A loss of innocence, indeed

Posted: Sunday, October 17, 2010

So, the song "Puff, the Magic Dragon" came up in the office the other day.

You can already see this coming, can't you?

One of the reporters, Andrew, mentioned the song title in a story earlier last week. I can't remember exactly how we got to talking about it while I was editing his story, but at one point, Andrew says: "Well, it's a song about smoking marijuana."

I blinked in disbelief. "What?"

"Smokin' dope," Andrew repeated. "Everybody knows that."

It's at times like these, in my admittedly now advanced years, that I slap my forehead. Andrew is a smart young man. Indeed, I think all the reporters here are intelligent young men and women. Certainly Andrew can't really believe that ancient Hippie-era notion about Peter, Paul and Mary's 1963 signature song? And trust me, I know hippie-era stuff.

"Well, yeah," Andrew said. "I mean, 'Puff;' it's about taking a puff, right? And the name of the kid in the song -- Jackie Paper. Rolling papers, get it? That's what everyone believes."

Then he started to smile at me with that grin that says: "Jeez, old man, c'mon. Even I know that."

Well, that got me started.

"Andrew, it's NOT! That's an old urban myth. The song has nothing to do with smoking pot.!"

Andrew just kept smiling. "Well, OK, if that's what you say."

I grabbed my head with both hands and began weaving my torso back and forth in the newsroom.

"It's not what I say! It's what Peter Yarrow -- the guy who wrote the song -- says! It's about growing up and loss of innocence, and stuff like that!

"It's not about DOPE!"

The other two reporters, Brielle and Dante, sat at their desks, smirking. I felt like I was losing the argument. I threw up my arms and left the newsroom muttering: "It's not about dope." I heard snickers behind me.

Now I'll admit, sometimes the strangest things get me started. I remember one time, at another newspaper, having an argument with the arts page editor about which musical instrument played the opening notes in the theme song for the movie, "Jaws." (I was right; it was a tuba.) Another time I had a rousing conversation with a music editor about the myth that playing the Beatles song "Revolution 9" from the White Album backward proved Paul was dead. (OK, I was Hippie-era'd on that one.)

Anyway, I stormed back to my office and began searching the internet for proof on Puff. Just then my boss, Stan, walked by my door. "Stan," I shouted. "What's the song 'Puff, the Magic Dragon' about?"

He stopped in the doorway and stared at me incredulously. "It's about smoking dope, Campbell. Everybody knows that."

I let my head drop in despair for a moment, then started typing in the search engine again.

Needless to say, the marvel of the internet will let you find whatever you want to find. Sure enough, I even found a quote from Yarrow himself, debunking the myth and saying the song "never had any meaning other than the obvious one" and is about the "loss of innocence"

I showed it to Andrew, thinking that'd wipe the grin off his face.

It didn't. "Well, yeah, what do you think he's going to say."

By the end of the day, some of the newsroom was on my side, some were with Andrew and the rest chose the wiser path and stayed out of it.

But Andrew would be wrong if he thinks this is over. I'm still researching.

And don't even get me started on "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" . . .

Larry Campbell is the executive editor at the Peninsula Clarion.

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