Guest columnist Jonathan Klate: Jimmy Buffett tribute — There’s common ground in joy

  • Singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett performs on Nov. 4, 2011, before fans on Duval Street in Key West, Fla. Buffett, who popularized beach bum soft rock, died Sept. 1. FLORIDA KEYS NEWS BUREAU VIA AP

  • ">

    Jimmy Buffett performing on NBC's "Today" show in New York on July 29, 2016. Buffett, who popularized beach bum soft rock died Sept. 1. AP—Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

Published: 10/2/2023 5:04:46 PM
Modified: 10/2/2023 5:03:46 PM

I know I’m late to the party here … but I feel compelled to add my voice to the chorus of warm remembrance for the late Jimmy Buffettt. Of course, Buffett never cared when you got to the party as long as you showed up relaxed and grinning.

Many long years ago I was a professional singer/songwriter. I actually have two albums of original music to my credit and played clubs and bars in Nashville, Aspen, NYC and Boston, and other venues around the country. I am moved by good songs and admire the architecture of writing and producing them.

A while back a friend who is a well-known progressive political pundit wrote on a blog post from a Caribbean island that he would steer clear of beach bars if he heard sounds of Jimmy Buffett wafting out and head instead for those playing Bob Marley to find better company. I surprised him by saying I’d be happy in either.

And a few years ago I was in a conversation with another friend with an encyclopedic knowledge of music produced in the past 60 years or so and we got into a discussion of our favorite singer/songwriters. I ticked off some on my list that included Dylan, Joni Mitchel, Leonard Cohen, Jackson Browne, Kate Wolf … and Jimmy Buffett. “Jimmy Buffett?” he queried incredulously.

The difference between Buffett and these other outstanding artists is that they were always looking for something down some lonely highway, around the next corner, in the next romance, or more deeply in the inner recesses of their complicated souls. Must a song poet be morose and dwell in the dark inner terrain of perpetually yearning for the ever-receding chimera of whatever it might be they are endlessly seeking to be taken seriously?

It’s as though if you are satisfied, not in some ultimate nirvana dimension of perfect liberation from human suffering, but right here, right now, your aspirations must be superficial and you shouldn’t be taken seriously as an artist; you know, not enough suffering. Buffett preferred to party in this crazy world and invited us all to join in. He found what he was looking for, enjoyed it to the max, and shared it with everyone.

It’s not as though he lacked a sense of tragic irony. If you doubt that, search out his poignant ballad “Death of an Unpopular Poet.” He just chose not to wallow in it. He had a much better sense of humor than the solemn Homers of the songwriting world while taking himself far less seriously than anyone else in his singer/songwriter cohort. And, he was a truly great rhymer sometimes reminiscent of the immortal Yip Harburg.

Buffett cheered people up, and man, oh man could we use more of that. He lived and shared the experience of being fully alive with joy and exuberance and enthusiasm, and a relaxed attitude, and the capacity to share that joy with others, and help them feel it, too. His friend, Paul McCartney, wrote that, “Right up to the last minute his eyes twinkled with humor that said, “I love this world and I’m going to enjoy every minute of it!”

I wonder if some of those with progressive political inclinations think that Mr. Buffett’s marvelous business success and accruement of wealth disqualify him from consideration as a true artiste? What do you suppose the perpetually touring Bob Dylan is worth? Blue collar hero Bruce Springsteen sold his catalog for a reported $600 million, and concert tickets for his shows can run into multiple thousands of dollars. Paul Simon is surely a multi-centimillionaire. And Taylor Swift? Fuhgeddaboudit.

But, here’s the thing. These days liberals agonize about how to find common ground with conservatives. Buffett was a political liberal who disdained Donald Trump, but I’d wager that the great majority of his fans don’t care and incline to the right politically. He took delight in all people and showed us a way to find common ground, and so many of my liberal friends did not find themselves happy to stand upon it with him, and them … you know, those simple-minded “parrot heads.”

Like my condescending friend, they’d walk past that bar rather than join the party when what we need is to find ways to sing and dance and enjoy one another.

No matter what’s happening these ominous days in our quaking world and riven nation, it’s OK to party sometimes. It’s OK. And most importantly, everyone’s invited!

As Jimmy sang:

Where it all ends I can’t fathom my friends

If I knew I might toss out my anchor

So I cruise along always searchin’ for songs

Not a lawyer a thief or a banker

But a son of a son, son of a son

Son of a son of a sailor

Son of a gun, load the last ton

One step ahead of the jailer

Here’s to you, JB. Fins up!

Jonathan Klate lives in Amherst.


Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, your leading source for news in the Pioneer Valley.

Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

23 Service Center Road
Northampton, MA 01060


Copyright © 2021 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy