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You didn’t have to be a Jimmy Buffett fan to know his music, and to understand its appeal. You can’t help but smile, and tap your toes or even swing your hips, hearing “Margaritaville.” You may not know the full songs, but lyrics about lost shakers of salt and cheeseburgers in paradise conjure up lazy days on the beach, fun times with friends.
Jimmy Buffett was a purveyor of happiness. The singer died on Friday at the age of 76. His fans, in Maine and around the world, were left stunned and saddened but thankful for his music and his message about living and enjoying life.
“Jimmy Buffett was the poet laureate of salty pirates everywhere,” former Bangor Daily News reporter and longtime Buffett fan John Ripley told the newspaper’s editorial board. “While he made his living selling escapism the core of his message was kindness, laughter, generosity and not taking oneself too seriously.”
Here’s how a fan described the singer’s appeal when he performed in Bangor last year.
“He sings songs about his life, and we’ve all lived different parts of our lives that we can hear in his songs,” Karen Stanhope Ryder, a Greenville native who lived in New Hampshire, said last August. “And we don’t want to grow up. Who wants to grow up?”
A homage to youth, to a seemingly care-free life full of joy and friends. It is easy to see why so many people adored not just Buffett but his music and the concerts, which morphed into parties, including festivities that filled parking lots long before and after his concerts in Bangor in 2016 and 2022.
As BDN writer Emily Burnham put it in August 2022:
“A Jimmy Buffett show is a traveling carnival, with a caravan of rum-drinking, grass skirt-wearing, uninhibited fans following the beloved singer-songwriter all around the world as he plays his songs about life, love and good times to huge crowds.”
And, what a party it was, as seen in a BDN photo gallery. Legions of fans dressed in Hawaiian print shirts or tie-dyed shirts, leis around their necks. All had smiles plastered across their faces.
While his music didn’t win much critical acclaim, Buffett’s focus on the beach life and search for simple pleasures found a large and grateful audience. Some fans, called Parrotheads, went to dozens, even a couple hundred, shows.
“It’s pure escapism is all it is,” Buffett told the Republic of his life and his brand, which grew to include restaurants, resorts, food and, of course, drinks. “I’m not the first one to do it, nor shall I probably be the last. But I think it’s really a part of the human condition that you’ve got to have some fun. You’ve got to get away from whatever you do to make a living or other parts of life that stress you out. I try to make it at least 50/50 fun to work and so far it’s worked out.”
That commitment to having fun — whether it was on his sailboat built by Hinckley in Southwest Harbor or hanging out in Key West — was contagious. Which may explain why so many people, even those who weren’t fans of his music, are mourning his death.
“I have never had the reaction to a celebrity death as I did with Jimmy Buffett’s passing. While I took family and many friends to more than 30 shows, I never met the man,” longtime Maine business executive and U.S. Naval Academy graduate Matt Jacobson told the BDN on Tuesday.
“I spent some quiet time on my sailboat this weekend trying to understand why my grief was so deep,” he added. “It seems to me that my grief comes from the realization that all those good times, and many of the friends who joined me for Buffett weekends will never come back. Like a line from ‘Changes in Latitudes’: All of the faces and all of the places wonderin’ where they all disappeared.”
We obviously can’t speak for Buffett, but we’re guessing he’d encourage us to remember him by gathering friends together, raising a glass and making sure those fun times don’t disappear.