“His body was battered, his whole world was shattered
And all he could do was just cry…”
He Went to Paris
When you think of musician Jimmy Buffett in terms of geography you probably think of the south, but did you know part of his early performing roots were in the Midwest?
Buffett was born in Pascagoula, Mississippi and raised in Mobile, Alabama, graduated from college in Hattiesburg, MS (Southern Miss ’69, journalism degree), and started performing in public in Biloxi, MS and New Orleans, Louisiana, spent time in Nashville, Tennessee and broke through while living in Key West, Florida. So where exactly does the Midwest play into his success as a singer/songwriter/storyteller? I’ll let Buffett explain:
“Chicago is where I truly cut my teeth as a performer, working as the opening at the Quiet Knight. I opened for a variety of people from Neil Sedaka to Bob Marley, and when I got frustrated with the crowds, the old one-armed clean-up man with the big German shepherd always consoled me. It took me a few days of asking to find out that Eddie was more than a janitor. He was a gifted painter and a wonderful pianist. We would stay up after the club closed, and he would sing me songs from the Spanish Civil War where he had fought as a member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade against the Fascists. Eddie Balchowsky was indeed an inspiration. He was larger than life, and as Mark Twain said, ‘he’d gone out into the territory.’ This song is a tribute to his spirit.”
Introduction to He Went to Paris
The Parrot Head Handbook from Boats, Beaches, Bars & Ballads
Here’s He Went to Paris in the form of a 1973 music video:
And another reason to love You Tube— below is a clip from a 1989 documentary that actually features an interview with none other than Eddie Balchowsky (including him playing the piano one-handed) just months before he died in an accident in Chicago.
To borrow from that Pat Conroy post a couple of days ago, writers do what Buffett did, they go do work to do a job and wait for the one-armed man to show up. That’s where stories come from. That’s how you “capture the magic” (to a use phrase Buffett spoke a few years ago on a 60 Minutes interview).
By the way, back in the folk music heyday, Chicago had a steady stream of artists playing there— Jim Croce, John Prine and Steve Goodman to name a few. One of my favorite Buffett recordings was written by the Chicago-born Goodman, Banana Republic.
And just in case you’ve never heard of Steve Goodman, here’s a video of him singing his signature song that has been covered a few times since he wrote it:
Screenwriting the Chicago Way (In this 2008 post, I said if Screenwriting from Iowa …and Other Unlikely Places had a theme song that City of New Orleans would be a fitting choice.)
The Bump In Factor (Post about meeting Dirck Halstead at NAB a couple of years ago. Dirck was a combat photographer for LIFE magazine and was working for UPI during the fall of Saigon. He now heads up TheDigitalJournalist.)
P.S. The Jimmy Buffett concert tonight (April 17,2012) in Des Moines will be broadcast on Radio Margaritaville at 9PM easten time.
Update: Found this article Painter, Poet Ed Balchowsky at the Chicago Tribune website.