Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Where Have All The Folkies Gone?

This Day In Boomer History
May 11, 1963

"A dragon lives forever
But not so little boys..."

When I was in my formative years, both of my parents played guitar. It was almost like Hootenanny when friends and family came to visit. Everyone would get together downstairs in the family room and play guitar and sing their favorites, the songs they grew up with and old church songs and even a few original compositions. It was such an important ritual in my family that I asked for a tambourine for my sixth birthday, wanting to be part of the music coming from the grown-ups downstairs.

Before that birthday, my dad discovered folk music, and soon songs by Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Pete Seegar became staples in his musical line-up. So I probably first heard "Puff the Magic Dragon" not on the radio or from our old RCA Victor record player, but wafting up the stairs from our family room while I nodded off down the hall.

"Puff", written by Leonard Lipton and Peter Yarrow and performed by Peter, Paul and Mary (Yarrow was the "Peter" part), became a staple across the country, too, embraced by nursery schools and New York hippies alike. Children loved the story of a dragon and his friendship with the magical dragon, while the soothing melodies made it a favorite of coffeehouse performers and their audiences. There was even the hint of scandal - did Puff and his little human friend (with the suspicious surname of "Paper") really refer to smoking marijuana?

This interpretation was dismissed by Yarrow and the group that made the song famous, and "Puff" went on to be covered by such diverse artists as Bing Crosby, John Denver, Seal, Dolly Parton and Alvin and The Chipmunks.

But for me, the best version will always be the one I heard coming from my family room on a Saturday night after I'd been tucked into bed. My parents divorced, my mother died, and my siblings and I followed the lead of Jackie Paper and grew up. But the music continues on. One of my brothers bought our childhood home, and whenever our family and friends get together, we always seem to end up in our family room, guitars in hand and songs in heart.

Sometimes, if pressed, I'll even play a tambourine solo.



  1. Mary,
    Your post reminded me so much of my younger days growing up as well. My father was born in '49, and I grew up listening to John Denver, Peter Paul and Mary, Jim Croce, Bread, Simon and Garfunkel, the Beatles (of course) and many other good ol' folk favorites my father had typed up with chords. He played the piano and guitar (still does occasionally) and my father and I would belt out the songs at the top of our lungs. I also remember loving to fall asleep to the sound of the piano and my father singing. Thank you so much for reminding me of this. It's been a long time since I've given the music and song much thought!