When I was a kid, my parents had a copy of Jimmy Buffett’s Songs You Know By Heart. It was often the soundtrack for road trips and from a very young age something about those songs, which I did indeed know by heart, got to me. It wasn’t the good-time, Hawaiian-shirt-wearing, margarita-drinking lifestyle that fans simulated on weekends. What resonated with me was the troubadour-traveler-restlessness that came through many of the songs. Somehow, though I was too young to get the endless-beach party stuff, that wanderlust struck some deep note in me. I didn’t have a word for it as an eight-year-old, but I had it.
The first time I ever heard the word “expat” was in “Banana Republics” (though it isn’t on that album). The first time I heard the words “perpetual motion” was in “He Went to Paris” (which is on the album). Without ever having been in an airport, something about reading departure signs rang true. I didn’t care about the drinks and the screwing – what I recognized in those songs (nearly all in the first-person) was someone who wanted, like me, to always be somewhere else. Here was someone who wanted to run away and who, in the running, found out that the best place was always the next place. I have no idea why that made any sense to me – a well-loved, well-cared-for child with a stable family and solid home – but it did.
The song that most resonated, beyond all reason and experience, was “A Pirate Looks at Forty.” I loved that song. Still do. I love the melancholy, the lostness. I love the ache of wanting something, some kind of life, that doesn’t exist anymore – that probably never existed in the first place. I love the ache of knowing that your own sense of self doesn’t match up with anything around you. And I love the sad honesty, which revealed something I didn’t know then but that I do know now:
If you’re restless in this way, the world doesn’t make any more sense at forty than it does at eight.
Jimmy Buffett has, sadly, come a long way from days of running. He outdid his fans, becoming a laughable nostalgia-peddling caricature. I stick to that worn out old album and try to forget that he traded in his boat drinks for so many homes he can’t remember them all.
I turn forty this week. I feel like I have my feet underneath me for the first time in my entire adult life. And my overwhelming instinct is to pull on the rug and see if I can keep standing.