And I’d never been
West of New Orleans or East of Pensacola
My only contact with the outside world
Was an RCA Victrola
Jimmy Buffett/Life is Just a Tire Swing
“If I had grown up in Montgomery or Birmingham with less access to the beaches, bays, and rivers, I would be a completely different person.”
Halfway between New Orleans and Pensacola sits a little town with a long name—Pascagoula. (That’s almost as much fun to say as Yazoo City.) Though I’d never been to Pascagoula, Mississippi before Tuesday, it’s doubtful there would even be a blog titled Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places without an event that happened one Christmas day in Pascagoula.
Singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett was born on December 25, 1946 in Pascagoula. I bought my first Buffett album at the ripe age of 15 years old. At that point in my life I had only been to three states (if you include a stopover at the Atlanta airport). In fact, most of my life was lived on a dead-end street in Central Florida. But it was on that street, in a cement block house, that I sat in my bedroom with Koss headphones on and listened to Buffett’s music that opened up a world of storytelling.
Stories about pirates, Paris, New Orleans, Tony Lama boots, and Patsy Cline music became influences in my life.
Reading departure signs in some big airport
Reminds me of the places I’ve been
Visions of good times that brought so much pleasure
Makes me want to go back again
Jimmy Buffett/ Changes In Latitudes, Changes In Attitudes
Eventually I made my way off the dead-end street to all 50 states and to the far side of the world. Found my own adventures sailing in Key West, flying in a sea plane over the Amazon River, and riding a camel in the middle east. All inspired by a guy born in Pascagoula. An unlikely place.
Inspiration is funny that way. A guy born in Tupelo, Mississippi (Elvis) inspired a guy from Pascagoula/Fairhope/Mobile (Buffett) . A guy from Lubbock, Texas (Buddy Holly) inspired a guy from Hibbing/Duluth, Minnesota (Bob Dylan). And they all have roots in the Delta Blues. And the epicenter of the Delta Blues is in Clarksdale, Mississippi where Highway 49 and Highway 61 meet at the famous Crossroads.
And the main influences of Delta Blues musicians were hard times, alcohol, and gospel music. (What good can come from Bethlehem?) That and a good deal of them came from Mississippi. Here’s just a handful of the key blues players and where they’re from in Mississippi; Robert Johnson (Hazlehurst), Bo Diddley (McCombs), Elmore James (Richland in Holmes County), Muddy Waters (Issaquena County) and B.B. King (Itta Bena).
I’m fortunate to not get much criticism on this blog, but one that I’ve heard goes along the lines of “Who cares where writers come from? Everyone in Hollywood comes from somewhere else? What’s the big deal?” There is no big deal if you’re writing cookie-cutter, contrived screenplays. But you if want to write something special, your roots and influences are all you have. That’s what sets you apart. And that’s true if you’re in Hollywood, or if you’re in Austin like screenwriter Jeff Nichols (Writing “Mud”). It’s true of Pat Conroy novels and Tennessee Williams plays.
Lastly, as I drove home to Florida this week after 10 days on the road working on various photo and video gigs I made a stop a Lucy Buffett’s Lulu’s in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Lucy is Jimmy Buffett’s sister and has her own little empire cooking down in lower Alabama. While I had a great trout dinner in North Carolina, the best meal on the whole trip was a simple flounder meal at Lucy B. Goode overlooking Homeport Marina. It was a fitting stop on the tail end of a trip that really started one Christmas day in Pascagoula.
P.S. BTW—Mississippi not only produced some great blues artists but other people who have been some of the most influential in their fields. Here’s a list I came up with quickly: Tennessee Williams (Columbus, MS), James Earl Jones (Arkabutla), Oprah Winfrey (Kosciusko), Jim Henson (Greenville), and Jerry Rice (Starkville). And Morgan Freeman has a home in Charelston, Mississippi and owns the Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale. Lotta mojo still in Mississippi.