Today, I learned Jimmy Buffett died.
I said a long time ago that Jimmy Buffett’s death was going to mess me up, and I thought that was said in earnest. Jimmy Buffett, if you’re not familiar,
is was an American singer-songwriter from Mobile, Alabama, renowned for his involvement in and then kind of codifying the musical genre known as gulf and western. The sound, as I someone who just listens to it a lot, had a lot in common with country music in terms of its production style – there’s not a lot of distortion, instruments tend towards the acoustic rather than the electric, and you usually have a single vocalist, who’s often the author of the song presenting music that’s about a personal experience, in a kind of storytelling way. On the other hand, the association with the Gulf of Mexico meant that the musical instruments are influenced more by, well
Kettle drums, hymnal organs, a range of percussion instruments that I don’t know by name, that kind of thing? Things you’d hear in the Caribbean, and that’s not to simplify the many different musical styles in the gulf, but to indicate the things that Gulf and Western picked up from it.
I wrote about Jimmy Buffett’s music, as expressed in the albums my dad had when I was a kid, across a few years. Between that and my other online statements about the inevitable impact of his death, I had three people approach me about The Bad News, and what that meant, and to check if I was okay. It made sense to me – after all, I’d said that would happen, right?
But I’m okay?
At least right now, as far as I know.
When Kenny Rogers died, I immediately wrote an article and shared it that night, like this one is (probably) going to get. I don’t remember how I felt at the time but I feel like that was done in some strange fugue. I don’t remember why I felt it was important to do that — it wasn’t like I spoke about Kenny Rogers much. Maybe it was a need to try and do that, finally, while also doing my best to pick through the legacy of a man who I knew was aggressively mediocre in every way except in the way that an industry chose to elevate him. It wasn’t like Kenny Rogers was the author of his best song (since Don Schlitz wrote The Gambler, and that dude went on to write When You Say Nothing At All) or even the best performer on his best song (because he did Islands in the Stream with Dolly Parton, where he was essntially ballast).
I didn’t feel the need to do that to Jimmy Buffett. I think I’m well known as much as I have any kind of public identity as a dude in his early 40s whose taste in Jimmy Buffet is uh, forty years old. It was my dad’s music, it’s nostalgic to me, and broadly speaking considering Jimmy Buffett’s whole ouvre he didn’t do a lot to embarrass me. Jimmy Buffett respected the homeless, wanted to help the environment, was pro-shoplifting and performed with a lot of black artists and shared their music.
I don’t think that he was good, really. I mean, by the time he died, Jimmy Buffett was a billionaire, which means even in death, he was doing something great and ensuring a billionaire died. Bit of a reach there, I know.
But Jimmy Buffett seems to be primarily known as an embarassing presence. That corny guy, stoner humour, restaurant chain kinda dude. Even the involvement with My Brother, My Brother, and Me is a sort of jokingly ironic way, the way that liking Jimmy Buffett is something worth being teased over. Eddie Burbank did a whole video about trying to interrogate the idea of Jimmy Buffett entirely through the interface of visiting Margaritaville hotels and restaurant chains, which was painful and embarrassing, especially since you’re not about to get an incredible elaborate vision of a person’s philosophy from their ads trying to sell you margaritas. And I get it?
It’s weird, I just don’t feel the need to defend Jimmy Buffett. Dude wrote a bunch of songs I like. He wrote in a key I could sing. He performed in a style I could manage. He was The Good Boomer, of his sort, I guess.
I think part of it was that my entire life, Jimmy Buffett has been old. My earliest memories of him are of songs that relate to A Pirate Looks At Forty. He was my dad’s age, a little bit older, and that meant as my dad accommodated turning forty – as I am having to – he’s just always been there, like the long runway ahead of me, telling me that yeah, okay I’m getting older, but I’m… y’know, growing older, but not up.
He’s was just some guy.
He was, best I know, a pretty okay guy.
There’s this Achewood strip about how when your Michael Jackson dies, you realise in that moment that you’ll never be young again. I think that that doesn’t impact me in the same way, because I don’t have memories of ever being young, of being youthful. I have memories of this confused and stupid figure who was made up of the most superficial moments of social engagement from Christian media, falling down stairs of history on the way towards being a person, pre-emptively made into a crotchety, twee, smug old man in my teenage years.
I don’t feel like I’ll never be young again.
I’m mostly just worried about how this affects my dad.
Anyway, farewell to you, Jimmy Buffett. You made a bunch of my favourite songs, your words are written on my heart. You told me about the city where the dudes and the dykes all looked the same, you told me about the federalis who just grin and tell you that they want to be your friend, you told me about the name plate on the glass that brings back twenty memories. You told me about how to swipe shit ethically, you told me about how math suks and you taught me about the Hawaiian navy. You tried to get Americans to eat invasive species and you even made Alan Jackson momentarily tolerable.
I’ll miss him, but I don’t have to.