Jimmy Buffett made it to the top of my Spotify playlist this week.
He nudged out Rodriguez and The Band for the number one spot. Buffett, one of the most treasured figures in music, has been a part of my life since 1974. For a man who, by his own admission wasn’t a great singer or guitar player, Buffett managed to find a niche that has inspired generations to don parrot heads, dress in outrageous Hawaiian shirts, and unleash their inner pirate.
Come Monday was the first song I learned to play on guitar. I was 13. I’d just had three lower back surgeries to treat pilonidal sinus and was told by the doctor that I had to sit out the rugby league season. To keep me occupied Mum and Dad bought me a guitar and one songbook. Buffett’s Come Monday had the easiest chords so I went to the record store, paid about 99 cents for the 45 (for any young readers, that’s a single record with an A and B side), and played along with it until I finally mastered it.
His death this month at just 76 came as a shock. Especially coming so close after the passing of Sixto Rodriguez and The Band’s Robbie Robertson. This trio – along with Bob Scaggs and Bruce Springsteen – helped me as a teenager understand who I was, and who I wanted to be. All these artists were inspiring storytellers. They were people who could capture a lasting emotion with just a few words. They could make you incredibly sad with one song, and then make you cry tears of joy with the next. They taught me how to feel, and how to express myself.
I grew up in a house where the men didn’t talk much. I can hardly remember my Pop Roy Crisp ever saying anything. He was a lovely soft man who taught me how to chip golf balls and would put a bowl on my head once a month to give me a haircut. My grandmother Mimi did all the talking. Mum did all the talking in our house. Growing up in the 1970s really was different. For men (or boys) to show their feelings was considered a weakness. “Real men don’t cry.” And to share your feelings with someone else was frowned upon. “People don’t want to hear about your problems!”
I went to school at Edmund Rice in Wollongong – a Catholic all-boys college run by the Christian Brothers, who when we had done something wrong would make us hold the Bible across our wrists while they used a thick piece of rubber to whack our hands. Trust me, you kept your emotional cards close to your chest in that environment. It was not for the faint-hearted. Today, everyone shares their feelings. They share. And share. And share. It’s exhausting for someone from my generation.
I found solace in my youth in song lyrics. Lyrics taught me about life outside the small country town where I was born and raised. Some people listen to the tune when they play a record. I track down the lyrics and try to understand what has inspired the songwriter. It is truly an art form to be able to tell an epic story of escapism – like Springsteen’s Born To Run – using only a couple of hundred words. I was introduced to Rodriguez and Bob Scaggs by one of my teachers. He was younger than most of the other teachers, had a shock of red hair, and would invite us to his flat after school to listen to music.
I realise that by today’s standards that sounds fraught with danger and I’m sure there are school rules that prohibit it now, but it was the late 1970s, and teachers and students did spend time together outside of school hours. Rodriguez was 81 when he died in August. Robbie Robertson was 80 when he passed in the same month.
76, 80, 81. They might just be numbers to some, but when you are pushing 62, they are numbers that are getting closer and closer every day. It makes you stop and think about your own mortality. It makes you ask yourself: Am I making the most of the time I have left? If I’m lucky I have about 25 percent of my life still to come. That’s not much. The clock is ticking and if you ask anyone over the age of 50, they will tell you that time flies the older you get.
I do listen to modern music, but I always find myself – in reflective moments – slipping out the vinyl records from the protective paper covering and reacquainting myself to the words of Buffett, Scaggs, Rodriguez, The Beach Boys, and The Band. Rodriguez was a Mexican-American who was dubbed the “new Bob Dylan” when he released the album Cold Fact in March 1970. If you don’t know Rodriguez’s story, then you should rent or buy the award-winning Searching for Sugarman film because it is perhaps the greatest rock and roll comeback story of all time.
Robertson, the Canadian songwriter for The Band, penned the classic hits The Weight, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, Up on Cripple Creek and I Shall be Released. Robertson and Rodriguez made you think. Their songs weren’t easy to understand. They often took time to digest and would take you out of your comfort zone and outside of your belief system.
Buffett’s songs were of a far simpler nature. Usually just four chords, he relied on his ability to paint pictures with his words to transport us, as listeners, to a much better place. A place where the party goes on 24 hours a day. A place where there’s a lot of rum, lots of sun, and lots of cheeseburgers. Paradise. Sounds perfect doesn’t it? Enjoy the journey, Jimmy.