Even if you aren’t a “parrothead” (the endearing term given to Jimmy Buffett’s most loyal fans), you probably know at least a few lines of a Buffett song.
“Wastin’ away again in Margaritaville. . .” is a classic many recognize.
If you’ve ever been to a Jimmy Buffett concert, you know that a whole lot of the crowd (aka, the “parrotheads”) know a whole lot of Jimmy Buffett’s lyrics. It’s more group sing-along than artistic performance. People love Jimmy Buffett’s music.
But here’s the thing: Jimmy Buffett can’t sing. I mean, he sings. He can stay on pitch most of the time. But, as we used to say growing up, he can’t “sang.” (Check out his NFL national anthem rendition for evidence).
For many of his songs, he simply speaks in a sing-song way through his lyrics. He rarely holds notes longer than a second. His tone is nothing to write home about.
In short, it would be hard to imagine anyone paying hard-earned concert money to actually listen to Jimmy Buffett sing.
Of course, parrotheads aren’t paying to hear him sing. They are paying to be part (at least for a few hours) of the suntan-oiled, margarita-sipping, life-without-a-care, beach-combing lifestyle that Jimmy represents. They are paying to make memories that night and to relive memories (either real or imagined ones!). They are paying to escape life . . . if only for a little while.
Buffett understands this completely. Even though he is referred to as a singer-songwriter, he understands his job is not to be the best singer (or even a mediocre singer). His job is to give his audience an experience they remember, enjoy, and find valuable. He’s not even an entertainer.
He’s a reminder.
He reminds people of their best vacations. He reminds them of the dream they have to live at the beach. He reminds them of a fantasy life without responsibilities.
He doesn’t sing his audience into a good time as much as he taps into their innate motivations to want a good time.
Many in our world think of ourselves as fundraisers . . . or friendraisers . . . or development officers . . . or advancement professionals. Whatever the title we use, we talk about what we do. And we focus on becoming the most expert we can at doing it.
But, perhaps, Jimmy Buffett is onto something. Perhaps we should spend less time focused on becoming the expert at what we do (in his case singing and in our case fundraising/friendraising/development/advancement), and spend more time focused on how we can tap into the inherent desires of humans to help one another.
Perhaps we should think of ourselves as reminders.
Reminding others of the hard-wired joy that comes from behaving with a spirit of generosity. Reminding them of the deep-seated satisfaction that comes from acting altruistically. Reminding them that giving is good.
And when our audiences respond to our reminders, their lives experience added dimensions of significance and meaning that no Jimmy Buffett song can match.