There’s this song.
This song, from 1975, was written by Jimmy Buffet, born in 1946. My whole life as much as I’ve remembered it, this song has had a deep reverence, a mournful seriousness to it. It got to be on the regular rotation in the car’s road-trip songs, despite it having that swear in it, and the references to drugs (that I did not understand, of course). We would sing along with the Jimmy Buffett tapes in the car, but when this song came on, we wouldn’t sing along, we’d just listen. There was something about it. There was something heavy to the words, something I didn’t quite understand.
When I hit my teenage years and started trying to make sense of everything, listening to the lyrics and reading the liner notes and trying to put every song into this like, structured and meaningful coherent whole where all the fictions that stories told were in fact part of some greater truth, I thought it was about Jimmy Buffett himself turning forty, and that crystallised something – it made sense. This was the anthem my father saw, sharing with Jimmy Buffett, when they were both facing turning 40, and that was when the song was made.
Jimmy Buffet was not forty when he wrote the song. He wasn’t even 30. He wasn’t forty until 1986, a year in which I was three. My father was 38, and two years later, he was 40. My dad has been on the far side of 40 most of my life. I never really saw someone facing turning 40 until members of my peer group did it. And, thing is… they’ve mostly been fine about it. Nobody I know has been making a point of their anxieties at getting older. There hasn’t been this anguished cry of ‘oh no I’m old,’ in fact most of my peer and friend group has been looking at their life getting through their 30s and shouting defiantly at the world thank god that’s done with.
Nobody I know makes being 40 bad. Most of them make it something great. I love you all, especially those of you repeating to our youngers: Don’t feel you wasted your 20s. You’re allowed to take your time working yourself out.
Maybe growing up with role models who were pirates was part of the place the rot started. My family after all were good upstanding Christians but I somehow grew up seeing laws as things to be gently circumvented where necessary and eventually entirely meaningless when they were never fairly deployed. I know that this song, The Last Saskatchewan Pirate, got me into a weird head space in my teen years of wanting to know about Canada and Canadian culture, a door that, once opened, I think, is where I met a lot of my best friends.
I remember this song being so… appealing to me, because of its oddness and silliness while still being a banger to sing. It wasn’t even an actual Captain Tractor song, though they wound up helping form that period of my teens into twenties, a sort of interesting bet-you’ve-never-heard-of-them musical icebreaker. Like a weaponised ship part. I have memories, in the time just after graduating from school, standing in the front yard of my parents’ house, spooling up a hose while singing this song to myself, and by myself, I mean the whole street.
I really wasn’t good at being a person.
But thing is, I got this song from mp3 dot com, which was like Kazaa and Limewire and Napster, but it didn’t go down. It was just bands asking you to take their songs. How cool was that? I couldn’t see how it would make money. The fact I wound up buying both of their albums at some point later, well, that may have played into it.
I started a ritual of listening to this song after I heard it, first in the There She Is!! series of videos. I downloaded it from a bootleg site because I couldn’t even find the name of the band that made it, what with it being in all squidgy letters I didn’t know. Now it’s on Youtube. Now it’s easy to find.
I have files on my computer that are snippets of anime episodes from 30 years ago, that have managed to successfully cling to my digital presence this entire time, since I very first got onto the internet. I can namedrop people like Mike Rhea and Megazone and Richard Pelley and Anand Chelian and Blade and Epsilon and gilmae and µ and Guardian and there’s a time anchored to those things, things that the right people might head-snap around and go oh holy shit, I remember that… but not many people do.
Deep, old magics from a time when the internet was smaller, and where so much of what I was doing, I was doing for free, shared by people for the sake of sharing it, for the novelty of it. I learned to do Photoshop work on a pirated copy of Photoshop, and moved to GIMP when my partner wanted to, because she hated Photoshop (and I didn’t have a copy any more). I’ve been using GIMP for something like twenty years. It was free. A free version of something I’d have had to pirate that’s about as good, as the thing you have to pay for gets worse.
You can’t beat the pirates. Free is a hell of a price point. For a little more than free, I’d expect to get good, as well. You can’t even make a moral case any more. I’m technically pirating a copy of Word, because the version I paid for doesn’t do what I want, and I can’t buy the version I want to use any more because it’s too old. When I can’t even buy the thing you tell me you sell, because of where I live or your controls or price point incentives, all those things tell me the only correct course of action is to steal. And to steal from the people who have so much, and where the stealing cannot hurt people who matter.
As this post goes up, I have just turned forty.
I feel sad.
I do not feel old. That is part of it. I feel like at forty my dad had been a priest and a traveller and in the military and a chef and had lived a childhood of hijinks with his twin brother and his famous dad. I feel like I have spent the past two weeks learning how to finally, properly, do the dishes, and that I am still responding to a world around me that is here to punish me for not being good enough.
I feel a little bit hollow and a little bit wasted.
But I can at least delight in knowing that gleeful, joyous, shameless piracy is not a thing behind me.