When I find myself run down and stressed out, when I really need to get out of my head for a little while, I call on the wisdom of a guru whose voice has been ringing in my head for my whole life: Jimmy Buffett.
Yes, that Jimmy Buffett, the barefoot, Hawaiian-shirt wearing, guitar-strumming beach bum who gave us the slogan “it’s five o’clock somewhere” and is best known for songs about cheeseburgers and piña coladas. I grew up in Minnesota on a lake that fed into the Mississippi River, and Buffett was a mainstay on the soundtrack of my childhood: I can clearly remember pulling his classic “White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean” from my dad’s homemade cassette rack to bring along on boat rides and road trips.
Buffett fans call themselves Parrotheads, and for the most part, they look the way you’d expect them to—like Buffett himself, which is to say, white Boomers with deep tans and a penchant for bright floral beachwear. There have been recent reports about Buffett’s growing popularity with Gen Z, though writer Kayla Kibbe notes that “ardent young Buffett lovers tend to approach their fandom with a level of generationally on-brand irony.”
To be clear, I unironically love Jimmy Buffett. I can’t tell you whether his music is objectively good or bad, only that it’s been etched into my consciousness, and that listening to it always brings me peace and comfort. My happy place is a hot bath with a Jimmy Buffett album on in the background. Is that uncool? Maybe, but so what? It brings me joy.
If you’re not a fan or haven’t given Buffett much thought, you might be tempted to dismiss him as a frozen-cocktail-loving nihilist–the guy who’s “wasting away in Margaritaville” and makes such subtle suggestions as “why don’t we get drunk and screw?” And yes, those are his real lyrics. But to me, what’s at the heart of the Jimmy Buffett ethos isn’t margaritas (or daiquiris or piña coladas)–it’s time.
Most Jimmy Buffett songs take place in the sun-drenched, leisurely present, with a light breeze coming off the ocean. No one is ever in a rush—or if they are, they’re longing to escape the daily grind, dreaming of simple pleasures like watching the sunset or getting caught in the rain. The songs revel in the satisfaction of small moments when not much is happening. Just be, Jimmy Buffett seems to be telling us. Hang out here and pay attention to your senses. How does the sand feel between your toes? How delicious is this cheeseburger?
In 1975, as a young, mustachioed Jimmy Buffett was touring with his Coral Reefer Band, the Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the term “flow state” to describe the experience of being fully immersed in the present moment. When you’re in a flow state, Csikszentmihalyi says, you’re “completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one…Your whole being is involved.” When musicians and athletes talk about being “in the zone,” this is what they mean.
I don’t know if Csikszentmihalyi had a “enjoying a cold beer on the beach while gazing out at the horizon” in mind when he developed his theory of flow (I’m guessing probably not), but speaking from my own experience, I can report that moments like these are when I tend to feel most open and creative, when my brain stops buzzing enough to let quieter ideas take shape. Those relaxed, fully present moments have given me the space to come to a clearer understanding of who I am, what I value, and how I want to relate to the world around me.
With New York City only just emerging from feet of snow, beer on the beach still feels like a distant dream. But I have my bathtub and my Jimmy Buffett albums, and that’s good enough for now.
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