For years, I’ve expected to get a notification that Jimmy Buffett had died. However, I thought it would be a seaplane crash, a sailboat sinking, a surfing accident or even a shark attack.
It wasn’t supposed to be quiet and peaceful.
But it was. He died quietly last night at the relatively young age of 76, surrounded by family, friends and his beloved dogs.
The song “Margaritaville” came out when I was about seven years old. I liked it, but I was in my teens before the “Songs You Know By Heart” collection came out, and I realized this fella had a few more songs. A few years later, I bought the 72-song box set, “Boats, Beaches, Bars & Ballads.” I was hooked.
Over the past 30 years, the fantasy picture he painted of tropical paradises and lime-flavored good times permeated a good chunk of my life. I’ve bought way too many of his shirts, decor, and, yes, his tequila. I bought tickets for at least a dozen concerts, a couple of which are a blur.
The concerts were mostly about the tailgating. Parking lots were filled with tropical shirts, women in coconut bras and grass skirts, men in coconut bras and grass skirts (guilty as charged), working volcanoes on trailers, RVs-turned-temporary-bars, pools, blenders and grills. Thousands of Parrot Heads would assemble as if they were 5,000 best friends — dancing, sharing food and drinks and being just a wee bit ridiculous for a little while. Most of these folks — with myself being a possible exception — were normal folks the rest of the time, but put them in a crowd of Parrot Heads and they could let go of the real world for a while. We all need that kind of release.
In the early 1970s, the failed folk singer Jimmy Buffett took off for Key West from Nashville, desperate and broke. He once played a New Year’s Eve show in Atlanta, one for which he said, “Not one damn person showed up.” He at one point was suicidal. At rock bottom at the bottom of the continental United States, he hooked up with fellow troubadour and mentor Jerry Jeff Walker and went a little crazy for a while. During the craziness and all out of give-a-hoots, he struck oil. Or maybe he struck tequila. He accidentally founded Gulf & Western music or Trop Rock or whatever you want to call it. It was Buffett music. There never had been Buffett music.
But on his meteoric rise to superstardom, he hid a deep, dark secret — he worked hard behind the scenes. He dove into the business side of the industry. Along the way, he made the fantasy world of “Margaritaville” a brand, a very successful brand. We bought it. And he died a billionaire.
For me, those concerts and Jimmy’s descent into craziness are the lesson. You’ve got to let it all go every now and then. You’ve got to cast aside all your problems and your worries and a good chunk of your better judgment and just go crazy for a little while. As he preached in the song, “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes,” if we weren’t all crazy, we would go insane.
So, if you don’t mind, I’m going to go a little crazy today with a lot of Buffett music in the background. I might even make a frozen concoction that helps me hang on. And if you’re not a Parrot Head, go find one and give ’em a hug.
Unless they’re like me and not the touchy-feely type. In that case, just throw them a lime.
Let those winds of time blow over my head
I’d rather die while I’m living than live while I’m dead.
— Jimmy Buffett, “Growing Older But Not Up”
Phinz up, y’all.