Everyone that knows me, knows that I have an addiction… cruisin’. I also have a love affair with Key West… and of course, I’m a parrothead.
[def: par-ought-head — Fanatical, out of control, aficionado of Jimmy Buffett and everything Margaritaville. ]
It wasn’t that long ago that I dreaded the idea of a cruise. The idea of spending a week going places was ok. But the idea of all the time floating around getting there… especially all the nights with nothing to do… terrified me.
Boy was I wrong. I discovered the piano bars on cruise ships. Night after night of absolute fun… laughin, singing along, maybe dancin’ a little, and certainly drinking too much. For me, it has become not so much where the ship is going, but rather, who the piano bar entertainer is.
I should tell you, the piano bars on Carnival cruise ships are not the “elevator music” type piano bars you may see in some hotels or other cruise lines. Carnival tries to provide a piano bar that is rip-roaring, sing-along fun. Late night it is often irreverent, politically incorrect and usually a bit naughty… sometimes a lot naughty. For me, it’s a blast.
Now days, before I book a cruise, the first thing I check is what ships my favorite piano bar entertainers are going to be on. I do that even before I check to see where a cruise is going. In fact, my last cruises have been booked solely because of one magnificent entertainer; Ben Gentry. And I’m doing it again. Simply put, it’s my opinion that Ben is head and shoulders above the rest, the best of the current PB entertainer Carnival has.
Now if it sounds like I’m “sucking up” to Ben, it’s because… well… I am. But what I just said is also true. I’ll get back to this in a minute.
First, for those that don’t know, Carnival is “cheap” when it comes to compensating their employees. (That’s not earth-shattering to those of us that cruise on Carnival.) Carnival depends on gratuities to supplement the income of many of the crew members. I think in some cases, gratuities may be the main source of their income.
The same thing is true for piano bar entertainers. They depend on folks to “put bread in their jar”… tips. This is true of land-based piano bars too, but I think more so on cruise ships.
(By the way… I’m sure all piano bar entertainers HATE and at the same time love Billy Joel.)
Anyway, lots of folks want to have the entertainer play their favorite tunes… like… ummmm… let’s say a Jimmy Buffett tune. Now… since most of the piano bar entertainers also don’t like doing Jimmy Buffett stuff, if you just write your song on a piece of paper and send it up to the entertainer, then that is just a “suggestion.” Most likely it won’t get played. At best it will go to the bottom of the stack.
However, if your suggestion is wrapped in paper currency, it becomes an official “Request.” If the denomination of the paper currency is like a Peso, then the request will still be at the bottom of the playlist. The larger the denomination, the higher in the playlist it goes.
I should mention that you shouldn’t expect the PBE to play your request instantly. You see, they often get on a roll and have the folks singing, clapping and dancing to a set of themed songs. So don’t expect your request for “God Save the Queen” to be played in the middle Jeremiah Was A Bullfrog.
Well… I suppose if the request for “God Save the Queen” is wrapped in the US currency that doesn’t have a picture of a past President on it, you may well interrupt the bullfrog.
So now to the main point and why I’m sucking up to Ben Gentry. You see, the last two cruises with him I left him with a “Future cruise credit request” for songs Ben didn’t know at the time. Of course, these were proper “requests” and not suggestions… and of course with it was wrapped in an appropriate dead president. (Sorry… not one of those other two bills.)
Ben did a magnificent job the first time with a song that is very difficult for anybody to do. He did such a good job it almost got me laid… almost.
So… the last time I cruised with him I left him with another future cruise credit. This time I gave a list of four of the more obscure Jimmy Buffett songs that he didn’t know. My note to him was to pick one.
But… these weren’t just obscure songs. Each one of them has a connection… a significent connection to Key West. Therefore, here (in no particular order) are the stories for each of the songs from which I hope my request will come.
Tin Cup Chalice – Jimmy got his “musical footing” when he went to Key West. He was just out of a bad marriage and deeply in debt. A friend took him down US1 to Key West in an old Packard. (Packard is a now-defunct car company.)
When he first got there, Jimmy played for beer in a corner of a place called the Chart Room. I think every bar and honky-tonk in Key West claimed Jimmy played there. This one has pictures to prove it. It’s a tiny place and hard to imagine any entertainer would play there, but he did.
