Column: Healing through Jimmy Buffet


    By Meredith Young

    I had always heard stories from a friend of a friends’ cousins’ aunt who had supposedly been healed spiritually, emotionally, blah, blah, blah, by listening to music. I always distanced myself from the notion that the experience of this virtual relative could happen in my immediate family.

    I believe that music represents who we are at various times in our lives — I went through the Cranberries stage during my freshman year in high school. I danced with my dad at my senior ball to Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable,” and my favorite theme song from a movie is Tony Bennett’s version of “The Way You Look Tonight.”

    However, there has always been one person who has defied the seasonal musical fads — he sang on the road trip when my grandmother died, on spring breaks to Carpenteria with the tent trailer and on every family excursion.

    Jimmy Buffet is like a virtual godfather — some force that has seen me through the most rewarding and challenging times in my life.

    Last fall, three days before I left my home in Southern California to come back to school, my mother received a phone call from a stranger — “Your husband has had an accident.”

    My dad was thrown off of an electric skateboard he was designing, at 25 mph.

    It is amazing when situations like that arise. Your life freezes — the phone calls you were supposed to make last week, and the errands that you didn’t finish running don’t seem so important.

    The next morning I had to have some tests done at the same hospital my dad was rushed to. I was so drugged on anesthesia, I was unable to see him — I wouldn’t see him for the longest three weeks of my life.

    The trip to Provo left me reflecting on the stupid fights my dad and I had while I was growing up — who got the TV remote, how much make-up I was wearing, if my room was clean — stupid, inconsequential things.

    Listening to Jimmy Buffet compact discs over and over brought back memories of my family’s first trip to Catalina, when I was introduced to Buffet’s enchanting stories of faraway islands.

    The music represented this utopian family life — the few times when we were all together and happy — an emotion that is much harder to come by than it may seem.

    The songs brought back memories of my dad and me driving on the freeway, making up ridiculously silly hand motions to Buffet songs — laughing when people in cars stared at our adolescent enthusiasm.

    As I passed the St. George exit in Southern Utah, my compact disc player began to play another one of Buffet’s songs, “Delaney Talk To Statues,” which summed up my relationship with my father.

    “Father, daughter, down by the water. Shells sink, dreams float. Life’s good on our boat.”

    Our boat was the one place at that moment I knew my dad and I were both thinking about.

    He was transported to Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, where he underwent surgery to place nine bolts in his shattered pelvis and to replace his left shoulder with a titanium prosthesis.

    My dad had always been the type of person who refused to go to the doctor, use an umbrella or sleep in when he could be doing something more productive. He was one of those benignly rebellious souls, who now had to fight for any sort of physical independence. Unable to move, he was humiliated at the uncertainty of the future.

    To help him sleep through long nights, a fellow Parrothead, a so-called follower of Buffet, brought my dad a mixed tape.

    One night in the hospital when the lights were off and my dad could not sleep, a song came on titled “If It All Falls Down,” which said:

    “If it all falls down, falls down, falls down, If they solve my life, If they find me out. Never thought to keep, all I have found, I’ve had my fun, If it all falls down.”

    He could not move his left arm, but with as much strength as his right arm could bear, back and forth, his arm swayed; he closed his eyes, pretending he was at a Buffet concert with his family.

    My dad’s physical therapist bonded quickly with him when he found out they were both devout Parrotheads.

    After one month of hospitalization, our family went on our first outing together since the accident, to The Cheesecake Factory in Newport Beach, Calif.

    I looked out the windows surrounding the restaurant to see the waves rolling on to the sand at low tide. During the conflicting simplicity and complexity of the moment, I was transfigured into someone who could see more than her list of things to do, someone who could see the eternal perspective that usually seemed so distant. My parents asked me what was wrong.

    Swallowing that feeling as if you are crying in your chest, I said, “I will never forget this moment.”

    It was one of those perfect milliseconds in time when you feel you would not change one aspect of your life. Of course, Backstreet Boys came on in the background — I would have changed that — just joking — actually I bought the CD to remind of that moment.

    Again, one of Buffet’s songs summs up my feelings on trials. In “Lone Pine,” Buffet says, “Love is a wave building to a crescendo, ride if you will, ride it with me.”

    By agreeing to ride through life loving people so much, you are prone to a lot of heartache. It comes with the territory. The crescendo eventually becomes a decrescendo.

    To tell you the truth, this article started out as a music review of the concert in April at the Coors Amphitheater in San Diego — it evolved in to something more meaningful. I brought my dad with me to the concert.

    When Jimmy sang the words to “La Vie Dansante,” my dad and I held hands — this time he could lift his left arm with a little help — and I realized that life is meant to be lived with the people that we sometimes think we hate the most. Balance in all things, right? To love a group of people enough to want to spend eternity with them — that is a lot of opposition at times.

    The song says, “They can come take it all away, Break your heart in the light of day, Drown your love in a distant bay, so lonely. See the time melting off of the clocks, There’s a light shattering all the locks, And saves me. It saves me.”

    So maybe it wasn’t Jimmy Buffet’s music that saved my dad and many of those characters of distant myths; it was the love and the memories that the music represents that truly healed.

    One year later, my dad still suffers from a great deal of physical pain, but he has spiritually triumphed.

    Jimmy Buffet’s songs will continue to crystallize memories yet to be lived by my family.

    One day, at my wedding reception, my dad and I will dance to “Happily Ever After” which sums up what I think life is all about:

    “Some people never find it, some only pretend, but me, I just want to live happily ever after every now and then.”

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