Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Puff the Magic Dragon

The Legend: The Peter, Paul & Mary song, "Puff the Magic Dragon," is about smoking marijuana.

Status: False


It can't be false! Puff = how you smoke pot. Jackie Paper = rolling papers. "Autumn mist" = clouds of smoke. "The Land of Hanah Lee" = Hanalei, Hawaii, where they grow marijuana. It's all there. It must be true!

Sorry. Despite what you heard in high school, "Puff the Magic Dragon" is not about smoking pot or any other type of drug. It is simply a song about the innocence of childhood lost, as its writers have always claimed.

The original poem, which later became the popular song, was written in 1959 by Leonard Lipton, a 19-year-old Cornell student. Lipton passed his work on to his friend Peter Yarrow, who put a melody to the words and created the song, "Puff the Magic Dragon." The song was recorded by Peter, Paul & Mary and reached Billboard charts in 1963.

The 1960's, being what they were, led us to believe that many songs with vague lyrics were "drug songs," Puff included. This was further fueled at the time by a 1967 Newsweek story about hidden drug messages in popular music. This Newsweek article, about songs with drug references in their lyrics, selected innocent songs to show that any song could be interpreted to be about drug use if you really made the effort. It was intended as a tongue-in-cheek analysis of harmless songs, but spawned the rumors that are now shared widely as "known facts." The puff rumor even resurfaced in the 2000 film Meet the Parents.

Smoking marijuana wasn't that popular in 1959, so why write a song about it? Besides, contrary to rumors about the 1960's being such a drug-soaked decade, the Monitoring the Future survey reports that lifetime marijuana use in this country peaked in 1979 at 60%, (Monitoring the Future Study, 1996), not during the 1960's. Sorry kids, Puff was just a dragon.