2023 at 5:12 am

    This article about the praying coach was in Slate yesterday:

    Jimmy Buffett? I never paid much attention to him, he cashed in spectacularly well on his one hit.

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  19. alex said on September 8, 2023 at 10:28 am

    The praying coach, the wedding website designer who has never designed a wedding web site… all fakery and just part of the conservative legal movement’s strategy to turn the meaning of religious freedom on its head and use it as a cudgel to beat back civil rights. Samuel Johnson was wrong. Religion, not patriotism, is the last refuge of a scoundrel. Patriotism would require adherence to the constitution.

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  20. Jeff Gill said on September 8, 2023 at 10:43 am

    I thought good thoughts about y’all, Deborah. That French toast, though . . . oh my.

    As a Purdue student from 1978 to 1984, Jimmy Buffett came to the Elliott Hall of Music twice, both times in or around February, when the slush refreezes each night, the boots you had to wear to cross from Cary Quad to EE 129 were getting soaked with icy water and crusted with salt sprayed on the streets, the 7:30 am classes still meant walking under the stars to your first of the day, and spring break was far, far away.

    Music? There wasn’t much concern about the quality of the music. It was a beach party when we all needed it, and a denial of the realities around us: Hawaiian shirts with thermal underwear long sleeves poking out, straw hats over ski masks walking to the concert, and a raucous pre-show drowning out the poor opening act, with beach balls bouncing all over inside — more common now, but then that was the only place I saw that happen. “Fins” was an anthem up there with “Margaritaville,” and don’t think too hard about the lyrics to that one, either. But for two hours, it was hot and sandy and tropical in West Lafayette, Indiana.

    As for lyrics, the one I most recall the crowd joining in on in unison, one and all, was the key line from “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” and yes, the huge roar when Jimmy named the Steak and Shake the tour bus had stopped at on the way in, the one we all knew from late night ventures across the Wabash into Lafayette proper, not far off I-65. He was getting his local references in adroitly forty years ago, and only amped it up since.

    I draw the line, though, at Margaritaville ™ retirement communities. That’s getting tragic, escapism-wise.

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  21. Jeff Borden said on September 8, 2023 at 1:28 pm

    I’m with you, Jeff Gill, about a Margaritaville retirement community, but it would probably be better than living in The Villages of Floriduh. Actually, pretty much any place would be better than The Villages.

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  22. Julie Robinson said on September 8, 2023 at 6:00 pm

    We once visited a distant relation living at The Villages and it was every bit as awful as you might imagine. It was supposed to have shopping and a grocery store but all that got built were golf courses and homes. Everyone seems to have a golf cart, which they ride over to the restaurant, where the food is just like they served in 1950! And so was the relative’s behavior toward the waitstaff! Everyone was so happy! Well, maybe the waitress didn’t appreciate being pinched and called honey, but she was just a little person who didn’t count.

    Pretty much all the news from there is just what you might expect a place populated by cousin whatever his name is. Although I’m amused by the high rate of STD’s.

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  23. Jeff Borden said on September 8, 2023 at 7:34 pm

    I went to the Cubs-Giants game the other evening with a neighbor who is probably 30 years younger than me. We were swapping ‘I can’t believe I did that stories’ and he recounted a late night walkabout in Amsterdam while tripping on LSD. He wandered the city in February, when it was very cold and windy, and he was overwhelmedby the drug. Not only was he never mugged, assaulted or killed, a bellhop at a hotel he stumbled past ran out and gave him a cup of hot coffee. That probably wouldn’t happen in Chicago.

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  24. Deborah said on September 8, 2023 at 9:01 pm

    The Villages, my idea of hell, you couldn’t pay me to go there, not even just to visit for a very brief amount of time.

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  25. Mark P said on September 9, 2023 at 1:24 am

    I didn’t realize for a long time that Buffett wrote Come Monday. I’m not a big fan, so I’m not familiar with anything except his bigger hits, but it sounds pretty different from the rest.

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  26. Dexter Friend said on September 9, 2023 at 1:57 am

    I watched the long YouTube series about The Villages by Peter Santanello. He had a resident take him around on a golf cart, of course. The people love their huge enclave. They have dances every night, they golf, they socialize. They have a lot of dough it seems…their golf carts top out way north of 20Gs. I heard from a man who has friends there that the geezers love their weed and edibles. Are the stories of rampant sexual romps true? Who gives a shit.

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  27. alex said on September 9, 2023 at 7:44 am

    I’ve heard the local Amish have a large contingent of snowbirds who flock to The Villages. Increasingly, in this area at least, their proscriptions on extravagant living have fallen away. I know a woman who works as a chauffeur for one family and she’s always taking them to casinos and fancy restaurants and when the weather turns cold and the family’s construction business slows down, she schleps them down to Florida in one of their Cadillac SUVs. Not a bad gig, I suppose. And for the Amish, probably a great opportunity to inject some new sperm into the gene pool.

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  28. FDChief said on September 9, 2023 at 10:08 am

    The shanda of the Bremerton football story isn’t really the God-pestering “coach” or the shameless theocrats who bankrolled him; scum gonna lie in ponds.

    No, it’s the Furious Five, whose only job is defending the Constitution but who choose, instead, to scratch their own ideological itches.

