August 6th, 2006
We were driving along in the car. It wasn’t just any old road – it was the Kuhio Highway. This is the one major road that extends around a large proportion of the Hawaiian Island of Kauai; the oldest and northern most of the main Hawaiian Islands which was formed some six million years ago.
Following a short flight from Honolulu, on what could best be described as an “air bus” service, we arrived at Lihue Airport. Looking out the plane’s window as we were approaching the airport our first glimpses of Kauai reflected the volcanic nature of this tropical island. We were weary but very excited.
Our friends met us at the airport and they then set about introducing us to our home for the next 10 days – in particular the North Shore of Kauai and more specifically Kilauea where we would be staying.
Filmmakers have long favored Kauai’s incomparable mountain ridges and valleys, tropical jungles, 143 miles of magnificent coastline, year-round streams and waterfalls, and arid dunes and canyons. The island’s feature film credits date back to 1933, when director Lois Weber brought a film crew to shoot White Heat. Click here to view a complete list of movies filmed on Kauai
“This is Hanalei,” said Trevor as we drove through a small seaside village.
Hanalei sounded familiar – but why?
“Is this where Puff the Magic Dragon comes from?” asked Lynsey.
“Yes,” was the response.
If ever there was a moment to burst into song then this was it. So I did!
The trio Peter, Paul and Mary (often PP&M) is an American musical group that was one of the most successful folk-singing groups of the 1960s. The trio comprises Peter Yarrow, Noel “Paul” Stookey, and Mary Travers.
By 1963, they had recorded three albums, released the now-famous song ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’, which Yarrow and fellow Cornell student Leonard Lipton originally wrote in 1959 and was on the charts in 1963, and performed ‘If I Had a Hammer’ at the 1963 March on Washington, best remembered for Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Their biggest single hit came with the Bob Dylan song, ‘Blowin’ in the Wind,’ which was an international number 1. It was the fastest selling single ever cut by Warner Brothers Records. For many years after, the group was at the forefront of the civil rights movement and other causes promoting social justice. The later hit ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’ was actually written by the then unknown John Denver.
There is a widely held belief that Puff the Magic Dragon is a coded song about marijuana. The writers dispute this. They claim it is all about the loss of childhood innocence.
Like everything in life people interpret things in different ways so that it has meaning for them. The creator of anything cannot possibly imagine all the possible contexts their work could be applied to, especially if it is beyond the realm of their own understanding. Along with criticism of our work we need to accept that people may not interpret things in the way we intended them to. We all view everything in life with different eyes based on our lived experience. These views are not always compatible.
The poem that formed the basis of the song “Puff, the Magic Dragon” … was inspired by an Ogden Nash rhyme about a “Really-O Truly-O Dragon,” and, using a dragon as the central figure, he [Lipton] came up with a poem about the end of childhood innocence.
The 1960s being what they were, however, any song based on oblique or allegorical lyrics was subject to reinterpretation as a “drug song,” and so it was with “Puff.” (For Peter, Paul & Mary, at least, the revelation that their song was “really” about marijuana came after the song had finished its chart run; other groups were not so fortunate, and accusations of “drug lyrics” caused some radio stations to ban songs such as the Byrds’ “Eight Miles High” from their playlists.) “Puff” was an obvious name for a song about smoking pot; little Jackie Paper’s surname referred to rolling papers; “autumn mist” was either clouds of marijuana smoke or a drug-induced state; the land of “Hanah Lee” was really the Hawaiian village of Hanalei, known for its particularly potent marijuana plants; and so on.
Anyhow for those of you that would like a trip down memory lane here is Peter, Paul and Mary singing Puff the Magic Dragon in a recent reunion tour concert. Enjoy!
No matter what, we were in a magical land with special friends. At this point we wanted for nothing and I felt incredibly fortunate. Time ceased and for a change I was able to just go with the flow. What total luxury.
I still can’t believe that all this came to be because of blogging!