In this megalo-modern world
You’ve got to try
Try a little love and luck
And you’ll get by
Jimmy Buffett, ‘Love and Luck’
You’ve heard the old adage about meeting your heroes, right? Disappointment, fortunately, has been missing from my life for a few years now so I was loathe to put myself in the position where Jimmy Buffett – singer, songwriter, businessman, raconteur and more – could unevolve from music idol to mere mortal. But if listening to his songs for nearly 40 years taught me anything then life is all about grabbing those opportunities. And sailing, smoking marijuana and getting drunk – but that’s another story.
Which is why, on Tuesday 18th April 2017, I was stood outside the stage door at the Wellington Opera House at 4.30pm with nothing but a partly-shaved arm, a permanent marker and a look of sheer terror combined with an emotional state on a knife-edge between weeping and never leaving the house again.
I had a companion, a man who insisted he was a massive Jimmy Buffett fan but had to ask who the people in Jimmy’s latest social media photos were. One was Jimmy and one was his long-time collaborator and an independent musician of some repute, Mac McAnally so it’s fair to say I judged him just a wee bit. Yes, I can be an arsehole too, even if it doesn’t show that often.
I stood as close to the stage door as possible, listening to Mac taking Jimmy’s place in the sound-check. ‘Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes’, lyrics of which are permanently inked on my arm, was belting out. It couldn’t have been more perfect. Well, except for my companion shouting ‘it’s him’ every time a piece of rubbish moved in the back alley. My internal monologue screamed ‘shut up’ as I teetered on the edge of tears.
And then some movement, a few more people at the back door. And then a car came around the corner, driving slowly towards where I was standing. The door slid open and there he was. The man who has been a major part of my life for so many years, whether he knows it or not. He steps out, sunglasses and baseball cap on. He’s barely touched the Wellington soil and The World’s Biggest Parrothead(TM) has rushed up to him.
I’m standing there, unable to move, not quite comprehending the reality of what’s transpiring. And my first thought is ‘why is he so goddamned small?’. I’ve seen him in videos, interviewed on television and – from a distance – on stage in Orlando in 2004. But six feet away from me and his stature is a surprise. I don’t know if I expected him to be much taller than me or not – but him being more than half a head shorter just seemed weird to me. And then it’s my turn. I give him some space and then reached my hand out, calling him Mr Buffett in the process. Hey, he doesn’t know me and I’m a polite kind of guy, right?
He likes my t-shirt, a ‘Wrestling with Depression’ mix-tape shirt from my favourite podcast and one chosen because it sums me up perfectly.
I then ask him for his indulgence for a massive favour. I explain, no blurt… actually, probably mumble, some words about how important his music and lyrics have been to my for the last few decades. And then I show him my tattoo and ask him if he would consider signing it for me.
And to my delight he’s impressed. He thinks the tattoo is great and compares it to the size of his. Mine is bigger, apparently. And he’s more than happy to sign it but he wants some photos with me and the tattoo first. My head is spinning and I’m trying to process it all. I’m here, standing next to Jimmy. He’s touching me. OH. MY. GOD. HE’S TOUCHING ME! I’m an emotional wreck at the best of times – don’t ask me how many times I cried at the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony earlier this month – and I can feel the tears running down my cheek. One of his entourage offers to take my phone so he can take some photos and then it’s over.
What’s that emerging between the sobs? Is it the crushing disappointment of having achieved a life’s goal and having nothing beyond it? Was he not everything I hoped? Nope, it was different. It was… joy? A wave of happiness that until just a few years ago had been relatively sparse. My fellow autograph hunter had departed, the car gone and just a couple of Jimmy’s entourage were left out back. They look at me shaking and crying and I can’t work out what their faces are trying to tell me besides ‘seriously, dude?’. And then I stumble away, stunned and with a level of peace that I can’t remember feeling before. I had done it. Nothing of importance, not an event that was going to impact on anyone else, but one which I’d dreamed – literally – about so many times.
I keep looking at the photos. I don’t know if I need the assurance it definitely happened or just want to wallow in it but it feels great. And now I have to fly back to Auckland to take care of one more thing – finding a tattooist who can follow Jimmy’s signature and stop it fading away.
A permanent reminder of a temporary feeling, as a certain Mr Buffett might sing.
Oh, and the partly-shaved arm? That’s all thanks to Sam, who believed I was going to meet Jimmy Buffett more than I ever did. She made sure I was prepared – and that meant taking no risks his autograph would be destroyed by my gorilla-like arms. And that I had a marker for the occasion. I can say with absolute certainty that I would not have met my idol without her – and I will never be able to thank her enough. Of course Buffett has a lyric for that too:
All I want’s the quiet and the comforts
That livin’ with my lovely lady brings