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  29. Dorothy said on September 9, 2023 at 7:22 pm

    Nancy you traveled to Morocco a few years ago, didn’t you? I remember seeing your pictures. I imagine the earthquake has destroyed some of where you visited. The death toll is over 2K at this point and will certainly keep climbing. Those poor people….

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  30. Deborah said on September 9, 2023 at 10:06 pm

    Dorothy, I had the same question for Nancy, Marrakesh was one of the places hit pretty hard. I’m wondering, Nancy if you were there? I only know of it from the Beatles song.

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  31. Joe Kobiela said on September 9, 2023 at 10:12 pm

    Congratulations to the Lions on a nice win Thursday night. Now I know most here don’t really care about pro sports and that’s fine, but I would like Nancy to try and make A observation in the next couple of months if the lions keep winning. I would like to see if it picks up the mood in Detroit, maybe give the city a bit of a swagger. I’ve seen it happen before. Let’s see what happens
    Pilot Joe

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  32. basset said on September 9, 2023 at 11:38 pm

    Deborah, that’s an impressively obscure Beatles reference. But maybe you meant CSN, or was it CSNY?

    New topic and likely thread killer: In the far corner of our living room, I can see a chipped and cracked old pottery storage jug, made in South Carolina in 18-something and bought by me at an antique auction maybe three of four years ago.

    No question it came from the shop of someone with the same last name as me, but until today I couldn’t prove an actual connection. Still not 100-percent, not till I go down there and talk with some historians at a couple of local museums, but it looks like he was my great-grandfather’s cousin. Coming as I do from a splintered, scattered, and fractious family, that means a lot.

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  33. Dexter Friend said on September 10, 2023 at 4:45 am

    Alex, this past July the Amish were , as always, riding Amtrak a lot. Bryan is a depot-stop, and a couple times in the mornings, Amish departed the coaches and instead of getting into the usual stretch passenger vans, they had family with two horse buggies there, and a woman with a car followed the buggies with the flashers on.
    Yes, and not only are the Amish the only cash-rich folks.
    I knew a bail bondsman, may he rest in peace, who told me of receiving a night-call, man in jail. The man told the bail bondsman to please drive to Ma’s trailer off some dirt road in Steuben County, Indiana. The place was quite something, chickens running around, junk vehicles scattered, garbage piles around, and the trailer was dilapidated. He knocked, Ma came out with a few sons for backup protection…an explanation, and Ma told Junior to “fetch the can, Junior.” (I remember those words.) The can was stuffed with cash, as Ma dug out the $500 needed to post the $5K bond— the 10% deal, common, of course. The man in trouble still had to wait until mid-morning to be bonded out.

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  34. Deborah said on September 10, 2023 at 6:58 am

    There was a Crosby, Stills and Nash song, The Marrakech Express, but I think George or maybe it was John spent some time in Marrakech and wrote about it? I could be wrong.

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  35. basset said on September 10, 2023 at 9:55 am

    The Beatles’ Marrakech song was heard in early rehearsals/studio jams, then morphed into “Road to Rishikesh,” which is where the Beatles went on their Indian retreat with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi… and the tune was finally used for John’s “Jealous Guy.”

    Meanwhile… today is Cynthia Lennon’s birthday, she woulda been 84. And on this day in 1962, the Beatles played at the Queen’s Hall, Widnes, with Gerry & the Pacemakers and Geoff Stacy & the Wanderers supporting.

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  36. LAMary said on September 10, 2023 at 11:05 am

    Gerry and the Pacemakers had a hit in UK with a version of Walk On from the musical Carousel. Liverpool FC uses it as an unofficial team song and the crowds at LFC games sing it, trying to sound like the Gerry and the Pacemakers version. It annoys the shit out of me. The “wall-uk ah ah ahn” especially. I have at least four Facebook friends who are fans of Rogers and Hammerstein and fans of Liverpool FC who are equally annoyed. Does this sound like a stupid thing to complain about? Yes. I don’t care.

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  37. nancy said on September 10, 2023 at 3:30 pm

    Yes, we spent some time in Marrakech, and decided it was the least favorite of our Morocco stops — we should have been there two days, rather than four, and given one more day to Fez and Essaouira. But it seems indecent to complain about it when so many people are dead there. It’s a crazy city, and the medina — where our Airbnb was — was thronged with gas-powered scooters that made it terrifying to travel on foot. I lost count of how many times one would pass and riffle the hair on my arms, it came so close. In a place where so many people wear loose-fitting robes, I’m sure more than a few have been caught by a passing handlebar. Alan said they call the new addition to the local hospital the “D90 wing,” or some such, after the model of the most popular Kawasaki.

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  38. Courtney said on September 11, 2023 at 1:40 pm

    I like Jimmy Buffett’s music in so much as it reminds me listening to him on summer days in Northern Michigan with my dad, and some of his later stuff is truly gorgeous – Take the Weather With You is a beautiful album. And I think parallels can be drawn for sure between Dead Heads and Parrotheads to some degree but as the mother of a tween daughter I think Taylor Swift is building an actual cult, perhaps, that will far surpass either Buffett or the Grateful Dead.

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