Wasting away again

I’m never up before sunrise, but I was on Saturday. For whatever reason, I woke up at 4:30 a.m., couldn’t fall back to sleep, and decided to give up and get out of bed. I was making my first pot of coffee when a friend messaged me that Jimmy Buffett had died.

I’m by no means a parrothead, but I have a lot of fondness for Buffett, in part because he was the soundtrack to the first vacation my wife and I took together. I have a lot of great memories of driving along the Lake Erie shore with her, listening to Jimmy Buffett on the car stereo.

Rather than play Buffett’s hits on Saturday, I decided to do a deep-dive into his catalog and play cuts from his first three albums, including “Down to Earth,” which reportedly only sold a few hundred copies during its first release in 1970.

It’s hard to overstate how much easier pulling together such a show is today than it would have been 10 or 20 years ago. By 7 a.m., I was looking at newspaper stories about Buffett written in 1970 and 1971, from local newspapers in Florida, which mentioned what some of his most popular songs were at the time in local coffeehouses and college unions, where he was performing at the time.

As a result, by 9 a.m., I was putting together a playlist that included “Ellis Dee,” “The Peanut Butter Conspiracy,” “Captain America” and “They Don’t Dance Like Carmen No More,” as well as Buffett’s 2006 cover of Bruce Cockburn’s “Wondering Where the Lions Are,” from the little-seen kids movie “Hoot.”

The Internet made that easier, too. Years ago, I would have been pillaging the bins at Jerry’s Records or The Attic, possibly in vain, trying to find physical copies of those albums. With the help of legal digital downloads, I had every song stored on my computer by 10 a.m., and was able to feature a whole passel of Buffett music without playing “Margaritaville” or “Fins.”

Like I said, I wasn’t a parrothead, but I had an admiration for the guy. I’ve recently been working my way through Mark Malkoff’s “The Carson Podcast.” Malkoff is a writer and comedian who has interviewed hundreds of people connected to the late Johnny Carson, and gathered their stories about working at “The Tonight Show,” or appearing on the program.

One of Malkoff’s subjects was Wil Shriner, who has his own Johnny Carson podcast. Shriner worked with Jimmy Buffett on the movie “Hoot,” and came away impressed by Buffett’s work ethic. Despite his image as a beach bum and stoner, Buffett rarely slowed down. Wikipedia lists more than 30 full-length studio LPs in his catalog — sometimes two per year — and despite being treated for cancer, Buffett was wrapping up work on his latest album, “Equal Strain on all Parts,” which will be released posthumously.

Buffett told Shriner he saw himself as a carny — “I put up the tent, do the show, collect the money, move onto the next town.”

I admired Buffett’s hard work, as well as his commitment to his principles. Despite being a staunch liberal, Buffett traveled around the world to play concerts for U.S. troops; despite being worth an estimated $1 billion, which extensive real estate and business holdings, Buffett remained a committed environmentalist.

One thing that puzzled me on Saturday was the number of people who rushed to social media to say they didn’t like Jimmy Buffett or his music. Was that really necessary? You can just say nothing, you know. Keeping quiet remains free.

Maybe they were turned off by Buffett’s rabid fandom, but that never bothered me, either. Other people are allowed to enjoy things that I don’t enjoy, you know, whether it’s comic books, “Star Wars,” Disney princesses or Jimmy Buffett.

One celebrity I follow on social media called Buffett “lucky.” Was he lucky? Because playing hundreds of tour dates every year sounds like hard work, not luck. Maybe getting radio airplay for his early 1970s songs depended on chance and luck, but it seems to me that his continued success required both hard work and talent.

I’ll admit FM radio killed “Margaritaville” and a few of Buffett’s other songs for me about 20 years ago, which is why I didn’t play those songs on Saturday.

I guess I could understand the cynicism if Buffett had been a harmful influence on people, pushing anti-vaccine messages or bigotry, but I’ve never heard anything that suggested he was anything other than what he appeared to be — an extremely hard-working guy who liked to use his money to help other people, and got a lot of enjoyment out of life.

Anyway, if you missed Saturday’s show, a replay is coming up from 12 to 3 p.m. Wednesday on Tube City Online Radio. Drink or smoke whatever you like while you’re listening. And if you don’t like Jimmy Buffett, that’s your prerogative. Feel free to keep it to yourself. Personally, I prefer to save my disdain for people who’ve truly earned it.

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