“Let those winds of time blow over my head, I’d rather die while I’m living than live while I’m dead.” — Growing Older but Not Up, Jimmy Buffett
I have always believed that music is a powerful force in emotional health. I can’t imagine anyone not having an emotional reaction to hearing certain songs, whether they come with positive or negative associations. I know that for me, there are a few particular songs that can drastically improve my mood and a few others that, when I hear them, take me to specific times and places (e.g., Brickhouse by the Commodores immediately takes me back to the Menlo Park, CA Burgess Dance Parties of middle school vintage…yes, I am embarrassed).
With that in mind, I wish to a report a recent music-related incident.
“If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.” — Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude
A few weeks ago, I went to a Jimmy Buffett concert. If you know me, you know that I am a total Parrothead dork. If you didn’t know this about me, I’m sorry to say that you now do. I’ve seen him easily 25 times or more – I have lost count, or maybe I just can’t count that high.
It’s not that Buffett’s music is the best there ever was, though it is entertaining. I just like the entire vibe of the Buffett ecosystem. This is a guy that made over $1 Billion peddling sailing songs and boat drinks and takes everyone along for the ride with him, at least for 2 hours on a summer night. So, whenever he is in town, which is nearly every year, or when I am traveling in a town where he is performing, I go. Have I heard every single song at least 10,000 times? Yes. Do I know every word to all of them? Yes. Do I know exactly what “spontaneous ad libs” will occur? Yes. Do I know all the silly hand gestures that go with each of the songs? Oh, hell yes. Do I own a shirt that says “WWJBD?” (What Would Jimmy Buffett Do?) Why yes, guilty as charged. Like I said: Total Parrothead Dork.
The concerts are just plain fun and there is something comforting and familiar in experiencing them over and over. Upon arrival you navigate through the hilarious tiki bar themed tailgating throngs in the parking lot and enter a world entirely of Jimmy Buffett’s creation. When my daughter was a toddler, she always wanted to watch the same movie over and over (until I lied and told her it got lost – it was The Music Man, by the way). This is just my version of the same obsession.
“Can’t you feel them circling, honey?
Can’t you feel them swimming around?
You got fins to the left, fins to the right
And you’re the only bait in town.” — Fins
So, imagine my surprise a few weeks ago, in the middle of Fins, which is definitely one of the sillier songs in the Buffett repertoire, that I suddenly burst out in tears, crying my eyes out like a baby as I looked around. It happened again during Cheeseburger in Paradise. I was watching the entire crowd bat around beach balls and sing through their huge smiles, and tears started streaming down my face. I had to blow my nose. It wasn’t just a little dampness in the corner of my eye, it was full-on bawling. Crazy. All I could think was “WTF”?
“Meanwhile back on this big round ball, Things are getting serious as cholesterol” — What if the Hokey Pokey is Really What It’s All About?
After I got over my own surprise at my teary outburst, I dug into it a little bit – what in the world would make me get so emotional at a Buffett concert with only one margarita on board? Everyone around me looked so damn happy – what was my problem? But then I realized … I was also happy. Really happy. And thus, my self-diagnosis led me here: my sudden rush of intense feeling was a kind of “post-COVID” PTSD-like reaction to seeing people in the act of experiencing entirely unmitigated joy in the presence of thousands of others after several years of its absence. So many of us have been so withdrawn, so separated from our people, so wary of human interaction that the opposite feeling reminded me how wonderful life can be and it brought tears to my eyes. Go figure.
“If it doesn’t work out there will never be any doubt, that the pleasure was worth all the pain.” –The Weather is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful
Given that mental health is on everyone’s mind these days (pardon the pun), it’s not that shocking to think that most of us have yet to entirely process what we have gone through over the past three years since we were sentenced to COVID home confinement and forced to endure all of the social and political crap that has followed. That has been bad enough, but the resulting breakdown in community and the rise of massive mistrust among people in the three years since the onset of COVID has crept into every facet of life, it seems. Sometimes it feels our society has regressed from a (granted, pretty messed up and conflicted) community to an even more disassociated group of primitive tribes eager to find conflict and/or tear each other down. It’s hard to go into a large crowd now, at least for me, without worrying about getting sick or fearing that gunshots will pierce the air. I have become more anxious and had more anticipatory stress than I am used to having and it kind of sucks, to say the least.
And I know I’m not alone.
“With a little love and luck, we will get by.” — Love and Luck
It’s remarkably hard to find situations these days where there are massively diverse sets of individuals having a shared joyful experience. But there we all were at the concert, all 35,000 of us, representing all walks of life. As I scanned the crowd, I saw young and old, white and black and tan, city and country, everyone dressed in their most ridiculous pirate/cheeseburger/shark/parrot hats, Hawaiian gear, coconut bras, hula skirts, concert t-shirts from decades gone by and the rest of the bespoke Buffett wardrobe. Nearly 100% of the mass of people was on its feet. Everyone was dancing and singing their damn hearts out while making shark fin gestures overhead and having the entirely un-self-conscious time of their lives. People who didn’t arrive together were conversing, singing to each other, swaying arm-in-arm and laughing, not reloading, when they got spattered with beer. I was overwhelmed by the unfettered happiness and community spirit emanating from the crowd. It was raucous and silly and transcendent. It took me aback because I had missed it so much, and the tears flowed.
“There’s this one particular harbor, So far and yet so near. I see the days as they fade away, and finally disappear. BUT NOT YET.” — One Particular Harbor
Shortly after the concert, it was reported that Jimmy Buffett had an emergency hospital admission that has forced him to postpone upcoming concert dates. Apparently, he is going to be ok, and I, for one, cannot imagine a world in which any other outcome occurs. Buffett wrote a letter to fans that featured a quote from Mark Twain that reads, “Challenges make life interesting, however overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.”
Truer words were never said.
You put your hand in, you take your hand out
You put your mind in and you shake it all about
You’ve only got two options, having fun or freaking out
And that’s what it’s all about.
— What if the Hokey Pokey is Really What it’s All About?
Note: in case you didn’t already know, all quoted lyrics above are from classic Jimmy Buffett songs. Here’s a video for you in case you haven’t experienced his concert scene with your own eyes. If that’s you, you really need to fix that. Antidepressants have got nothing on Jimmy Buffett.