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Heard It on the Coconut Telegraph: Live Like Jimmy Buffett


Tifton Grapevine

Hemingway once said, “Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he livedand how he died that distinguishone man from another.”

When the singer-songwriter-author-entrepreneur Jimmy Buffett died Friday night, it affected many of us unexpectedly. It’s not that we knew him personally, but we felt we knew him through his music and through the way he lived.

And it felt that we lost something, perhaps our youth or maybe the illusion of it. After all, Buffett’s concerts brought out the inner child in us. We may have adult responsibilities and obligations but for a couple of hours while he was on stage, we were young again with no other duty than to enjoy the moment and have fun.

There was a sense of camaraderie at his concerts. Many of us at his shows were about the same age and were united not just by the music but the beach lifestyle. We met new friends at his concerts, at the tailgates beforehand, and through Buffett-related social media. We even gathered for Buffett-themed parties in the Florida homes of new friends.

And there was always another Buffett concert ahead.

I wasn’t always a Jimmy Buffett fan. When I was in college during the ‘70s when Buffett’s music first hit the radio, I was a music critic for my college newspaper. I dismissed his music as lightweight and silly. “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” “Pencil Thin Mustache”give me a break! I was a bit of a snob when it came to music.

But as Bob Dylan has said, “I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now.”

During our first trip to Key West in 1987 to attend the “Hemingway Days” festival, Bonnie popped in a cassette of Buffett’s album “Coconut Telegraph” which she had taped from a friend’s record. I had never really listened to Buffett before then. During the long drive to the Keys, we listened to the album over and over, and I finally got it.

Jimmy Buffett was essentially saying not to take yourself too seriously. All you’ve gotis this moment and “it’s a lovely cruise.”

“Put it on the Coconut Telegraph in 25 words or less,” he sang. He was speaking my language; in the newspaper business we used to say write your lead in 25 words or less.

I hadn’t known that Buffett had started out as a reporter for Billboard magazine in Nashville.

Another song on the album, “Growing Older but Not Up,” also hooked me. “Let those winds of time blow over my head; I'd rather die while I'm living than live while I'm dead,” Buffet sang.

In other words, he didn’t want to just exist, eking out his days, but living each one to the fullest.

That is how he lived and how he died. When he was put in the hospital for a couple of weeks in the spring, Buffett couldn’t just lay there so he wrote songs for a new album. In early July, when doctors told him to rest from his cancer treatments, he instead jumped in his plane and piloted it from his home in New York state to Rhode Island to appear unannounced on stage at an outdoor concert with one of his bandmates.

Last week when he began Hospice care, his friend Paul McCartney visited and sang to him.

Right up to the last minute, his eyes still twinkled with a humor that said, ‘I love this world and I’m going to enjoy every minute of it,’” McCartney wrote in a tribute.

In his last released album, Buffett said: “Live, relive, learn to forgive; live like it's your last day.”

We would all do well to take that advice and to not take ourselves too seriously.

As Jimmy Buffett said years ago:

“Yesterdays are over my shoulder,

So I can't look back for too long.

There's just too much to see waiting in front of me,

and I know that I just can't go wrong.”

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