Trip Reports

Parrot Talk (24-Dec-2002-13-45):
1:45 PM local time, Tuesday, December 24 (1745 Dec. 24 UTC) 12 27 N 061 29 W. Temp. 86, Humidity 67%, Cloud Cover 50%. On the hard at Tyrrel Bay Yacht Haulout, Carriacou Island, Grenada.

Mr. Shrode has taken a ferry to Grenada to await the arrival of Caroline and the Captain is alone on Maverick. We have no news, and that will have to wait until the insurance adjuster can find his way here. In the meantime, on this Christmas Eve, we send our greetings and something to peck at while you anticipate your holiday feast:

In the neck of the woods, if I may use this nautically inappropriate phrase, where we now find ourselves, many who sail boats feel that an activity essential to establishing their bona fides is listening to, and paradoxically, enjoying, the music of Jimmy Buffet. A man can gather quite a few fans if he names himself after a manner of serving food, and he might be even more successful with the first name, "Free." In any case, he's doing quite well enough, and such is his success that his fans have adopted a special sobriquet all their own, and it's a reasonable bet that they didnt have to wrestle anybody to get it, which is, "Parrotheads." The etymology of this word is not without interest, derived as it is from the conjoining of the word "parrot," meaning a bird of the order Psittaciformes with a hooked bill and bright plumage, with "head," a word meaning an appendage of the body some have found useful, although not the Parrotheads. Further, we can trace the origins of this word to the precedent, "Deadheads" which word was derived from "potheads" and "acidheads," terms in turn modified from the earlier appellations, "meathead," "pinhead," "blockhead," and "poo-poo head." It's a shame to see the way the language has degenerated.

In their quaint way, the Parrotheads probably intended a little joke with their name. They may have meant to suggest, "See how we, like the birds, enjoy being manipulated to robotically repeat things we do not comprehend, ha ha." Or they might mean, "See how we, arrayed in our fine, bright, Hawaiian shirts and our hooked beaks, resemble our betters, the parrots!" Or, "You couldn't tell it by looking at me, but my brain is the size of a parrot's!"

But my hypothesis is that each one actually has a real parrot inside his head, and in the event of the untimely death of a Parrothead, although, how could such a thing be untimely, an autopsy would reveal, inside an otherwise vacant cranium, a dead parrot. Unless, that is, there exists among Parrotheads a transmigration of the parrot, so that upon the death of the body the parrot flies out the ear and is reborn in another receptacle, in which case the head of the deceased would be quite uninhabited. In any event, this hypothesis, called the "Actual Parrots Inside the Heads of the Parrotheads" hypothesis and here published for the first time for peer review, has been found to be, after the rejection of many others, the best way of accounting for the behavior of an ordinary looking but non-human creature, who will, upon drinking a copious amount of alcohol, and hearing a secret provocation from the bird in his head, start singing "Wasted away again, in Marguaritaville" and laughing or crying in a most ignoble and bothersome way. It turns out that you at home can contribute to the march of science by helping to empirically verify our thesis, by simply chopping open the head of any Jimmy Buffet fan you see, and emailing us your conclusions.

Now, it can't be said that Mr. Buffet has no talent, unless the five words immediately preceding the comma preceding the word "unless" in this sentence actually do the very thing that it started off by saying couldn't be done, in which case we must set it aside to be examined at a later time with a view to analyzing it's logical structure.

It's true he has a flat voice, but his apologists will say that Bob Dylan can't sing, either. This is a canard, and to refute it, compare anyone else's rendering of, say, "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" with Dylan's own. Dylan's voice communicates defeat, resignation, bitterness, tenderness, love, courage, anguish, forgiveness, and hope. A lesser singer will be doing well to achieve a mawkish suggestion of self-pity, but I'm sorry to say even this is beyond the emotional range of Mr. Buffet's instrument.

It's also true that Buffet's sense of irony rarely rises to the level of the sophomoric, but in fairness to him, this is above average for an entertainer. It's way below Bugs and Daffy, though.

One day back in the mid-sixties I was driving on the freeway and "Shotgun" came on the radio. The sound of the saxophone on this record so enraptured me, unexpected and fresh as it was and yet at the same time comforting and familiar, that I found it necessary to pull the car over to the side of the road so that every cell of my mind and body could be focused on perceiving and absorbing what was being played. A few years later, through a series of coincidences, some groveling, and the deep and unaccountable generosity of the universe, I had the honor of being retained by Mr. Junior Walker in the percussion chair of his ensemble, the "All-Stars."

