The penultimate track on side one of Jimmy Buffett’s 1981 album, Coconut Telegraph, is “Growing Older But Not Up,” a sing-a-long-able earwig that 30-something baby boomers would carry with them for at least the next four decades.
I’m growing older but not up
My metabolic rate is pleasantly stuck
Let those winds of time blow over my head
I’d rather die while I’m living than live while I’m dead
Boomers were born roughly between 1946, when so many dads returned from World War II, and 1964, when (deep breath before long list): President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act; the U.S. used an attack on a Navy ship in the Gulf of Tonkin to justify a wider war in Vietnam; a thousand students protested that war for the first time; the Beatles shook scandalously “long” hair on Ed Sullivan; Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali; Ma Bell’s Picturephone presaged Zoom on smartphones; China got its first nuclear weapons; and Southerners with Ku Klux Klan proclivities figured killing potential Black voters and civil rights workers was just so much fun on a summer evening.
The one thing we had in common, all us 1981-ish boomers listening to Jimmy Buffett? We couldn’t imagine a world in which we, the quintessentially young, were not in full-on charge. We’d been chanting for years that no one over 30 was trustworthy, and yet here we were, blowing out 30 candles on the cake and starting to think we might actually be, well, not young.
Jimmy Buffett reassured us. Older? Sure. But old? Oh, my friend, never. Boomers would be, he crooned to us, the real deal Peter Pan.
Jimmy Buffett | “The nightlife still wins”
On Saturday morning, Sept. 2, 2023, there was a collective sharp intake of shocked disbelief as gray-haired wrinkly people shared some version of “WTF?” As I scrolled social media that morning, I could track when my friends’ alarm clocks went off and they reached for their phones.
Reading that headline was like looking in the mirror and seeing, not me, but my mother. Lovely woman she was, but she was old and I am not. Like all boomers — heck, like all people — our mind’s eye sees so differently from the camera’s. We are uncomfortable when what we know doesn’t align with what is. Accepting that Jimmy Buffett isn’t doing one more Key West pop-up concert? Not happening.
Now, if that had been, say, Sam Somebody, dead at 76, most folks, even those friendly with said Sam, would most likely have thought something like, “Well, he’d been feeling poorly, and, you know, at that age, well, it happens.”
But this was Jimmy Buffett and Jimmy Buffett was never getting old. I suspect the image most folks carry around is that 1970s image of the golden, shoulder-brushing hair, the stoner ‘stache, the 28-30-inch waist and the cutoffs — even while staring straight at the by now billionaire older model. His voice, his songs and his intentional creation of an almost primordial connection with sand, sun and shifting ocean tides cast a protective bubble around his then-young, White fans and carried us unchanged all the way to Sunday’s “5 O’clock Somewhere” Second Line on Duval Street.
There we were by the thousands filling Key West streets with pink and turquoise print shirts, khaki shorts, ball caps and straw hats and singing lustily off-key even when we didn’t know all the words. We were young and thin, our hair abundant with nary a thread of silver; we were tanned and lively stepping even though we weren’t.
Our kids — and grandkids — are gonna look at those pictures and smile. “Look at mom,” they’ll say. “Old girl’s still kinda got it. Must have been something when she was young.”
It’s hard for the leading edge of baby boomers in their 70s to think, much less accept, that we are the only ones who think we are young.
I only really “get it” when I read a headline that says something like, “Key West woman, 73, in Miami car crash” and I wonder, “What the heck was she doing driving a car in Miami? Her kids ought to have taken her driver’s license.” And then I get in the car, turn up the Margaritaville station loud and drive to Miami without giving it two thoughts.
Thank you, Jimmy Buffett, for the bubble in which I am young.
So, what the hell? We’ll take it right to the end
As the days grow more complicated, the nightlife still wins