Today’s Florida — with its neo-Nazi demonstrators screaming along highways and hysterical moms trying to stop their kids, and ours, from being happily gay — is the anti-Jimmy Buffett.
Combative. Hideous. Leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
This is why the Margaritaville icon’s death, at 76, four years after being diagnosed with the rare skin cancer called Merkel cell carcinoma, has hit us particularly hard. He was the good American personified — goofy, carefree, and a wanderer in flowery shirts, at home and in the world.
In the state the Mississippi-born, Alabama-raised Buffett adopted as his own, we mourn far more than the death of a charismatic singer-songwriter and his soul-lifting music, urging us to laugh at life as the antidote to insanity.
We also grieve the destruction of the laid-back paradisaical Florida, the metaphorical and physical state evoked in so many of his songs, a state of mind that extended well beyond Key West — and now feels lost to fascist, divisive GOP politics epitomized by the rhetoric of Gov. Ron DeSantis.
In Buffett’s simpler world, the threats to “livin’ in the sunshine” and his island escapism lifestyle were the mobile home parks encroaching on the Keys and bringing “ugly” and “square” people who disapproved of his Parrothead fans “covered in oil.”
“Got a Caribbean soul I can barely control and some Texas hidden here in my heart,” he sang in “Migration,” which wasn’t about border-crossing asylum seekers.
Favorite Florida man
How far we have traveled from that groovy mix of a Florida man.
Better doped on rum and weed than being fed a daily dose of fear and loathing.
Now, we can’t even enjoy our oceans without in-our-face reminders that our state is “Trump Nation” and that so-called patriots who think it’s OK to overthrow an election are in charge.
His passing reminds us that, when we came of age, Hobie cats and yachts sailing on Biscayne Bay didn’t sport the flag of a traitor to democracy. The beach tailgaters in New Smyrna and Daytona didn’t feel the need to plant U.S. flags on the sand next to their open trunks, code for alliance to the extreme right choking the rights of minorities in the state.
No, in Buffett’s world, we were truly free to be ourselves. No one interrupted our joy in a restaurant or a bar to recruit us into the cult of Trump and his stand-in, Gov. DeSantis.
When I say “we” and “us,” I mean my generation, the post-World War II Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1964 — and I do so with the hope that those who have forgotten that the “Greatest Generation” before us gave their lives to fight fascism wake up to the Florida that GOP politicians have unleashed.
We came of age with music that, no matter what kind you listened to, Motown, rock ‘n’ roll or Buffett — or like me, all of the above plus Cuban and the emerging “Miami sound” — it delivered a sense of belonging and acceptance.
When I came to this country from Cuba as a child in 1969, the ballad moving the country was “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.” And in 1971, when I instinctively became a bridge-builder at my newly integrated elementary school, without even knowing what I was doing, Marvin Gaye questioned, amid racial hatred and upheaval, “What’s going on?”
The music of the 1960s and ‘70s spoke of inclusion and expanding spaces. It marked the fight for civil rights and lingering struggle and the end of a fruitless war in Vietnam. It shaped our national character and our young Boomer selves.
Then, came Buffett with “Margaritaville,” his breakthrough hit in 1977, inviting everyone to his tropical party, celebrating the “feathers, and signs, and pins” — at a time when the orange juice queen of Florida tried to quash a growing gay population.
Buffett and his lyrics were Prozac for the times.
“And I hope Anita Bryant never ever does one of my songs,” he ended his frolicking good “Mañana” tune. “No, no, no.”
He made irreverent music, and ironically, went on to built a pricey resort-living brand often seen as white and elitist, luring people who support Trump and DeSantis.
But those weren’t his politics or his intention.
During the November 2018 midterms, Buffett performed at a Democratic campaign rally in West Palm Beach, three miles from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago, and took musical shots at the Republicans on the Florida ballot.
He changed the lyrics of “Come Monday” to take a dig at Trump.
“Come Tuesday, things will change,” he sang. “Come Tuesday, we’re making a change. It’s been two insane years and it’s time to really switch gears.”
With “Margaritaville,” he unforgettably trolled Gov. Rick Scott’s bid to unseat Sen. Bill Nelson: “Some people say that there’s a red tide to blame, but I know that it’s all Rick Scott’s fault.”
Fun political banter, but he came too late to the political brawl.
Florida was already on its way to shrinking minds with redacted history and restricted books.
Rest in paradise, son of a sailor, pirate at 40 and forever, one of us.