Junior Walker was one of the most lyrical musicians of my generation. His tone is big and powerful but silky and erotic; no saxophonist has matched it. Often, players would talk their way backstage to ask Junior about his horn. They learned that it was a good Selmer with a metal mouthpiece and a reed that was neither hard nor soft--nothing out of the ordinary for a professional. They were looking for the secret to his tone, but they'd never find it there, because that's not where it was. It was in his heart.

His phrasing, so fluid, technically precise, and possessed of a subtlety its directness belies, depends on force, exuberance, and commitment rather than complexity. It has been imitated with effete results by many others, many of whom would never admit his influence. The genre is simply born too much of the chitlin circuit to possess either the faux gravitas or the facile cynicism the beau monde prefers. In Mr. Walker's oeuvre there is little of the pseudo-intellectual adventurism that the critics of the day celebrated, peppered as it is with such songs as "Shake and Fingerpop" and "Pucker Up, Buttercup." He was a real limited guy. He didn't know about anything except joy.

Generally, Junior would count off every song by tapping his foot, but as one of my duties, it fell to me to cue the beginning of "Shotgun" by playing the syncopated snare drum figure at the top of the song. This was the finale, the flagship, the climax of the show, and the recollection of Junior pointing to me and with a smile calling, "Shotgun," and the thrill of laying down those familiar, famous, first strokes, to this day makes me feel like jumping up and down in glee. OK, so I really do.

We were playing in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina one hot and humid summer night. The venue, a dance hall, held perhaps three thousand and was packed. When Junior stepped onto the stage, he transformed, like a sorcerer, every musician in the band into something he could not otherwise be. He was never a disappointment, but that night his playing was on some higher level. At one point in the performance, if memory serves it was the vamp out of "Sweet Soul," Junior began playing such great stuff that I felt faint, right there on the stage. It was the same feeling I had back on the freeway in San Diego, that I just did not want to do anything but listen to what he was playing. Performing my part seemed so far away, and listening to him so mesmerizing, that I felt disassociated from my hands and feet, and out of breath. I wanted to stop time and go up to him and say, "Hey, Junior, if you want me to do my job, you're just going to have to cool it."

I made it through the tune but it was one of those nights when the audience too seemed aware of some extra energy in the room. We got off the stage, did an encore or two, and then repaired to the dressing room. But the crowd was hysterical. The place had to close, but everyone was screaming for us to come back and no one would leave. They sang "How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You" over and over. We were trapped in an eight-by-eight room for what seemed like an hour, I know cuz I needed to pee, while the police kept the crowd from backstage and calmly cleared everyone out of the building. That was nothing compared to what Junior played, though.

As of the time of the present holiday, I suppose I haven't completely given up aspiring to eternal life, or escaping the cycle of death and rebirth, or achieving nirvana. But those are paths that I seldom find myself looking down these days. It's not so much that I have a problem with the evidence for any of them; everyday at sea we make decisions with serious consequences, based on our best guess. It's just that after a respectable number of years of effort, I find I don't have the faintest idea what they are. What I do hope for is to, from time to time, feel the authority, and taste the knee-weakening kiss, of the things on earth that are beautiful. Every musician--even Big Dave Tolmie--devotes thousands of tedious hours of his life practicing in anticipation of those rare and magical days that Beauty will deign to use him as her voice. But who's to say that an evening at a local tavern with a few cocktails, some convivial friends, and Jimmy Buffet on the jukebox, doesn't satisfy the same human aspiration for perfection?

Who indeed, if not the Captain.

Mr. Walker was lecturing me one night, as occasionally was his wont.

"You know when I go to blowin, and the people can't hep theyselves and they commence to dancin and shoutin and carryin on? Some folks say, They partyin. But that ain't what they doin. Naaaaahhh. That ain't it at all. You know what they doin?"

He looked at me in earnest, with a paradoxical pride that was more that of a monk, humble before a mysterious secret he was anxious to communicate, than that of a swaggering rhythm and blues star. There was a twinkle in his eye.

He said, "They rejoicin."

Junior Walker, nee Autry De Walt Mixon, departed this life November 23, 1995, in Battle Creek, Michigan.

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