I Met Jimmy Buffett Once
by Jonathan Piercy
I met Jimmy Buffett once, at a press conference at Bonnaroo. He and the band had met a young local artist while they were traveling in the Caribbean and they decided to bring him to the States and give him a shot — including a spot on the Which Stage where they appeared as his backing band. They also generously did a few songs of their own.
The moderator of the press conference, a serious music journalist type, started it off with a long and rambling question in which he tried to puff Jimmy’s body of work up into something deep and profound and important. Jimmy listened politely as he went on, then said, “Look, I started playing music to meet chicks. The rest of this…I don’t even know.”
This might have been false modesty, but I really don’t think so. Buffett was, to be sure, a charming dude who wrote a few memorable songs and somehow spun that into a billion dollar empire selling mild escapism and inoffensive rebellion. But a fundamental piece of who he was, I think, was that he’d be the first person to tell you that. Attaching any sort of profundity to his oeuvre (or possibly even referring to it as an “oeuvre”) was missing the point.
I thought about that a lot. I came of age in the 90s, when there was a big dark line drawn between Real Artists and those who inspired any sort of joy. We were deeply suspicious of any performer who made us genuinely smile, especially if they had the temerity to make money in the process.
It took me a long time to let go of that distinction. In those days I would have considered my beaten up Songs You Know By Heart CD to be a guilty pleasure, but I would eventually learn to lean into my guilty pleasures and finally to reject the concept entirely.
Art should be able to provoke us, challenge us, and make us have brand new thoughts and feelings. But it should also be able to keep us company at happy hour after a crappy day at work, or bring a room full of people together as they wave their beers and sing along. Music can change the world, or it can make somebody’s day a little bit better. That’s what’s so fascinating about it.
So on behalf of everyone who ever sat in the corner of a bar with an instrument hoping to maybe connect with somebody, rest easy, Mr. Buffett. Thanks for showing us that it’s not just the frozen concoctions that help us hang on.
Jonathan Piercy is a physician and musician in Hazard, KY.
To read Ace’s September 2023 Fall Guide online, click here.