Death of a Popular Poet
Last week, a friend of mine passed away. I had known him since I was 14. When I was that age, I didn’t have a lot of friends, so this one became a friend I cherished over the years. He was rowdy, loud, and full of energy. He was the type of friend that everyone wanted to be around. He naturally exuded charm and made you feel better about yourself just by being in his vicinity.
His love of life was evident in everything he did. He could make anything seem exciting and often did exciting things that most friends only dreamed about. He could take the most mundane and make it seem like the IN thing to do. Whether he was sailing in the Caribbean, flying his plane, diving in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, or helping save the manatees, he had a purpose in everything he did, and he never let the word can’t be part of his vocabulary.
My friend was well-traveled, having been to France, Africa, most Caribbean islands, Europe, Japan, and almost all of the Americas. In every place he visited, he always came back with a story to tell. Oh, the stories he could tell!
This man could weave a tale from the most obscure things. His stories often had to do with people he met along the way. His grandfather was a sailor, and he loved to tell about his exploits. Another story was about a poet who wasn’t respected during his life; however, after his death, the poet became well-known, and his estate became wealthy. He said the story was an allegory about all the people who work hard in life but never get to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Many of his stories were tributes to the spirit of the people he met. While the story’s facts might not have been actual, the persons inspiring the tale were real.
Some stories he shared were about real people close to him. His children were often fodder for his stories, as was his wife. He would tell a story about an actual incident when he and his family were in Jamaica. He was confused for a drug kingpin, and the government tried to shoot them out of the sky.
He also wrote stories that were pure fun to listen to. Several of his stories were turned into books that became bestsellers. His knack for storytelling was only surpassed by his business acumen. My friend had a sharp eye for marketing himself and his brand. People wanted to dress like him and act like him. His tales were often repeated by those who called him a friend. He became so popular that he was the wealthiest man in his profession, according to Forbes Magazine.
In case you haven’t realized, I am talking about the late Jimmy Buffett. No, I didn’t know him personally, but he was a friend, no less. From the first time I heard Come Monday in 1974, I was hooked on the songs and tales of the man. I was not the only one, either. His legions of fans were called Parrotheads, and we were a part of his extended family. The stories I referenced were his songs about anything that struck his fancy. Jimmy wrote words to make you happy, words to make you cry, to borrow a line from the song Death of an Unpopular Poet I referenced above.
This past week, I have spent much time listening to his songs all over again as my own way of grieving the loss of someone whose words so embodied the fabric of mine and many other people’s lives. Jimmy Buffett was an icon who was a national treasure. He dug his heels in, and with his prose, either in song or his novels, he wrote the songs that made the whole world sing; without disrespect to Barry Manilow, his songs were recognizable worldwide. His song, Margaritaville, was inducted into the Library of Congress’ Audio Treasures worthy of preservation for all time in April of this year. There are only 625 inducted recordings out of 4 million in the Library archives.
There are Margaritaville Hotels, Restaurants, a Cruise Ship, Tequilla, and many other branded items. Jimmy has written Two Novels, a collection of Short Stories, and a memoir. He scored the music for the Broadway Play based on Herman Wouk’s novel Don’t Stop the Carnival. It is appropriately titled Escape to Margaritaville. He produced 58 albums and 67 singles (to date- there is a new album due out in November). It is no wonder Forbes named him to their Billionaire list this year.
One thing I have learned this past week is that Jimmy Buffett not only wrote songs about a life most of us dreamed of, but he also lived life to the fullest. He had toured all the way up to May 20th of this year before his cancer progressed enough to make him cancel tour dates. Long-time band member and friend Mac McAnally said one of the last things he said to Mac was, “Wow, What a Ride.”
Buffett was working on a final album, Equal Strain on Equal Parts, due in November. Just days after his passing, three new singles were released. The first title is Bubbles Up; I think he was telling us Parrotheads that life goes on and pointing us to his philosophy of life. Even though we are sad about his passing, we will always have his music and the joy those songs bring us. So, as I close this, I am reminded by the song's words that no matter what comes my way, I need to follow the philosophy of the diver and look for the bubbles, which always go up. And follow the bubbles to the surface, where I can get my bearings once again. My musical companion for over fifty years has once again offered one last story to point me toward home.