Headin’ out to San Francisco
For the Labor Day weekend show
I got my Hush Puppies on
I guess I never was meant for glitter rock n’ roll
I’ve been singing these lyrics from Jimmy Buffett’s "Come Monday" all weekend. Sure, it was Labor Day weekend (and I’m hoping you all had a lovely extra day off; I know I did, which is why I’m coming to you midweek with this edition), but it was the news of Buffett’s passing that has kept the song (and other’s, in a kind of abstract collage of lyrics—two or three lines from “A Pirate Looks at Forty” rolling right into the chorus of “Maragitaville” and a few minutes later it’s the bridge from “Cheeseburger in Paradise”) in my head and heart.
I was a fan. I liked his music, just as much riding down country roads in Tennessee as I did lying on a beach in the Florida panhandle. I was (and still am) easily seduced by the idea that permeates Buffett’s music, that idea that life’s too short and work’s too hard and wouldn’t we all be happier if we just took it easy?
That’s his superpower; he’s singing not about a life most of us recognize but one that we’ve imagined, one that we want, one that we suspect someone out there actually has. It was, of course, popularized in a way that wasn’t really in keeping with the characters in his songs: It became vacation (or even weekend) music, not vagabond beach-bum music. I remember going out on Pickwick Lake with friends who had boats, and it was a sure bet that, at some point during the day on the water, Jimmy Buffett would be blaring from the speakers. As nice as the days on the lake were, it wasn’t Key West. It wasn’t tropical. It was a decidedly West Tennessee experience, but Buffett was our bard.
His ideas (or persona) resonate even more these days, as I’m now the pirate approaching 40.
But mostly I associate Jimmy Buffett with my dad. He introduced me to his music. He had all his cassettes, and we’d play them in his navy blue 1984 Ford pickup, going to a ballgame or a Boy Scout camping trip. My parents went to his concerts. I feel his music must have coincided nicely with my dad’s burgeoning interest in scuba diving.
As we got older, it was hard to imagine Dad as a fan, someone who made trips to see shows because he loved a guy’s music. And I know for a long time, my imagined notion of him there fueled my answer to “Who’s someone you want to see live in concert before you die?” I used to say, “I want to see Jimmy Buffett before he dies.” And somewhere in that was the unspoken part: I imagined my dad there with me.
I never made a concerted effort to make that happen. I’m not sure my dad would have wanted to go and join the masses of a modern concert-going experience, even if I had. Mostly, I didn’t really think about both not being here and able. I always though of Jimmy as so much older, that I’d have to hurry to see him, but that one day, Dad and I would wake up and share in the sad news that he’d passed away. Maybe I’d lament how I’d never seen him. Maybe Dad would tell me, once more, of seeing him in Memphis, complete with the part about the guy spilling a full beer down the back of someone in front of them.
There was no phone call, though, for as old as I imagined Jimmy to be, he managed live a few months longer than Dad. I still find hope in Buffett’s reminder, that come Monday, it’ll be all right, but it’s been hard to remember in 2023.
Sign up for Critical Linking
If you like what you read here, don't forget to sign up so you don't miss any of my writing.
No spam. Unsubscribe anytime.
Ten Worth Your Time
- I don’t see Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s byline as much these days, and it bums me out. She’s likely pursuing other projects after her novel Fleishman is in Trouble (already a new project from her magazine-writing day job) needed to be adapted into a miniseries on Hulu, which she did, but despite all the success I wish her in new ventures, I continue to be on the lookout for new magazine pieces. When I heard of Jimmy Buffett’s passing, I thought of this New York Times Magazine gem from her from a few years ago. It’s not as celebrated as some of her other celebrity profiles, but she tackles an interesting angle with her typical excellence: How does a man who got famous for popularizing the lifestyle of the lovable slacker, the beach bum who’d rather boat and fish than hold down an office job, maintain any semblance of that ethos when he’s become such a huge brand? (To quote Jay-Z: He’s not a businessman; he’s a business, man.) Jimmy Buffett Does Not Live the Jimmy Buffett Lifestyle (Gift Article)
- I’ve written a good deal in recent weeks about A.I. and how it’s reshaping the landscape for our entertainment. In honor of Labor Day, check out this recent piece from the Los Angeles Review of Books on the ongoing writers’ and actors’ strikes in Hollywood.
- I’ve been listening to an audiobook by Nelson DeMille and Alex DeMille called The Deserter. It’s a pretty standard piece of N. DeMille work: a smart-ass investigator-type teams up with a beautiful partner to solve some kind of mystery. This one was loosely inspired by Bowe Bergdahl’s case, which you may remember from the news of a decade ago, or maybe by what many considered a disappointing follow-up second season of the hit podcast Serial. As a result, I’ve been thinking a lot about the war in Afghanistan, and luckily for me, The Atlantic excerpted a long piece from a new book about President Biden. The piece paints a truly gripping account of the of America’s final days in Afghanistan: what was happening, what complications the decision-makers faced, the terrible tragedies, all of it. It was a great refresher course on a chaotic period of our recent history.
