Sure the 1960’s were crazy times. The era has become synonymous with drug use and many songs from that era have been tainted with the suggestion that they are about drugs. Was Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds really a code for LSD? (John Lennon always denied this accusation saying the title was inspired by a picture his son had drawn and named.) Did the Byrds Eight Miles High refer to an airplane ride or another type of flight? The biggest shock of them all was the realization that Puff the Magic Dragon was really a song about smoking marijuana.
When one looks at the lyrics it is easy to see how this story spread. The name of the song was fairly blatant. Puff was another word for smoking and dragon could be broken up into two words for the term drag on. He took a puff off of the pipe and a drag on the joint. Furthermore, what did people who smoke marijuana used to make their joints? Papers. And what was the name of the little boy is the song? It was Little Jackie Paper. Some have even suggested that the magic land of Hanah Lee was really Hanalei; a Hawaiian village renown for its potent brand of grass.
Yet the writers of the song claim that Puff The Magic Dragon was song about the loss of innocence and a young boy who outgrew his childhood ways. The song began its life as poem written by a 19 year old Cornell University student, Leonard Lipton. He showed the poem to his friend Peter Yarrow who put the poem to a melody and added more lyrics. Yarrow went on to form the band Peter, Paul and Mary and their rendition of Puff went to Number Two on the charts.
It was not until after the song has its run on the charts that the theory about it being a drug song came to light. It is a theory that still exists today despite the authors’ many public statements to the contrary. Lipton claimed is poem was based on the Ogden Nash poem “Really-O, Truly-O Dragon”. He wrote that “[It is about] the loss of innocence and having to face the adult world. It’s surely not about drugs. I can tell you that at Cornell in 1959 no one smoked grass… It would be insidious to propagandize about dugs in a song for little kids”.
Peter Yarrow would later add the following comment: “When Puff was written I was too innocent to know bout drugs. What kind of a mean-spirited SOB would write a children’s song with a covert drug message?”