“Where oh where has my little dog gone…” sang Hazel this afternoon. Its school holidays and this means the kids will feature more in my posts as I struggle to get a minutes peace. This song she was singing, was written in 1864, by a man named Septimus Winner(sounds like a Transformer) and is still sung in schools today. “With his his ears cut short and his tail cut long…” It gets pretty gruesome, I know but as time has gone on, songwriters have had to add some subtlety to their lyrics in order to get hidden messages across.
When I was at school (and I’m casting my mind all the way back to Westmere Primary School in the early eighties), we sang songs like ‘Stewball’, ‘Blowin in the Wind’, ‘On Top of Spaghetti’, ‘Eres tu’ and an international Favourite ‘Puff (the Magic Dragon)’. When you read the names of these songs it seems like such an eclectic hotchpotch. What they all have in common is that they have their roots planted in folk music that was prevalent in the sixties and seventies. In essence, it was the music that our teachers had listened to and they were going to make us sing them too.
Of these songs, it is ‘Puff’ that has been the most controversial. Folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary released a musical adaptation of this poem in 1963. It did well commercially reaching number two in the US Billboard and was, from then, popular in all the schools. Shortly after release, some in the media (including Newsweek magazine) decided that the lyrics were in reference to smoking marijuana and the trio came under criticism. Peter defended the lyrics saying the song was simply about a boy and his ‘loss of innocence’. But hey let’s not take Peter’s word for it. Let’s analyse the song. Here are the first three verses. My analysis will be shown in brackets…
Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
(Puff = puff of smoke, Dragon = Draggin on a magic cigarette, By the sea=location of cannabis plot)
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee,
(Autumn Mist =The smoke created after autumn harvest, Honah Lee = A particularly fertile part of Hawaii)
Little Jackie paper loved that rascal puff,
(Jackie Paper = You can’t have a joint without rolling papers)
And brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff. Oh
(strings & wax = to keep the blunt together, other fancy stuff = probably horse tranquilizer)
Together they would travel on a boat with billowed sail
(billowed sail = the boat was smoke powered)
Jackie kept a lookout perched on puffs gigantic tail,
(lookout = being vigilant and looking out for the cops)
Noble kings and princes would bow whenever they came,
(bow = under the influence of strong weed)
Pirate ships would lower their flag when puff roared out his name. oh!
(pirates = smugglers keeping a down-low on the shipment they carry)
A dragon lives forever but not so little boys
(not so little boys = grow up to be dealers)
Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys.
(other toys = the harder stuff)
One grey night it happened, Jackie paper came no more
(came no more=it’s a ‘gateway’ drug…he moved on to pastures new. The poppy fields.)
And puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.
And there you have it! The Media was right and Peter was right. It’s about the ‘loss of innocence’ after doing heaps of drugs. Q.E.D.
By the 1970’s you couldn’t get away with such innuendo in the lyrics of a song. So along came a band called Black Sabbath with a new method of getting their controversial message across. It is said when you play their records backwards you hear ‘satanic messages’. But hey no-one uses vinyl anymore so I can’t prove that. What I can do is simply extrapolate and predict where we are headed with all this subliminal technology. Just a few years from now you will listen to a seemingly normal pop album and become a raving lunatic. Wait…it’s already happened – They’re called One Direction.
Join me next week as I dissect Kermit the Frog’s ‘The Rainbow Connection’…