An Open Letter to Jimmy Buffett
by Gordon Ringberg
It’s me, your old buddy Capt’n Gordy. Oh, I know it been a couple decades since we last saw each other, but I believe a close friendship like ours doesn’t require a lot of maintenance. Remember the last time we spoke? It was 1986. You and a couple of pals were on stage at Le Select in St. Barth; I was way in the back. I shouted, “Hey Jimmy!!” You waved back and shouted “Hey Parrotheads!!” Man, seems like it was just yesterday.
I’m now working for Markel American Insurance Company and living in Bayfield, Wisconsin on Lake Superior and I need your help. Whenever I ask people to come boating with me on Gitchee Gummie, the overwhelming response is, “Are you crazy? I don’t want to die!” Somehow these people have been convinced that venturing out on the Shining Big-Sea-Water would put our good ship and crew in peril. As they walk away, I can usually hear them humming an eerie and haunting tune that sends shivers up my spine, like when a storm blows across the lake in early November.
I’m sure Mr. Lightfoot and other songwriters don’t mean to scare people from boating on Lake Superior, but I guess they figure dramatic stories about horrific storms, floundering craft and tragic death will sell better than a song about a family, who while sailing to Raspberry Island discover they don’t have enough Aloe lotion to treat their solar ravished epidermis.
Sure the weather on the lake can occasionally get bad, even in the summer, but don’t they also have squalls on Puget Sound and Chesapeake Bay? And fog, tell me that they don’t have fog in San Francisco Bay or on the Maine Coast. True, severe storms played a role in many shipwrecks on Superior in the past centuries, but what was it that drove the Spanish galleons onto the reefs of the Florida Keys? Could a lack of navigational aides and inadequate weather forecasting been contributing factors too?
If mariners practice good seamanship and keep a weather eye, boating on Lake Superior isn’t any different from cruising the coastal waters that encircle our great nation. Plus, there is nothing in this lake that can eat you! And like the southern waters that you often sing about, this sweetwater sea has sandy beaches, pristine islands and "that one particular harbor, sheltered from the wind, where the children play on the shore each day and all are safe within".
I think what Lake Superior needs are more happy songs for people to hum along with, and I think you’re just the guy to write them. You might start by taking a few of your old songs and changing the lyrics around a bit.
For instance, a song poking fun at the Scandinavian heritage in the area could include (to the tune of “Fins”), “Finns to the left, Swedes to the right and you’re the only Norwegian in town.”
A song celebrating the deep clear cool water might contain a refrain of (to the tune of “Why don’t we get drunk?”), “Why did it shrink and turn blue?”
There are so many natural wonders to capture in a song; the rugged North Shore, the warm sands of the South Shore, the Apostle Islands, Isle Royal, Pictured Rocks, the sea caves, the Porcupine Mountains and the aurora borealis, to name a few.
There were no "Pirates of le lac supérieur", but there is a rich history here that began long before the Ojibwa and their Great Chief Buffalo prospered on Moningwunakuaning. The adventurous “coureurs des bois” were the first Europeans to visit the region, including Étienne Brûlé, Médard des Groseilliers, and Pierre-Esprit Radisson. Then came the missionaries, fur traders, and voyageurs. Later immigrants arrived to log, mine, farm, and fish. Goods were hauled by men of steel on wooden boats, while lighthouse keepers warned of dangerous shoals. And now saltys and 1,000-footers traverse the lake caring goods to and from ports around the world. There are so many wonderful, happy stories to be told (where nobody dies).
Come visit us here in Bayfield and I’m sure you will be inspired to produce a whole album about Gichigami, and I’d be more than happy to show my old friend around. Bring the family, and all your pals; Alan, Clint, George, Kenny, Toby and Martina. You’ll have a great time, be it sailing on sparkling water, trolling for lake trout, gunkholling in the islands, kayaking the caves, or casting tributaries for steelhead or brookies.
After you’re done exploring on the water, you’ll find even more to experience on shore. You could even take in a show at the Big Top Chautauqua. I’m sure they’ll even let you sit in with the band. I’ll be the one in the back yelling “Hey Jimmy!” and waving as you sing your new happy songs about Lake Superior.
Markel American Insurance Company
What’s in your iPod?
Here’s a list of some popular boaty songs I found on YouTube. Although they are not all peppy, I don’t think anybody dies in these songs. Click on each link to listen to and view some classic videos (My favorite is "Sea Cruise", watch for the mermaid!). Then let me know what songs are missing from the list.
Yes I know I didn't include all the songs by Jimmy Buffett. That would be too obvious.