I began my d’var Torah this past Shabbat with an admission that on that beautiful Shabbat morning, I was feeling a bit sad. I told the congregation that as one who is not reluctant to quote contemporary song lyrics in sermons, it was only because we had just learned of his death that morning, that they were spared a sermon based on Jimmy Buffett lyrics. 

         To say the least, it didn’t quite get the response that I was hoping for. Apparently, the synagogue was not full of Jimmy Buffett fans- or at least those who would admit to it. 

         I am a Jimmy Buffett fan. To real Buffett fans, I probably wouldn’t qualify as a “parrothead” because although I always intended to go to one of his concerts, I regret that I never did in fact. And, I really know only about 15 or 20 of his songs and they’re probably the ones that “real fans” are somewhat tired of hearing. But I know what I like and the songs I know and love never fail to bring a smile or perhaps, in some cases, a bit of a tear.  

          As a songwriter and an entertainer, he was captivating. His energy, his smile and his interaction with the audience were always a joy to watch (on video in my case) and I found his songs to be creative and, in most cases, fun to listen to and sing along with. 

         So many of the songs celebrated the simple and somewhat decadent pleasures of life-Margaritaville and Cheeseburger in Paradise, for example- and while some clearly reflected joy in values that I would prefer not to extol, it’s always good to remember that life is worth enjoying and I thank him for bringing a smile to my face.

But, he also wrote songs which touched on a subject near and dear to my heart: aging.  

        And those are the songs I find myself thinking about in these days after his death at age 76.

         In a song with the provocative title: A Pirate Looks at Forty, a man laments choices and decisions he has made and realizes that he has followed a path which has left him as “an over forty victim of fate”.

         In my favorite Buffett song: Captain and the Kid, Jimmy tells the story of his relationship with his grandfather who was a sea captain and taught him to love life on the sea. He writes of the aging “captain”: “His life had gone from sailing ships to raking Mom’s back yard. He never could adjust to land although he tried so very hard.” While the entire song is moving to me, those two lines capture the image of a man who could no longer live the active life he was accustomed to and for whom only death allows him to escape the confinement of land. 

But aging is not all sad and in the song Pencil Thin Mustache, he notes the trend towards nostalgia among younger people by reminiscing and celebrating the characters he knew in his youth: Boston Blackie and Ricky Ricardo and encourages people to celebrate growing older: “So if you find yourself in that nostalgic rage Honey, jump right up and show your age”. He unapologetically expresses a joy in advancing age in rather blunt language that would not be my choice of expressions but captures the sense of security that comes from living life as one chooses. 

Finally, in Changes and Attitudes, Changes in Latitudes he sings: “If it suddenly ended tomorrow, I could somehow adjust to the fall” but reminds us adamantly that: “Oh yesterday’s over my shoulder so I can’t look back for too long. There’s just too much to see waiting in front of me and I know that I just can’t go wrong.” Comforting and energizing words.

I don’t think that Jimmy Buffett sought to present himself as a deep-thinking philosopher. But his songs touched something in me, sometimes in their escapism but more deeply especially in these past few days, in listening to songs which depict a person coping with aging. 

In Psalm 71: 9, we read a verse which is chanted several times on Yom Kippur as part of the penitential prayers: “Do not cast me off in old age; when my strength fails, do not forsake me.” I read a beautiful interpretation of that verse recently. The word “cast me off” is the same word as “throw” and the interpretation read that in that verse, we are asking God not to throw us into old age, but rather to allow us to age gracefully, step by step as the years go along. 

I have to admit that when I heard of the death of Jimmy Buffett at age 76 and earlier this year the death of Gordon Lightfoot at age 84 and now find myself looking up the age of many of my longtime favorite musical performers and finding many are in their late 70s and 80s, it really makes me more than a bit sad at what seems to be the somewhat sudden reality of my own aging.  

Then, I take a deep breath and realize, God willing, that “there’s just too much to see waiting in front of me” to worry about getting older and I’m ready to move forward again making every day count by staying active and vital.

But, first, in memory of Jimmy Buffett, I’m going to take a trip in my mind to that “one particular harbor” and put my feet up. I’m not going to eat a cheeseburger and I don’t like margaritas but taking a bit of time off with a drink (only one) and relaxing on a beautiful day is a pretty good idea because, after all, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere and tomorrow is soon enough to move forward again. 

May he and his songs live on in our memory. 


  1. Sandor Slomovits

    As a songwriter I always really appreciate fans who really listen to the lyrics. You clearly do that, Rabbi! Thank you for the sweet words about jimmy buffett. He also made me smile

  2. Beautiful and meaningful tribute to Jimmy Buffett. He was a gifted songwriter and storyteller. Buffett had a way with words, and so do you, Rabbi Dobrusin. Thank you for writing and sharing “LESSONS FROM MARGARITAVILLE”. May Buffett and his music forever live on in our memory.

  3. Bruce Geffen

    Thank you for this recognition of one of my most favorites growing up since the mid 70s, Rabbi! Even though I hadn’t listened in quite a few years, Buffett’s music is often in my head, especially One Particular Harbor, and this phrase from Lone Palm… “While out on the beach there are two empty chairs
    That say more than the people who ever sit there
    From under my lone palm I can look out on the day”
    Your play on words put a smile on my face as I read them, and I think back to the dozen or so times I saw him in concert over the years in both large and small venues. Well done, Rabbi!

    1. Rob Dobrusin

      Thanks, Bruce. I appreciate your kind words! As I wrote, I truly regret not having gone to hear him in concert. They must have been great!

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