'Margaritaville' Without Mom

by Jeff Vrabel
Originally Published: 
Jimmy Buffett playing the guitar in a yellow shirt saying "One Love One Ocean".

There aren’t too many ways you can make yourself laugh at funerals, but you try, because you tell yourself that’s what the deceased would have wanted, right? Mom would have rolled her eyes at some somber visitation weighed down by synthetic cathedral music and Kleenex; she’d have much preferred a tropical theme and Jimmy Buffett songs about islands and boats, things she, like the vast majority of Buffett fans, loved but never pursued. (If you’ve never seen a room full of adults burst into tears while researching lyrics by a guy famous for a song about a cheeseburger, I can assure you it makes for a weird afternoon.)

RELATED: 14 Funeral Songs To Help Honor A Late Loved One

So that’s what we did, mostly. A couple times during her visitation (we called it a “time of sharing,” because no one wanted to say “visitation”), someone would ask to turn the music up, which is a strange request for a visitation/time of sharing. I hope the other two families in the funeral home didn’t mind; I’m sure they were trying to hold a traditional service while the weirdos in Room C listened to something called “Trying To Reason With Hurricane Season.”

For nearly 20 years, Jimmy Buffett’s shows anchored our family’s summer (we started going in 1994, which I know because I kept a journal). The Buffett show was the holidays, everyone’s birthday and three months of summer in one 12-hour day. I take that back—it was better than the holidays, because the holidays are stressful and filled with travel and plane rides and latent family issues; Buffett was a massive mobile circus of brightly slurred sing-alongs, alcohol-induced squishes and the year’s most reliable collection of family and friends. Everyone came—close family, distant family, cousins, close friends, Mom, Mom’s boyfriend-who’s-like-70-but-we-still-called-him-boyfriend, college roommates, aunts, converts, haters, confused hangers-on, workmates, everyone. It became an annual tradition that overshadowed and destroyed all others; we haven’t had a family Thanksgiving plan in two decades, but by God we knew who was refreshing Ticketmaster when the lawn tickets went on sale.

© Courtesy Jeff Vrabel

With Mom at the helm (and driving the van home, thank God) we spent the day in the inflatable gypsy village that sprang up in the parking lots; we formed sloppy, swaying circles and shouted the lyrics to “Come Monday” and “Son of a Son of a Sailor” and “Southern Cross” and “One Particular Harbour” at each other, every summer, for 20 years.

I took my Mom to see him at Wrigley, where we walked on the field and I watched her spin around, taking in the Friendly Confines for the first time in 60 years from the outfield. He threw a towel at us while walking offstage in Detroit—Mom, no joke, had it framed. (Just FYI, when you walk into Michael’s with a towel, the people at Michael’s look at you funny.) I got her an autograph at Bonnaroo in 2009, a day that found Buffett performing the same day as Springsteen. I interviewed him in 2013, which didn’t make me remotely nervous or anything, and talked both about Mom and the songs to which my sons had gotten the most attached (“Ha ha!” he cackled jovially, “I have your children!”). At one show (well, it was 2007 in Chicago. I checked the Google Doc), I ended up next to Mom, arm-in-arm and swaying to “A Pirate Looks at Forty,” which ended with a little tag of “Redemption Song,” and she was holding on tight for some reason. It wasn’t something she did usually. When she died, long before she was ready, my brother and I recorded a show on Radio Margaritaville, because it was really the only thing we could think of that made sense.

So this year, having now turned into someone who can get actually emotionally unhinged listening to a song called “Fins,” we thought we’d do one last round, one last splash. Bring everybody back, everybody who’d ever gone, for one final blowout Buffett show before finally surrendering to middle age and student loan payments and weekend tournaments. We waited for the announcement, so we could start hitting up Ticketmaster. And waited. And kept waiting. And the announcement never came. After a while I dropped emails to his camp, and the word came back: no Indianapolis show this year. His first local miss in something like three decades. Of all the years, of all the summers. I’d be lying if I said, in terrible pun form, that the wind didn’t go out of my sails. But it makes sense. We’d have been missing our driver. And I’d have been missing my “Pirate Looks at Forty” dance partner.

This piece originally appeared on Midlife Mixtape.

This article was originally published on