- The New Yorker made an issue that dug into its extensive archive, with a specific focus: stories about animals. In the collection was one from David Grann, who, back in 2004, wrote about the search for the giant squid. It’s full of fascinating facts and lore about the incredibly rare creatures, but more than that, it has one of the saddest endings to a magazine story you can imagine.
- Slate also recently published an adventure from the sea: a firsthand account from a woman who, while out kayaking off the California coast, was gobbled up, Jonah-style, by a humpback whale. Just a wild story. Bonus: There’s a link to a local newscast which contains video from her POV when it happened and also from others nearby and it’s plain as day: Lady gets snarfed down by whale.
- Before we leave the water, the Atavist Magazine has a new feature story by Robert Kolker(recently highlighted in these links because of his book on the victims of the Gilgo Beach serial killer). This one is a deep dive into the largest peacetime disaster in American naval history. Bonus: The U.S. Navy is at a crossroads, according to Eric Lipton in the New York Times, but like steering its own battleships, it’s a slow process to turn a behemoth onto a new heading.
- Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast Revisionist History is unveiling a new miniseries on guns. The first episode is out, and it talks about a case from the 17th century that weighed heavily on the U.S. Supreme Court’s reasoning in its most-recent landmark 2nd Amendment case. As with most topics tackled on the podcast, the story isn’t quite what you think it will be. I look forward to the rest of the series because guns will continue to be one of the biggest domestic issues of our time, as it seems unlikely that the genie that loosed mass shootings on us will ever go back in the bottle. Relatedly, I just wanted to shout out the power of print journalism (and the journalists who make it) by celebrating the coverage by UNC students of the campus shooting that killed a professor. The paper took a collection of terrified and confused text messages and blanketed the front page with them. It’s a simple design but an immensely powerful one. Take a look at it here.
- Though I’m clearly a Millennial by my age, to the extent that I believe anything significant is communicated by our generation, I feel the influence of Gen X most acutely. It (to me) is the generation that’s most associated with the 1990s, which is the period with which I associate most of my childhood (though teenage years wouldn’t come for me until the 2000s). But whenever I hear descriptions of what it means to be Gen X, its descriptions and traits, I feel like, in many instances, those same descriptors and traits could be used to describe me. So whenever I see things written about Gen X or exploring its sensibilities, I can’t help but rush to read it. The latest Harper’s cover story is all about Gen X, and while ultimately it reads as a sad essay (not to mention academic), it still plays a lot of the greatest hits and goes deeper into explaining some key aspects of this forgotten generation. Additionally, the author of the article talked about the essay on the Harper’s podcast.
- Back in Wyoming, I once wrote a story about Dungeons and Dragons. Kids who were passionate about the game had developed a sort of community around it after one of the students insisted on creating a club in his high school. I visited with the students and sat in on club meetings and got to know why the classic game meant so much to the participants. It was, I thought, a pretty good story. But this one, published by the Marshall Project, is much better. “When Wizards and Orcs Came to Death Row,” a near-perfect title, tells you everything you need to know about the stakes in this story.
- I loved going to see the new film Bottoms at my local arthouse movie theater this past week. It was so funny, probably funnier than I even expected. It was a brash, zany, perpetually horny story about two best friends, both lesbians, who are overlooked and practically nonexistent in their high school’s social ecosystem, and after a rumor gets started that they spent the summer in juvie, they parlay that “experience” into running a fight club for other girls at the school. Their goal? That hopefully some of the attractive, popular girls at school might attend, in hopes that they might score a date with them. Hilarity ensues. Check out this review in Rolling Stone that sums it up well.
Here’s a collection of what I’ve been consuming in the past week.
The legend for my list was stolen from Steven Soderbergh, where ALL CAPS represents a movie, Sentence Case is a TV show, ALL CAPS ITALICS is a short film, Italics is a book, and bold is a live performance or show. A number in parentheses after a TV show highlights how many episodes I watched. An asterisk after an entry means it’s a rewatch. The source of the movie or show, whether streaming service, physical media, or in theaters, is shown in parentheses as well.
2/29: INSIDE JOB*
8/30: Justified: City Primeval
8/31: THE EQUALIZER
9/1: THE EQUALIZER 2; BOTTOMS; FORD V. FERRARI*
9/2: GHOST IN THE SHELL; Reservation Dogs, S2 (7); Only Murders in the Building, S3; CASINO
9/3: St. Louis Cardinals vs. Pittsburgh Pirates
Sign up for Critical Linking
Musings of all sorts, plus weekly roundup of the best journalism and writing and recommendations for what to watch, read, listen to, and more.
No spam. Unsubscribe anytime.