Margaritaville might not have happened without Mill Valley

I heard the news going into work on Labor Day weekend — Jimmy Buffett had died. I’ve never purchased any of his work, yet despite that, Buffett had and continues to have a profound effect on my life, especially professionally.

My first order that Friday night was for a Margarita. Fate? Providence? Perhaps both.

My second order was also for a Margarita. Sure, they were different kinds of Margaritas. But that really didn’t change anything. In fact, it only added to it. Is a field of flowers less beautiful than each one individually? I think not. And then Buffett’s song “Margaritaville” came on over the restaurant speakers.

“Wasted away again in …” sang the Margarita drinker in front of me. Funny how a song can be such a signpost of a memory — your memory, my memory and even Buffett’s.

The Margarita itself is almost a century old, a classic with tequila, orange liqueur and lime juice. Its construction is based purely on its name. Margarita means “daisy” in Spanish, and a daisy is a type of drink featuring a liquor, liqueur (or syrup) and citrus juice. One could certainly argue that a Margarita is also a “crusta” (a cocktail rimmed in sugar or salt). But it’s too late for such technicalities now, the 1970s took care of that. And Buffett was all over the 1970s.

That decade featured tequila’s rise to prominence in popular culture as well as his own. The Eagles’ 1973 song “Tequila Sunrise” kicked it off and Buffett’s 1977 masterpiece “Margaritaville” continued the trend, one that has lasted to this day. In fact, this year, tequila surpassed vodka as the most popular spirit in California for the first time, due in large part to the Margarita. And as California goes, so goes the rest of the country, eventually. Even Buffett knew that.

It was during a Labor Day weekend in 1973 — 50 years ago to the day of his death — that Buffett wrote his first hit song, “Come Monday.” written at the Howard Johnson’s on Shoreline Highway (now the Holiday Inn Express) in Mill Valley. Buffett was booked for a three-day Labor Day weekend series of shows at the Lion’s Share nightclub in San Anselmo. “Come Monday” is autobiographical and talks about Labor Day, hiking boots and missing his girlfriend. Buffett relayed the story of its creation on an episode of NBC’s “Late Night with David Letterman” on March 23, 1983.

“I was deathly depressed. I was in a Howard Johnson’s under Mount Tamalpais in Marin County, living there and playing in San Anselmo. It was awful. I wrote this song and it hit, and the rest is history,” he said.

That history would include marrying that girlfriend, Jane Slagsvol, and writing the even bigger hit song “Margaritaville” in 1977.

“Searchin’ for that lost jigger of salt …” belted out the man in front of me, on his second Margarita, the song playing again on the overhead speakers.

Marin would remember Buffett’s slight by opening a Margaritaville of its own in 1989 (now the site of Salito’s). Technically, it was Casa Margaritaville (which also had locations in San Francisco, Capitola and Walnut Creek), and was not affiliated with Buffett’s own licensed Margaritaville-branded properties that grew to include restaurants, bars, casinos and a senior living facility, as well as merchandise. The Margaritaville brand made Buffett a billionaire.

Buffett’s 1977 marriage to Slagsvol lasted until his death. The Eagles appropriately played at his wedding.

“Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame …” belted out the man, off-key, and propelled on by his third Margarita. What he lacked in talent he more than made up for in volume and accompaniment, because the whole bar had joined in singing with him.

I once had a musician friend tell me that he knew he had made it when he heard his song on the radio. That friend now works as a Realtor. So, I might add that, as a musician, you know you’ve really made it when your song comes on the radio and a whole bar sings along to it, even after you’ve died.

But that’s probably the way Buffett would have wanted it. After all, it’s his own damn fault.

Leaving me with these thoughts:

• As an odd wrinkle in copyright law, you are not allowed to print the lyrics of a song in a commercial format without the expressed written consent of the holder of those rights. Not even one line.

• However, if those song lyrics are incorrect, then all bets are off. Thank you, tequila!

• Ironically, neither song titles nor restaurant names are copyrightable. They are, however, trademarkable. All you need is a good lawyer.

• “If there’s a heaven for me, I’m sure it has a beach attached,” once said Buffett.

So, RIP Mr. Margaritaville on your pearly white sand beach. One does wonder, however, if right about now you are also trying to explain the song, “Why Don’t We Get Drunk (and Screw).”