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EDITORIAL: Paradise just ain’t what it used to be

September 7, 2023
By Marcy Shortuse

If a hurricane doesn’t leave you dead

It will make you strong.

Don’t try to explain it, just nod your head,

Breathe in, breathe out, move on.

Those words went through my head a time or 10 on September 28th of last year. Since then, as well, as we’ve had our lives turned upside down  dealing with insurance companies, contractors and lots of loss. But it all goes to prove, sometimes nothing explains a good day or a bad one like a Buffett song.

Speaking of loss, this one hurt badly. Jimmy’s gone (too weird for words to think about), but he will never die. He created the music of the parrotheads – the sun-starved, fun-starved masses, who want nothing more than to just lay on a beach in the middle of nowhere and drink rum and watch the dolphins play.

Those of us who lived in the colder climates in years past would eat up every Buffett song on the radio, on our cassette deck and, of course, in concert.

If you never went to a Jimmy Buffett concert, especially up north, where the parrotheads flock by the tens of thousands to bask in the warm sunlight that seemed to emanate from Jimmy and the Coral Reefers, I can only feebly try to explain it. 

When parrotheads get together in a flock, the energy they raise through the sheer act of congregation makes you realize that, no matter whether they are bank CEOs or bartenders, at some point they’ve all dreamed of becoming a pirate or stowing away on a ship bound for the Caribbean. 

Jimmy understood that folks want to forget about their daily humdrum lives and think about a parallel universe with no responsibilities, no snow, no bosses and no expectations made of them – only sunshine, sand and clear blue water, bottles of rum and boat drinks and endless tropical nights with friends in a bar that has sand on the floor and nothing to do tomorrow but eat, sleep and repeat.

I’ve often wondered how many wayward parrotheads, both rich and poor, moved to the Sunshine State or somewhere tropical based almost solely on the lyrics of a Jimmy Buffet song. The emotion and longing for a carefree life that comes with immersing yourself in his music is that strong. 

You just wanna go where it’s warm.

He may not have been known as a poet, but Jimmy’s lyrics could hold as much sway on your soul as the words of a poet like Thoreau. To paraphrase that great writer, Jimmy’s philosophy was basically, “I went to the sea because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.”

Hanging out on the “Hoot” set, Gasparilla Inn Golf Course.
Photo by Susanne Darna Dudley

He did, too. From the time he was young and still able to dip his toe in the pool of mischief and iniquity, to the time when he was too famous (and maybe a little too old) to really be doing that stuff anymore, he still sang about it. And even though many of us were too bogged down with responsibility (and maybe a little to old) to participate in those fun, daring, alcohol-fueled and often illegal escapades, we sure as heck wanted to hear him sing about them. 

It must have been hard sometimes to sing those songs for the gazillionth time, after maybe trying to play one of his songs that was brilliant but not as mainstream, and have some jackwagon scream, “CHEESEBURGER IN PARADISE!” But he was a decent man who cared about his fans, and as he stood on a stage and looked out over a sea of faces who so desperately needed to find some hope, some peace, maybe a couple of laughs … he would play “Cheeseburger.” Again and again and again.

His empire grew to be incredibly vast, and it continued to grow over several decades, I know it had to be hard for a simple guy to take it all in, to try to remain true to himself and not become just a logo or a brand. Most importantly, to try to remain that same salty bard that his fans didn’t just love … they craved. They needed. 

Jimmy was the enticing thought of sun and surf on a gray Chicago day. He was the trapdoor escape to Margaritaville in a world that has grown crazier, less logical and more against the common man with each passing year. For sure, there’s fins to the left, fins to the right, and I’m the only girl in town, man. I get it. Millions of people do. Because paradise just ain’t what it used to be.

Marcy Shortuse is the editor of the Boca Beacon. You can reach her at