I applaud Jimmy Buffett. Music is an art that stirs a catalog of emotions so vast you’re sometimes unable to identify all of them. A song can make you feel something for the very first time. It’s as powerful an artistry that has ever existed. Musicians spend their entire lives trying to propel their music beyond the conscious dimensions of that emotional index, many of whom have actually died trying. Then there was Jimmy Buffett; who built an empire mastering just one of them: Escapism. He recognized decades ago that people often just want to be anywhere but where they are. If he can help take them there with simple six-string music, he’s provided a highly desired and very lucrative emotion.
Escapism has been trending since the Great Depression. The era of great hardship that was followed by booming ingenuity. From there our lives became very vertically centric; from the structures we live and work in to the career ladders we’re trying to climb. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. Every success is built from the ground up. But the more vertical our surroundings, the harder it is to see the horizon. All this evasion falling down and exertion going up, it’s imperative we take the time to level out.
Nobody understands this better than Jimmy. Obviously he wasn’t the first musician to summon paradise, but I don’t know if anyone built as successful a brand exclusively doing it. Buffett knows his music doesn’t loop as well in our pumpkin spiced falls or vegetating winters, but he’s happy to lounge patiently down in Key West, comforted by both the luxury his work has afforded him and knowing that burn out and weather patterns will do his promotion for him. We’ll crave the picture painted by his sun-baked tunes while blindly ignoring those easily crafted, yet atrocious lyrics. I’m so happy to hear his trademark coastal-country sound that I’ll ignore he just said “as a dreamer of dreams.” Whatever, just take me to the beach.
Simply put, it’s vacation music. An arrangement of lyrics and sound built around our desire to get away from the drudges of systematic living. It lacks complexity and complication because it understands we have enough of that in our everyday lives. Jimmy Buffett’s approach now spans across all genres, from Hip-Hop to Pop. It’s always had its place in country music, but the so-called “Bro Country” doubled down on escapist messaging and melody in the early 2000’s. Kenny Chesney put half a dozen songs about the arrival of summer on one album and it changed his entire career. His fan base grew exponentially. The entire Country industry followed suit. Songs about beaches, boats, and parties are hitting the charts every spring, conveniently accompanying Spring Breaks and coastal vacations.
This isn’t out of servitude to travel agencies and tourism. It’s the capitalization of the shared bond we have for aspired time off. And now that it’s March, look for business to start booming.
Spring has arrived. The past few months have been a lonely, over eating, binge watching, “how long has that been there?” pondering bore. But as soon as I left my apartment without feeling that blitz of cold air, my desire to play a Jimmy Buffett album took hold. It’s a motivating primer for a vacation. There’s just that matter of needing to take one.
Like a lot of my friends, I’m in that stage in life where I’m not a kid and I have no kids. I don’t have an association with the institutions that predetermine when to take a real vacation (i.e. school). As a result I’ve neglected to plan one. We let our vacation time mount and use a day here and there for a bachelor/bachelorette party or wedding weekend. These events go down like shots of whisky. They are highly concentrated fun and when it’s over you’re more exhausted than you are refreshed. They don’t satisfy our urge to escape, despite trying to convince ourselves they do. Make no mistake, a condensed break without rejuvenation is still just a weekend. A couple days with my friends is pure destruction, regardless of the sanctity of the occasion. By Sunday evening I embrace the work week as a vacation from them. A true vacation shouldn’t destroy us. It should reawaken us in one way or another.
Our mantra of “work hard, play hard” is a detrimental approach of youth that fades both psychologically and quite frankly, biologically as we learn the importance of balance and feel the effects of a slowing metabolism. And making a hard charge at the beginning of your career is certainly noticed by employers, but they’ve given us vacation time to ensure we’re not dealing only in the extreme ends of the spectrum. Compressing vacations into weekends and continuing to burn the candle at both ends has never proven sustainable or lucrative – two things employers like to see. And saving vacation time like its canned goods for your doomsday shelter is as crazy as, well, living your life waiting for the apocalypse. There’s a better than good chance it never gets used.
I’ve never given Jimmy Buffett’s lyrical tales too much acuity. I’m not sure why. It could be because his soliloquies express a desire for a cheeseburger to be served “medium rare with mustard’d be nice” or that he would like to avoid another “Jamaica Mistaica.” But there’s a cautionary lyric found in one of his more popular songs. He sings, “I’m an over 40 victim of fate, arriving too late.” This is crushingly sad. Focusing on your long-term life goals is important, but if you make that your only motivation you won’t really know who you are when you get there. Fate can be altered. Time cannot.
This is why I’m making it a point to get away this vacation season. For me, I need moments of perspective to fully understand what I want and who I am. Perspective doesn’t operate on a one dimensional scale like time does. I can plot my day or even my life linearly with a narrow view. But like listening to music, I can’t measure when and how I’m going to feel something. That’s what escapism feeds into; stepping out of line to expand our view. And in my opinion, it’s tough to beat those ocean sunsets.