Why is the death of Jimmy Buffett hitting me so hard?
I was in the car listening to WXTU, Philly’s country station, playing song after Jimmy Buffet song, and “Come Monday” came on. My eyes welled up. All that money and fame, yet Merkel cell skin cancer took him at 76.
I never met Jimmy Buffett in person. I’m just one of millions of fans. And I’ve admired many other musicians. Bruce Springsteen, Keith Urban, Taylor Swift, Stevie Nicks, Carole King, Billy Joel, Paul Simon, and Yo-Yo Ma come to mind. They’re all still with us. But Buffett’s music was different. It could take you away, if only briefly, to a happy place where the ocean breezes blow, the palm trees sway, and flip-flops and Hawaiian shirts replace business attire.
At a Jimmy Buffett show, you could forget whatever adversity might be happening in your life, wear a grass skirt and a parrot hat, and be with thousands of like-minded “Parrot Heads”—even in gritty, urban Camden. Everyone was ready to party. Everyone knew the words, whether “Margaritaville” or “Cheeseburger in Paradise” or other feel-good anthems. Even through his illness, Buffett and his band, the Coral Reefers, continued to tour.
My husband and I saw the musical “Margaritaville” at the Walnut Street Theater a few months ago. There wasn’t much plot, but Jimmy Buffett’s music had everyone smiling and applauding.
He had a gift for making people smile, laugh, sing, and enjoy life.
As a young man, Buffett left Mississippi and picked up a guitar in college to attract girls.
Buffett headed to Nashville to break into music as a country singer while working as a journalist for Billboard magazine. But a trip to Key West with songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker in 1971 changed his “latitude and attitude” and gave him his artistic inspiration: Tropical beach escape music.
Buffett was also an astute businessman. His Caribbean fantasy became a lifestyle for many.
Buffett gave his trademark Margaritaville name to restaurants and retirement communities. He licensed a beer, “Landshark Lager,” and other products. He was a sailor, a pilot, and an author, as well as a husband, father, and grandfather.
Maybe my sorrow isn’t just for a person but for an era. Perhaps it’s nostalgia for a more innocent time before COVID hit the world and politics turned so cynical, bitter, and divisive.
Buffett was an icon of the Baby Boom generation, although he had many younger and older fans.
President Joe Biden commented on Buffett’s death: “His witty, wistful songs celebrate a uniquely American cast of characters and seaside folkways, weaving together an unforgettable musical mix of country, folk, rock, pop, and calypso into something uniquely his own. We had the honor to meet and get to know Jimmy over the years, and he was in life as he was performing on stage – full of goodwill and joy, using his gift to bring people together,” Biden said, in part.
And other musicians also joined the chorus of praise. Kenny Chesney, who had collaborated with Buffett, said, “So goodbye, Jimmy. Thanks for your friendship and the songs I will carry in my heart forever.”
Elton John called Buffett “unique” and a “treasured entertainer.”
“He had a most amazing lust for life and a beautiful sense of humour,” Paul McCartney said in an X post. “So many of us will miss Jimmy and his tremendous personality. His love for us all and for mankind as a whole.”
And Alan Jackson, whose hit song “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” featured Buffett, said, “Shores distant shores, That’s where I’m headed for, I got the stars to guide my way, Sal into the light of day.”