So here’s a home video of Glenn Frey, who passed away on Tuesday, and Steven Weisberg accompanying Jimmy Buffett on his then brand-new song “Margaritaville” filmed, of all places, in the Aspen High School assembly area. And yes, that is Hunter S. Thompson, prowling around in the background, not settling down until Buffett mentions cocaine. Then, and only then, he ceases his amped-up rambling and becomes riveted to the song. (I don’t know if Buffett made those lines up just for Thompson, but they definitely didn’t make it on the single.)
Ah, the seventies, when you could take the stage at a public high school, ad-lib a line about longing for cocaine, and not create a national furor
Anyway, it’s a cool video, even if you are not a Parrothead nor an Eagle-maniac. But what’s it doing on the Daily Post?
First, the relative unknown among the trio of musicians is Steve Weisberg, a Dallas native and graduate of St. Mark’s and UT-Austin. Though he’s playing a dobro here, he was John Denver’s lead guitarist for much of his Rocky Mountain High period.
Weisberg moved from Austin to Aspen in 1972 with the express purpose of becoming Denver’s guitarist, based solely on a second-hand report of Denver’s greatness. A friend told him that an Austin John Denver show had been the best concert he’d ever seen, and furthermore, that this folkie Denver dude needed a lead guitarist. Without checking Denver out himself, Weisberg packed up his guitars, dobros, dulcimers, banjos, and steel guitars and made the move to high Colorado, where amazingly, this impulsive plan wound up succeeding. (But not until after Weisberg got to jam a few times with a humorous bluegrass banjo player by the name of Steve Martin.)
Denver cut Weisberg loose in 1977 and the Texan returned to the Dallas area and the family’s apparel business. He passed away in 2014.
The second Texan (of sorts) on stage is the song itself. “Margaritaville,” the ditty that birthed first an American tribe and florid lifestyle, and then, inevitably, a corporate brand, had its genesis not in Key West but in Austin’s Lung’s Cocina del Sur, a Tex-Mex joint. Yep, Buffett slurped his first frozen margarita and had his tequila eureka moment right there on Anderson Lane, in a building that has since housed a Fuddrucker’s and is now home to boutique bowling alley the Goodnight. At the time Buffett was crashing in Austin with three women in a sylvan duplex at 6109 Shadow Valley Drive (near Far West and Mopac), and that was where he started work on “Margaritaville.” He wisely set the song not in suburban north Austin, but in the mythic Beach Resort Utopia whose ideal has proven irresistible to hordes of Parrotheads ever since.
Oh, and the Goodnight bowling alley offers karaoke, so if you want to drunkenly bawl “Margaritaville” on stage there, doing so there is akin to singing Elvis’s “That’s All Right” on the Louisiana Hayride stage in Shreveport or “Lovesick Blues” at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. Well, sort of…
While we’re here, we might as well mention Hunter S. Thompson’s strange fascination with Houston, a town that seemed to appall and amaze him in equal measure. While covering Super Bowl VII in 1974, a dark, substance-addled night of the soul at Houston’s downtown Hyatt Regency elicited one of his eternal aphorisms: “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”
After his failed novels Prince Jellyfish and The Rum Diary, Thompson had abandoned fiction, but even after years of success as a new journalist, he was taken enough with the sleaze and depravity of Houston’s South Main Street (specifically the long-gone Blue Fox Lounge) and Galveston’s Seawall Boulevard to dream of setting a novel or screenplay there.
That novel never came about, but Houston did inspire him to one of his last great quotes. While covering the George W. Bush reelection campaign in 2004, Thompson had this to say about the Bayou City:
Houston is a cruel and crazy town on a filthy river in East Texas with no zoning laws and a culture of sex, money and violence. It’s a shabby, sprawling metropolis ruled by brazen women, crooked cops and super-rich pansexual cowboys who live by the code of the West—which can mean just about anything you need it to mean, in a pinch.
To which we take exception, of course, It’s not a filthy river. It’s a filthy bayou.
Anyway, god rest Glenn Frey, Steven Weisberg, and Hunter S. Thompson.