Once a Parrot Head, always a Parrot Head

A journalism class assignment that earned Scott Saalman an "F" was later published in Jimmy Buffet's newsletter, The Coconut Telegraph.

Guest Columnist

Jimmy Buffett works in mysterious ways.

I’m an old Parrot Head, the nickname given to fans of Jimmy Buffett music. I’m such an old Parrot Head that I was actually a Parrot Head before the Parrot Head name even existed.

I became a fan in 1978 as a seventh-grader, thanks to hearing Cheeseburger in Paradise on the school-bus radio. Though it was a catchy novelty song about “a huge hunk of meat” that sparked my first hunger for Jimmy’s music, I soon became more enchanted by Jimmy’s beach-combing, sea-going, pirate-like persona, as demonstrated in the salt-encrusted lyrics of his many other songs found within his treasure chest of albums with release dates ranging from 1973 to 1981. I spent the next decade mentally sunbaked while each strum of six-string, each plonk of steel drum, and each sunshine-state-of-mind syllable tugged at my landlocked Caribbean soul, causing me to long for the lower latitudes. He had me hook, line, and sinker.

I was under the influence of Jimmy Buffett.

• From eighth grade thru college, my wardrobe was mostly Hawaiian shirts.

• I saw Jimmy in Bloomington, Indiana, in 1983, despite my parents airing their concerns about high-school exams the next day. I can’t recall what was on my report card back then, but I still remember exactly at what point during “Margaritaville” that his A string snapped. By 2000, I attended six Buffett concerts.

• In college, I adopted a manatee because Jimmy was a founder of the Save The Manatee Club in Maitland, Florida. My donations were used to buy cabbage heads fed to my adopted manatee, named Nick. I wonder if my manatee son is still alive.

• In 1999, my daughter Delaney was named after Jimmy’s song, “Delaney Talks to Statues.”

• In 1986, for a college journalism class assignment, I wrote a story about Jimmy, which earned me an "F." The next day, I mailed it to Key West where it was soon published in Buffett’s newsletter, The Coconut Telegraph. “Are you a Parrot Head?” by Parrot Head Scott Saalman. It was my first published story.

• On July 30, 1989, as a reporter in Williamsburg, Virginia, I found myself backstage at an outdoor concert standing six feet away from Jimmy, who was walking a beagle in the grass while The Neville Brothers opened for him. It was a dream come true, a moment I had been awaiting since eighth grade, the chance to shake Jimmy’s hand and tell him how he inspired me to become a journalist. It was just me and Jimmy and a beagle. Beneath the blazing Tidewater sun, I froze. I could not form syllables. All that emitted from my mouth were seal barks. He looked back at me, the strange seal boy with a backstage pass, and then guided his hound stage-bound to safety. On July 30, 2019, I will have relived and regretted that star-struck moment exactly 30 years.

Sometime near the new Millennium, a sea change occurred between Jimmy and me. Aside from his stellar release, Fruitcakes, in 1994, I never really connected with his later music. Hawaiian shirts no longer hung from my body’s frame. I stopped attending his concerts, the last one a disappointment due to a sea of college drunkards in the lawn who were more concerned about their margaritas in hand than Margaritaville unfolding on stage. The experience seemed more Mardi Gras than Margaritaville (there is a difference), more of a crazed, overpopulated carnival than the laid-back Buffett concerts at smaller venues from back in the day. Jimmy’s popularity had catapulted him from being the Mayor of Margaritaville to the Mogul of Margaritaville. I missed the more relatable beach bum Buffett.

I became a non-practicing Parrot Head throughout the 2000s. But lately, Jimmy has reset his hook. Here’s how it happened.

• Last December, my Parrot Head friend Joe messaged: “Have you seen the Parrot Head documentary that is available on Netflix? The Coconut Telegraph with your ‘Are You A Parrot Head?’ article is shown in it.” I immediately watched the doc and smiled recalling my Parrot Head past.

• Last month, my Illinois friend John messaged: “SCOTT! I knew that we had this somewhere. Matt even circled your name.” John was referring to the aforementioned Coconut Telegraph edition. He attached a photo of it. Matt was John’s brother whom I met in college and bonded with over Buffett. Matt died in a plane crash not long after I gave him one of my extra copies. John recently found it among Matt’s items in a closet. “He was obviously proud of and for you,” John wrote.

• Two weeks ago, I stumbled upon “The Parrothead Podcast,” hosted by two 20-something Parrot Heads, Ryan Middledorf and Patrick McDonald. Their enthusiasm about all things Buffett mirrors my own when I was their age. It’s heartening to know that there are people way younger than me dedicated to our man of Margaritaville. Keep it up, Ryan and Patrick; keep walking the squawk and searching for that lost shaker of salt.

I now own two Hawaiian shirts. Those Buffett albums from the ‘70s that I constantly played are on high rotation again. I’m actually pondering taking my wife, Brynne, to her first Buffett concert.

Once a Parrot Head, always a Parrot Head, I guess.

Like I said, Jimmy Buffett works in mysterious ways.

Fins up.

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