I’m proud to say I am a Jimmy Buffett fan. I probably wouldn’t qualify as a “Parrothead” — the name given to real fans — as I always had intended to go to one of his concerts, but never did in fact make it to one. (I sincerely regret that.) I also should add that I really know only about 15 or 20 of his songs and they’re probably the ones that real fans are somewhat tired of hearing. But I know what I like and the songs I know and love never fail to bring a smile or perhaps, in some cases, a bit of a tear.
As a songwriter and an entertainer, Buffett was captivating. His energy, his smile and his interaction with the audience were always a joy to watch and I found his songs to be creative and, in most cases, fun to listen to and sing along with.
So many of the songs celebrated the simple and somewhat decadent pleasures of life — Margaritaville and Cheeseburger in Paradise for example — and some clearly extolled values that I would prefer not to be identified with. But Jimmy Buffett also wrote songs that touched on a subject near and dear to my heart: aging. Those are the songs I find myself thinking about in these days after his death.
In a song with the provocative title — A Pirate Looks at Forty — a man laments choices and decisions he has made and realizes that he has followed a path which has left him as “an over forty victim of fate” whom time has clearly passed by.
In my favorite Buffett song, Captain and the Kid, he tells the story of his relationship with his grandfather who was a sea captain and taught him to love life on the sea. He writes of his aging captain:
His life had gone from sailing ships to raking Mom’s backyard.
He never could adjust to land although he tried so very hard.
While the entire song is moving to me, those two lines capture the image of a man who could no longer live the active life he was accustomed to and for whom only death allows him to escape the confinement of land.
But his thoughts on aging are not all sad. In Pencil Thin Mustache, Jimmy Buffett celebrated the trend towards nostalgia among younger people by reminiscing and honoring the characters he knew in his youth — Boston Blackie and Ricky Ricardo. He encourages people who personally remember “the good old days” to celebrate growing older:
So if you find yourself in that nostalgic rage,
Honey, jump right up and show your age.
He unapologetically expresses a joy in advanced age in rather blunt language that would not be my choice of expressions but captures the sense of security that comes from living life as one chooses despite the dominant attitudes in society.
Finally, in Changes and Attitudes, Changes in Latitudes, he declares, “If it suddenly ended tomorrow, I could somehow adjust to the fall,” but reminds us adamantly that:
Oh yesterday’s over my shoulder so I can’t look back for too long.
There’s just too much to see waiting in front of me and I know that I just can’t go wrong.”
Comforting words as we move forward in life.
I don’t think that Jimmy Buffett sought to present himself as a deep-thinking philosopher. But his songs touched something in me, often in their escapism but more deeply especially in these past few days, in listening to songs which depict people coping with aging.
In Psalm 71: 9, we read a verse which is chanted several times on Yom Kippur as part of the penitential prayers:
[God] Do not cast me off in old age; when my strength fails, do not forsake me.
I read a beautiful interpretation of that verse recently. The word for “cast me off” is the same word as “throw” and the interpretation read that in that verse, we are asking God not to throw us precipitously into old age, but rather to allow us to age gracefully, step by step as the years go along.
I have to admit that when I heard of the death of Jimmy Buffett at age 76 and earlier this year of Gordon Lightfoot at age 84 — and knowing that many of my longtime favorite musical performers, whom I always thought of as “slightly older” than me are in their late 70s and 80s — it really makes me more than a bit sad at what seems to be the sudden reality of my own aging.
Then, I take a deep breath and realize, God willing, that “there’s just too much to see waiting in front of me” to worry about getting older just yet and I’m ready to move forward again making every day count by staying active and vital.
But, first, in memory of Jimmy Buffett, I’m going to take a proverbial trip to that “one particular harbor” and put my feet up. God forbid, I’m not going to eat a cheeseburger and I don’t like margaritas but taking a bit of time off with a drink (only one) and relaxing on a beautiful day isn’t too bad an idea because, after all, “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere” and tomorrow is soon enough to move forward again.
May his songs live on in our memory and help us to find enjoyment — and meaning — in the days ahead.