I am “une femme d’un certain âge” who tries her best to live authentically and out loud. Further, I am proud to be one, as it takes grit, determination, and a certain willingness to ignore opinions that do not serve you well to reach this stage of life. Along the way, I have had a number of mentors and I didn’t realize until news of his passing broke that Jimmy Buffett was, in fact, one of those.
My dearest sister-by-affinity introduced me to Buffett’s music when we lived next door to each other in our freshman college dorm. (By the way, that so-called “random coincidence of the Housing Office” is enough to make me believe that there’s no such thing. A tale for another time.) We went together to see several of his shows, trundling along with what I now recognize was our “white 80s Southern college girl concert starter kit,” which was basically a dorm-sized trash can loaded up with ice, Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers, and a couple of plastic flamingoes precariously balanced on top. Now, as a Woman in my Second Act, these shows happened before they became arena-sized affairs. Oh, the parking lots were still plenty of fun — it seems that every third person had a grill and they were set on feeding everyone in attendance and a few engineering types had figured out how to hook a blender up to a car cigarette lighter (for cars had such things in those days).
Buffett had one Top 10 hit in his 50+ year career (you know which one it was), but no one in the parking lots cared. These were songs of raucous celebration, wistful tunes of time passing and lost opportunities, more celebration of stepping over the lines most people kept to the proper side of, and ballads of love lost, love found, and life well lived. And that’s not even including one of my favorites – “West Nashville Grand Ballroom Gown.” While not rabid enough of a fan to live in Margaritaville (which is a state of mind, after all) my Parrothead cred goes back to being a subscriber to the written newsletter version of the Coconut Telegraph. I taught a number of college freshmen the lyrics to “Cheeseburger in Paradise” because — well, why not? That same sister gifted me with a copy of Tales from Margaritaville when it first came out and I still maintain that Buffett was a better writer than most folks think. (After all, he joined very grand company when he hit both the New York Times fiction AND nonfiction bestseller lists, something only done by 6 other authors, including Hemingway and Steinbeck.)
So when the news broke, I was sad. Naturally. Of course. Buffett’s music formed a large part of the soundtrack of my late teens and early 20s, which are VERY formative years. But the depth of the hollow place inside me came as a surprise. I hadn’t seen him in concert in years – there was always going to be next year. I hadn’t created a playlist of his music or put on a CD (yep, still have those) in yearsandyears. (Yet, I did pick up a copy of Havana Daydreamin’, Last Mango in Paris, and A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean on vinyl when I found them, so I hadn’t lost all my cred, I guess.) I had to sit with that feeling for a while and sort through some memories. And you know, I don’t have a single – not one – bad memory of Jimmy Buffett’s music. And I think that went for so many other of his fans, too. Listening to his songs gave me the feeling that, even though I chose to walk a responsible path, I always *could* choose to cut loose. That being outlandish and telling tall tales has its place in society, not just on the fringes of it. And that living a life that involves occasional dancing in the streets while wearing parrot sunglasses and sing-shouting lyrics is not a bad way to do things. (Key West had a second line celebration of his life and I just love that so much.)
He continued to write songs, toured every year faithfully, made Margaritaville a brand (even putting in a cameo in Jurassic World) spanning restaurants, merchandise, drinks, and resorts. At his passing, his worth was estimated at a billion – that’s with a “b” – dollars. He employed thousands of people and was known to pop up unannounced in a beach bar to sing a few tunes. (I still think I saw him in the crowd at Mallory Square watching the sunset with most of the rest of Key West one evening.) And, as Duke Ellington said about Louis Armstrong, “He was born poor, died rich, and never hurt anyone in between.”
If that’s not Diva behavior, I don’t know enough to write this post.
Clear skies, Jimmy. Hope you found that shaker.