September 8, 2005

Puff the Magic Dragon

I have been wracking my brain for an off topic column and did what I always do when I can't think of what to write.  I got a drink and IM'd Katrina. 

First, let me say that I really appreciate all of your letters asking about my family and my life and The Head.  Honestly, I'm ashamed to say that I have a really boring life right now and nothing is going on.  I haven't heard from the fam.  I think they are taking a break from me and that's OK.  They all know how to contact me and don't talk much if I call them.  So no real news there.  I'm peaceful about it.

I am biding my time on The Head.  You will recall that the last time we engaged the Head, it was in my toilet.  That must be challenged carefully and strategically, so I'm waiting to make my move (and think of a cool way to do it).  Halloween is coming, so I have to wait until after then because he'll be all suspicious and such.

But I didn't want to leave you guys hanging, so I was brainstorming with Katrina about what I could write and she hit on one of my favorite subjects, which is music.  While Katrina and I do not agree much on our genres of music, we are totally simpatico when it comes to classic rock and roll, my favorite kind of music.

What I plan to do here is objectively explore some of our classic rock songs and talk about their meaning and impact.

The first is one of my long time favorites:  "Puff the Magic Dragon" by the quintessential folk group, Peter, Paul and Mary.

The urban legend that has in theory been debunked is that Puff is a song about (I lower my voice conspiratorially here) marijuana.

The definitive urban legend resource,, is clear that we all (a generation of left wing, opened if fuzzy minded free spirits) completely have our heads up our collective ass for being so stupid as to think this song is about (sssh) pot.

The writer, Leonard Lipton, who wrote the song when he was 19 and then passed it on to his roommate, who wrote the music and tweaked the words, said this about the song:

"[Puff is about] loss of innocence, and having to face an adult world.  It's surely not about drugs.  I can tell you that at Cornell in 1959, no one smoked grass.  I find the fact that people interpret it as a drug song annoying.  It would be insidious to propagandize about drugs in a song for little kids."

Um, sure dude.  No one in 1959, especially at Cornell University,  smoked weed.  Ever.  He's appalled.  I am wondering how far into his cheek his tongue was poked when he said that.

Peter Yarrow, the aforementioned roommate, cowriter and 1/3 of Peter, Paul and Mary (the Peter part, obviously) says, "As the principal writer of the song, I can assure you it's a song about innocence lost. It's easier to interpret 'The Star-Spangled Banner' as a drug song than 'Puff, the Magic Dragon.' This is just a funny rumor that was promulgated by Newsweek magazine. There is no basis for it. It's inane at this point and really unfortunate, because even in Hong Kong it's not played because of the allegation it's about drugs.  But I assure you it's not."

Well, that's not really true.  Only a person who is currently smoking marijuana can make The Star Spangled Banner about pot, but any thinking, logical person can see the drug references blatant in Puff once they get into it.

Mary Travers, the Mary part of Peter, Paul & Mary) said, "Peter wrote the song in 1958 and it is not about marijuana. Believe me, if he wanted to write a song about marijuana, he would have written a song about marijuana."

And I believe that's exactly what he did.  Noel Paul Stookey, the Paul part of Peter, Paul and Mary, could not be reached for comment because he was laughing his ass off and could not speak.

Let's go through the lyrics a piece at a time.  I don't care how many people protest and deny, I think it's about pot.

I'm leaving out the repeated verses for simplicity's sake:

Puff the Magic Dragon

By Lyin Lenny Lipton and Propagatin Peter Yarrow

Puff, the magic dragon, lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honalee.

Puff.  Obvious.   Dragon ("draggin" - an inhale from a joint is called a "hit" or a "drag") and "lived by the sea"  Marijuana must be cultivated near a good water source if it is grown in the ground.

"autumn mist," thick smoke looks like the mists of autumn

Hanalei is the name of a city, a bay, a beach, a river, a valley and a lookout point in the Northern part of the island of Kauai, Hawaii.  Throughout the late 50's and 60's, some of the best weed, called "Hanalei Blue" came out of Hanalei.  This was some of the weed that was allegedly not being smoked at Cornell.  There is now a glass pipe called Hanalei Blue that is in honor of the weed.  It was rivaled only by the still popular Maui Wowie.

Of interest is that at the current time, very little cannabis is actually brought in from Hawaii because it's a very small location and is easily canvassed by DEA agent looking for the dreaded plants.  The greatest success has been with helicopters using infrared lights.  Most pot cultivated in Hawaii is now grown indoor via hydroponics....

Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal Puff
And brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff

As most people and anyone who purchased a Cheech and Chong album in the 70's know, joints are rolled with paper.  Before ZigZag (a popular brand of papers) was self-sealing, joints were tied off using small strings or tiny bits of wax.

Together they would travel on boat with billowed sail

Billowed sails also look like a plume of rising smoke.

Jackie kept a lookout perched on Puff's gigantic tail

Reference to the paranoia some people when they are writing about smoking pot.

Noble kings and princes would bow whene'er they came

Addresses the cross-class appeal of weed.  I think Prince Andrew gets loaded (I base this on nothing but my own ability to peg a stoner), but I can't see Charles lighting up.

Pirate ships would lower their flags when Puff roared out his name

There is a bit of "honor among thieves" that allows passage of ships that are importing cannabis.

A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys
Painted wings and giants' rings make way for other toys.

There comes a time in most people's lives when they have to stop getting loaded all the time and be a grown-up.  Smoke a joint and "painted wings and giants' rings" can easily become a theme of conversation or so I'm told.

One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more

And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.

Egad!  Jackie isn't going to get loaded any more!  WTF?

His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain

Green scales of marijuana buds?

Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane.

The red fiery ash at the end of a joint is called the "cherry."  Let us completely ignore the fact that Peter Yarrow (roommate and co-writer) served 3 months in prison for "taking immoral and indecent liberties" with a 14-year-old fan before being pardoned by then president Jimmy Carter.  Frickin EW dude. 

Without his lifelong friend, Puff could not be brave
So, Puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave.

When you got no (Jackie) Paper, the weed goes sadly back into the stash box.  *moment of silence*

This is not an attempt to convince anyone, but merely to present my own impressions on a classic "children's" song.  All info presented here was collected throughout my extensive experience as a *cough* DARE representative.  Nothing else.  Really.  Swear to God.  DARE.  DARE to be SAGE!

All the best,