Jimmy Buffett: An inspiration to share your talents

Jimmy Buffett – photographed by Jean Pagliuso

The news that Jimmy Buffett injured himself after falling off the stage at the end of his last concert in Sydney, would have dismayed many people looking forward to his concert in Auckland last night, which was cancelled. Thankfully he is recovering okay and promises to return in 2012.

It has been twenty years since Jimmy Buffett toured Australia and New Zealand. And for over twenty years now, words from his songs have inspired me to keep on going through many trials and tribulations, picking up my spirits when I was low. I never tire of his music—especially when so many words resonate, like the following:

“Be good and you will be lonesome (a quote from Mark Twain)
Be lonesome and you will be free.
Live a lie and you will live to regret it…
That’s what living is to me.”

An American friend introduced me to Buffett’s music in 1985. He sent me a tape with a selection of his favourite songs, along with a letter saying, “I was listening to Jimmy Buffett albums all morning. His songs affect me in all types of ways—happy, sad, lonely, excited and just make me feel good to be alive sometimes.”

I played that tape so much I wore it out and had to repair it. I loved the songs with a passion I had never felt for any other singer. I guess it helped that I could readily identify with a person who has had hard times, but was able to bounce back to rise above it all to make the very best of the talents he has. The ability to defy being held down for long is very much a quality I admire.

So, when I found out Jimmy Buffett was in Australia in 1988 (for the first time, I think) to see the America’s Cup races in Perth, and before leaving was going to do a concert in Brisbane (where I was living at the time), I knew I just had to see him in person. However the concert was booked out. Undaunted, I discovered the hotel he was going to stay at and sent him a letter saying how much I love his music and, could I perhaps interview him since I was writing a book about sailing. At the time I was rebuilding a yacht that had foundered on a sandbar.

You can imagine my total surprise that he actually called me when he arrived in Brisbane and chatted for about ten minutes, then said, “I can’t have you miss my concert. I’ll leave two tickets for you at the ticket office and passes to see me afterwards.” I guess that speaks volumes for the nature of the man. Needless to say, I loved every minute of the show. Meeting him afterwards and chatting about boats and sailing and writing books was an added special touch. I also went to his Hot Water concert in 1988, and since I was working hard to bring the magic back into my life after a bitter divorce, these words particularly resonated:

Bring back the magic;
don’t make life to tragic…
Nothing can tear you apart
If you keep living straight from the heart
Though you know that you’re gonna hurt some
The magic will come…
If you keep living straight from the heart,
You will know when to stop and to start,
Once you see that no one really wins
Then the magic begins.

Wise words, and gradually this is happening in my life.

I remember playing Pencil Thin Moustache to children during a drama class where they had to make up their own dances. And it lifted the spirits within us all by putting instant smiles on our faces in a somewhat rigid and stifling traditional school, where I was the ‘weird’ teacher who did ‘strange’ things. Not long afterwards, one girl gave me a framed plaque of dried flowers she had made herself, with the words: A few drops of caring soon grow into a pool of love.

On another occasion, I used this song to help a small group of children who couldn’t stop fighting, access the good they had in them by acting out images they saw in the music. I smiled to myself when I noticed the pleasure it inspired. Wow, I thought, I bet Jimmy would never in his wildest dreams imagine how I was using his song. And it made me think about how connected we all are and that by sharing our talents, we can positively impact so many people and create good in the world.

I also remember the time I stayed up all night to finish a painting for a competition, playing on repeat Happily Ever After (Now and Then) from the Banana Wind album, and getting high on the words, the gum turps (and probably the red wine as well). Buffett’s great words of advice played on and on for hours…

Take it from me ‘cause I found
If you leave it then someone else is bound
To find that treasure, that moment of pleasure
When yours it could have been…

It was like a haunting message, prompting many memories of hanging back, waiting for others to have their turn and then finding there was nothing left for me. I thought about how I’d been too hesitant all my life, perhaps scared of reaching for my own greatness as if I didn’t quite deserve it. I decided then that painting was what I would rather be doing more than anything else…that it was my life and the way I wanted to live it. And it felt rich and full and satisfying. Thinking about the impact Jimmy Buffett’s music had on me, I realised that by sharing my talents, my paintings have impacted others in ways I never would have dreamed. One woman even cried while looking through my portfolio. Another was inspired to begin painting after chatting with me at one of my exhibitions. And now she is bringing beauty and inspiration to others.

With these thoughts and more flowing through my head, early the following morning my neighbour, Geraldine, called in with a pot of coffee after noticing that I had been up all night. The camaraderie of sharing something we both love has been a special gift, and the more we share our work and appreciate what the other is doing, a bond is developing between us which has the quality of magic. And wouldn’t you know it; she now loves Jimmy Buffett’s music, too.

So a big ‘thank you’ Jimmy Buffett for being such an inspiration, a great talent, and a great guy. All the best for a speedy recovery and I look forward to seeing you in Auckland—next year!

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