Tin Cup Chalice is the first song Jimmy Buffett wrote after he got to Key West. It’s about the Sunset Celebration. Every Day on Mallory Square there is a Sunset Celebration… at least on days when clouds don’t block the sunset. Crowds of people go there every sunset, and they all applaud when the sun drops into the ocean.
The lyrics to Tin Cup Chalice are about the sunset, the sailboats on sunset cruises and life in Key West.
Ben… if you pick this Tin Cup Chalice, please change one part of the lyrics to the way I always sing it: “With a tin cup for a chalice, fill it up with good red wine”… change “good red wine” – to – “tequila and lime.” I don’t know why Jimmy didn’t write it that way… maybe it was before Margaritas and such.
Woman Goin’ Crazy Caroline Street – The street in Key West, Caroline Street, is where the “red light district” used to be. The main “red-light” area was down by what is now known as the “Schooner Wharf.” (Yes, that’s where the Schooner Wharf Bar is.)
Back in the olden days when shrimpin’ and fishing were king in Key West, the sailors would come into the Schooner Wharf from days, weeks or months at sea. They would get paid and immediately head to Caroline Street for a little “liquid refreshment” and “companionship.”
One of the places they would go was one of the roughest and toughest bars Key West has ever known… the Red Doors. Downstairs was the saloon and upstairs was the brothel. Today the Red Doors houses a little boutique downstairs, and air conditioners poke out of the walls upstairs.
This song starts with, “There’s a woman goin’ crazy on Caroline Street…” and goes on about a rough and rowdy bar. Pay attention to the lyrics, and they will tell all you about the woman and Caroline Street.
Ever notice how some of the Buffett songs have weird lyrics in some places. This next one is a good example… starting with the title.
Last Mango in Paris – The title of this song is misleading. It really should be “Captain Tony’s” Almost everyone who has been on a cruise to Key West has walked right by Captain Tony’s bar on their way to Duval Street.
This song starts out, “I went down to Capt’n Tony’s… to get out of the heat.” The next time you are in Key West, step into the doorway entering Captain Tony’s. There is a fan there blowing cool air down on you. Every time I go into Captain Tony’s I stand there for a minute to cool down and hum the tune in my head. (I don’t dare sing out loud.)
Anyway, the song is about Captain Tony rather than about the bar. Captain Tony was Tony Tarracino; a character and icon of Key West. I can’t tell the whole story here… it’s too long. But, before he opened the saloon, Tony was a shrimper, charter boat captain, a gunrunner for the CIA.
Capt’n Tony ran for Mayor of Key West four times. One of those times Jimmy Buffett was his campaign manager. Really! You can see the newspaper clippings in the bar. The last time he ran… the time he won, he came under fire for using the word “shit” in his campaign: “All you need in life is a tremendous sex drive and a great ego – Brains don’t mean shit.”
When his opponent tried to make a big deal out of the profanity, Capt’n Tony responded, “If everyone who uses that word votes for me, I’ll win by a landslide.” He won by 32 votes.
The next time you are in Key West, you owe it to yourself to go down to Capt’n Tony’s to get out of the heat… and then spend a bit of time there reading and learning about the place and the man. You’ll discover that he probably really did:
“Eat the last mango in Paris…”
“Take the last plane out of Saigon…”
“Took the first fast boat to China…”
I think of the songs, this next one is should be the National Anthem of the Conch Republic. (If you aren’t sure where the Conch Republic is, try Google)
Semi-True Story – Key West is full of tales. Presidents, writers, minstrels, and characters… Truman, Hemingway, Buffett, and Terricino all add to the lore of Cayo Hueso (the original Spanish name of the island). No matter where you look… no matter what corner of the island you go to, there’s a story that goes with it.
Names like Bumfarto, Sushi, and Sloppy Joe all add color. Every little bar from the Speakeasy Inn to the La Te Da, to the Schooner Wharf Bar, to the Chart Room have a story to tell about Bone Island (the translation from Spanish of Cayo Hueso).
Everywhere you go you will hear a story… and every one of them true… at least according to the rules of this song.
As much as anything else this song personifies “The Rock” and is why I like it. Well… then there’s that tequila thing too.
So Ben… it’s your choice. It is looking like I’m going to be seeing you this fall and I’ll give you a better “heads up” when I’ve booked. But this should give you enough to ponder for now.