I had two t-shirts way back in high school and college. I wore them to death. The label was “Caribbean Soul”, and they featured nautical art and some words that were evocative, even if I honestly didn’t know where they were from. It took me a few years but I wore those poor shirts to the point of unwearability.
Then, in 1998, while shopping in Disney World while celebrating our first anniversary, I found new versions of those same shirts. The art was slightly different, but somehow better. I bought them both, and I have kept those shirts in very good condition ever since. I only wear them a handful of times a year and am careful about washing them. That’s how it works, you see.
Here’s the back of one of the shirts.
I don’t know when I realized that those words are actually lyrics from a Jimmy Buffett song, but that did come as rather a shock.
I wasn’t a big Jimmy Buffett fan for a long time. I didn’t have anything against him, really–it was just that he didn’t really speak to me directly. Or so I thought. It’s easy to think that of an artist when they have a huge body of work that somehow only ever gets reduced down to one or two songs. In a way, Jimmy Buffett was rather like Van Morrison for me, in reverse: I knew that Van Morrison is a genius song-writer and singer with a huge and rich body of work, that somehow gets reduced down to “Brown Eyed Girl”. Ditto Mr. Buffett and “Margaritaville”, which is a good song–but that’s not all he did. Not by a long shot.
The lyrics on that shirt are from “A Pirate Looks At Forty”, which is actually now my favorite Buffett song. Of course, I still haven’t heard enough of Buffett’s work to say that “A Pirate Looks At Forty” will remain my favorite, if I listen to more of him, but for now…this is it.
Of course, Jimmy Buffett died just the other day. The outpouring of grief in my community, online and off, was as large as it was touching; Buffett is a man whose music has moved a lot of hearts and offered balm to a lot of souls, whether weary or not. Apparently Buffett had been ill for some time, but he also passed in the company of his family and his dogs. I assume the ocean was near. He lived in Sag Harbor, New York. I would have thought that he lived somewhere nearer warmer waters…but the ocean is the ocean, isn’t it? You can hear Mother Ocean’s call in any port.
Some people pointed out Buffett’s earlier work, written before he landed on the “Beachcomber” lifestyle as his brand, as speaking to them most directly. I gave one such song a listen, for the first time, and I was quite surprised by what I heard in “Come Monday”. This is almost a pure country song, from a wonderful little subgenre that seems to have reached its height in country music of the 1970s: a man wanting nothing more than to go home and be with his lover, and more often than not, knowing that he can’t. “Come Monday” lives in the same heartspace as Eddie Rabbit’s “Every Which Way But Loose”, Charlie Rich’s “I’ll Wake You Up When I Get Home”, and Ray Price’s “For the Good Times”.
For all of Jimmy Buffett’s air of “Grab a rum drink, pull up a chair, and let’s sing a while on the sand”, he really does seem to have been able to capture the most wistful sides of life along the way. The sea often feels like home, but you can’t always go back, can you?
Anyway, thanks for the music, Jimmy Buffett. I think the cannons have a little thunder left, personally….