He’s somewhere on the ocean now, a place he ought to be
With one hand on the starboard rail, he’s wavin’ back at me
Those lyrics are taken from Jimmy Buffett’s ode to his grandfather, who instilled in him a love of the ocean and an appreciation for an unconventional, adventurous (if not without challenges and pain sometimes) way of living. I woke to the news that Buffett, a singer and songwriter I’ve admired and enjoyed since my late teens has passed away. Luckily he created a body of work in his music that will live on forever. Some might find it strange, but some of the songs he’s best known for (Margaritaville and Cheeseburger In Paradise) were songs I couldn’t stand. Whatever. The man lived a full and colorful life and knew some pretty interesting people along the way and he turned all that into some memorable music.
Yes, this is a political blog but the way I see it politics is about people and so much of Buffett’s songwriting was about all manner of things people experience. The good, the bad, and the absurd and so on. Political leaders are supposed to understand the people they claim to want to lead and serve and from where I sit they could learn a lot from Buffett’s music.
Some was fun, some was happy, some was sad, some was nostalgic, some was downright funny and/or sarcastic, and some even about love. Both romantic and of family. I could write all day long and link to fifteen or twenty songs. Hell, more than that. If one looked past the whole image, especially the “Parrothead” thing that developed a lot of the lyrics spoke volumes about life. Both for the rich but also (much more often) for us regular folks.
As The Commodores sang of Marvin Gaye in Night Shift, Jimmy Buffet sang of the “joy and pain” – I’ll be cueing that one up with a lot of actual Buffett songs this weekend. Decades ago I said if there was a theme song to life including my own it would be Changes In Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, especially this verse:
Reading departure signs in some big airport
Reminds me of the places I’ve been.
Visions of good times that brought so much pleasure
Makes me want to go back again.
If it suddenly ended tomorrow,
I could somehow adjust to the fall.
Good times and riches and son of a bitches,
I’ve seen more than I can recall
And the tag line sure as hell is relevant given what our country has been going through in the hellscape Trump has created: “If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.” I have had some incredible (both good and bad) experiences and even some “golden” moments and periods of time in my life. And been to some incredible places. And have had to adjust to the fall so to speak more than once and with the latest fall it’s for good. But hell, you adjust and remember the good times and count yourself lucky to have experienced them. That’s why that whole song resonated with me when I first heard it, and more so as the years have passed.
In addition to being a terrific songwriter and performer Buffett was a helluva businessman and if I have a criticism it’s that given the financial empire he created he didn’t use his popularity to directly address what’s been happening to our country. Maybe, just maybe he penned (and recorded) an extra verse to Fruitcakes – a Trump verse. One that could expand on his intro where he says his friend Desdemona told him humans were taken out of the cosmic oven too early.
As I said I could go on all day quoting and talking about memorable lyrics and even including videos and links to a bunch of his songs but have decided to resist that temptation.
I will however say that many times starting decades ago even if it weren’t on on a grave marker there’s an epitaph that would be perfect for me. One of Buffett’s more poignant tunes is He Went To Paris. It’s an ode to an old man he knew who told him stories of a long and fascinating life, part of which so many of us can relate to which is reaching adulthood with big dreams, then getting sidetracked by life and sometimes going through a tragedy well into adulthood when all had been going well realizing those grand dreams had been pushed aside, even if for a good and fulfilling life. As Buffett’s song recants of the man’s final time, “If he likes you he’ll smile and he’ll say…”
“Some of it’s magic, and some of it’s tragic but I had a good life all the way”
I think any of those of us who have enjoyed Jimmy Buffett’s music over the years would agree he’d consider that the perfect way to describe he own life as he takes his final sail out over the ocean, with one hand on the starboard rail looking back and waving) to us.