I awoke this morning, September 2nd, 2023, to a text from my old friend RT White, that Jimmy Buffett had died on the 1st. Seeing as how I have a long history with Jimmy, and with RT, I wanted to put a few words down on paper.
The way I envision this blog, it has 2 main functions: to provide some ammunition or tools to help decipher contemporary social issues, and to serve as a journal, or time capsule for my kids, so that they can read and/or listen, after I’m dead and gone, to what was going on in the world and how their dad felt about it. I’ll file this post under the latter function…
For years, RT and I have gone back and forth about who we would take on our island. Stuck on a deserted island, with the music of only 5 bands/musicians, who would you take? Both of us take Jimmy Buffett, and for similar reasons- the role his music played at various points in our lives.
Growing up on the coast of Florida in the 1970s and 80s, Jimmy’s music was ubiquitous. I’m sure there were folks my age listening to other music somewhere, but Jimmy, Reggae, and Southern Rock, that was the soundtrack of my life. My formative years at least.
My first exposure came from my older sister Kelly, who had “Son of a Son of a Sailor” on vinyl. That album came out when I was 9, and I don’t remember exactly when she bought it, but it was an early staple on my small plastic turntable. Around that time, she brought home the live double album, “Live, You Had to be There”, and I was hooked- so much debauchery and cuss words for a 9-year-old to enjoy!
High school and college brought all kinds of music to my ears, but I always came back to Jimmy as a balm, something to bring me thoughts of the beach and experiences to share with my friends. In his real life, outside the persona created by the songs, I don’t think he was nearly that carefree- he was a business, a brand, and a very successful one at that. But that didn’t really matter, because my identification with his music existed outside the “real world Jimmy”.
I don’t know exactly how many times I saw him in concert, but I’m sure it is more than I’ve seen any other performer. And the concerts, or at least the tailgates, are legendary. Other than perhaps the Grateful Dead, I’m not sure there’s another performer who had such a loyal, perhaps cultish following for live shows. For an 8:00 pm start time, you could arrive at noon, and there would be a line to pull in. Fans brought anything and everything to the tailgate- tents, campers, sandboxes, boats on trailers, you name it. Sometimes we never made it out of the parking lot, to the actual show; we figured Jimmy would approve, just the same.
A few quick memories: my mom was also a huge Jimmy Buffett fan! She took to putting her initials on the liner notes of the CD cases because she would misplace one and accuse me of taking it. I’d tell her there was no need because I have my own copies, but she would look askance at me and just quietly nod.
When she died in 2011, we had her wake at the Quattlebaum Funeral Home and they asked if we wanted some music to play quietly in the background, as people came and paid their respects. So, I gave them the 4-cd package “Boats, Beaches, Bars, and Ballads” for them to shuffle through. It’s funny to think of it now, a couple hundred people passing through solemnly, lots of tears, and Jimmy Buffett in the background.
Before everyone else arrived, I knelt next to her casket to say goodbye and started to recite “the Lord’s Prayer” as I learned it in Catholic school. Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, ummm… eh… umm. I couldn’t remember the rest of the words- it had been a while. But “Come Monday” was playing over the speakers quietly as I knelt, and I figured, shit, she’d be just as happy with that, so I just sang to her instead. I might get struck down by lightning for it, but if so, I’ll own it.
Overall, I think my attraction to, and appreciation for, his music was not based so much on pure musical talent and whatnot, but, rather, what it represented. Growing up in Palm Beach County, then moving all around the country, trying desperately to work my way back home, to Florida - to my mom - his music was always a calling, an image that represented a life I wanted to return to, even if I had only experienced it symbolically. And symbolically is enough…
I’ll finish with a picture of me and RT at Jimmy’s show in April, 2011, just after my mom passed. The power of Jimmy- RIP!
The first photo is from Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images