We lost the Poet Laureate of sun, sand, and margaritas this week. On September 1, 2023, Jimmy Buffett died after four years battling skin cancer. While not hot on the heels of mom’s passing, it’s still too close, especially after losing Gordon Lightfoot on May 1. Apparently mom wants all her music with her.
While his album “Songs You Know By Heart” is the go to for so many people (and why wouldn’t it be!), it was released in 1985 — I was listening to “A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean” in 1973. I was only 2, but my mom was a fan, so I heard that album at least once a week, every week (except for maybe the week of Christmas), for at least a decade. Add into rotation the other seven albums he released from 1973 – 1979, and I was indoctrinated as a full-fledged Parrothead from an early age (even though that phrase wasn’t coined until 1985 by Timothy B. Schmidt, coincidentally the same year “Songs You Know By Heart” was released).
I’m listening to my vinyl version of “A White Sport Coat…” right now as I write this, and I’m taken by surprise, song after song. Each song hits me like a wave of nostalgia and I might have ugly-cried during “He Went to Paris.” It was, after all, one of mom’s favorites.
Through 86 years of perpetual motionHe Went to Paris
If he likes you he’ll smile then he’ll say
Jimmy, some of it’s magic, some of it’s tragic
But I had a good life all the way
As I reflect on Jimmy Buffett and what his music has meant to me, I’m struck by so many memories throughout my life that his music and influence have impacted. As a kid I would go with my mom to visit her favorite local musicians and his songs were staples in their repertoire. Of course are the hits, but these guys were singer-songwriters, so while they would toss in a singalong, they would also play the story songs, which was Jimmy’s Buffett’s gift. Songs like “He Went to Paris,” “The Great Filling Station Holdup,” or “West Nashville Grand Ballroom Gown.” He had a gift for storytelling, and telling stories of everyday, seemingly un-extraordinary people. If I ever wanted someone to write a story about my life, it would have been Jimmy Buffett.
I saw my first Buffett concert in my early 20’s, with a group of Hooters co-workers. We stayed up the night before making about 100 jello shots that we snuck into Fiddler’s Green. I am saddened that this was the only time I ever saw him live, even though there were dozens of opportunities. But I remain thankful that I got to see him live, and it was as awesome as you would imagine a Jimmy Buffett concert would be.
When we moved back from seven years in Florida, I always joked that when we moved there, I was moving to the ocean, spring break, and Margaritaville, but that’s not what I got. Which is why we moved back home. Jimmy Buffett sang about a lifestyle that I yearn for, and while I have never lived less than 45 minutes from the ocean (those 7 years in FL), the ocean life is what calls to me. Sometimes it’s hard for me to listen to his songs, thinking about the ocean life I wanted to live.
And there’s that one particular harbour
Sheltered from the wind
Where the children play on the shore each day
And all are safe within
Most mysterious calling harbourOne Particular Harbour
So far but yet so near
I can see the day when my hair’s full gray
And I finally disappear
Every time I go back to Florida to visit, I make an attempt to visit the the Lone Palm Airport bar at Universal Studios. I sit on a bar stool outside, drink a margarita (or two, or three) and enjoy the sun. I don’t ever go inside the Margaritaville restaurant. While I don’t begrudge him getting his and trading in on the success of Margaritaville, I just can’t with corporate chain restaurants. I get what I need outside, sitting at little thatched roof, open air bar, sitting next to the Hemisphere Dancer. (If you don’t know the story, it’s the plane that the Jamaican authorities shot at in the 90s when Buffett was taking Bono and his family to one of his favorite jerk chicken spots.)
It’s so hard to pick a favorite, but if you put a gun to my head, it might be “Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season.”
Squalls out on the gulf streamTrying to Reason with Hurricane Season
Big storm coming soon
Passed out in my hammock
God, I slept till way past noon
Stood up and tried to focus
I hoped I wouldn’t have to look far
Knew I could use a Bloody Mary
So I stumbled next door to the bar
But luckily, I don’t have to choose. Here’s my list of favorite Jimmy Buffett stories. They don’t include the everyday greats, like “Margaritaville,” “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” or “Come Monday.” You already know those. These are some deep-cut, hidden gems that showcase the storytelling and dream-spinning that made Jimmy Buffett a popular poet, whose songs you (mostly) know by heart.
- The Coast of Marseilles
- Havana Daydreamin’
- Banana Republics
- They Don’t Dance Like Carmen No More
- Grapefruit—Juicy Fruit
- Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season
- Treat Her Like a Lady
- One Particular Harbour
- Who’s the Blonde Stranger?
- My African Friend
- Jamaica Mistaica
Spending this afternoon listening to this storyteller weave tales of water, booze, sun, sand, and pirates has reinvigorated my wanderlust for sea and surf. Luckily we go to Florida in three weeks. That will have to do. For now.
I hope you have found your margarita in the sky. Tell my mom I said hello, and I love her.
I’ve given my life for songs that I singThe Last Line
As a matter of fact, I’ve given everything
But time has come to not make a sound
Time has come to lay my burden down
Ohhh wo, ohhh wo
It’s come from behind,
Now is the time for the last line.