Right Wing Nut House



Filed under: Blogging, Ethics, History, The Rick Moran Show — Rick Moran @ 9:44 am


A dragon lives forever
But not so little boys
Painted wings and giant rings
Make way for other toys.

One gray night it happened,
Jackie Paper came no more
And Puff that mighty dragon,
He ceased his fearless roar.

“Puff the Magic Dragon”
Lyrics and music by Leonard Lipton and Peter Yarrow
Released in 1963

Social progress in America has never come easy. We are a nation in love with the past, wedded to tradition, and curiously schizophrenic about our notions of freedom and justice.

We were born proudly proclaiming our liberty from tyranny while at the same time, holding 3 million human beings in bondage - a situation that moved English author and compiler of the first dictionary Samuel Johnson to wryly remark during the Stamp Act controversy of 1765, “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?”

We spent more than 150 years glorifying American womanhood while denying them the vote and other rights. We patted ourselves on the back for a 100 years about how we had rid ourselves of slavery, only to hold their children through their great, great, grandchildren in the even more insidious embrace of Jim Crow. We put on our most iconic symbol - the Statue of Liberty - words of welcome to immigrants, asking the world to send “…Your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” — only to put up “No Irish Need Apply” and other signs, visible and invisible, to make their treatment a blot on our collective conscience.

We don’t keep our history locked in a closet, guarded 24 hours a day by CIA agents. Neither do we take that history out and dust it off often enough to relearn the lessons it teaches us about ourselves, and how social progress in America never comes cheap, or easy, or bloodless.

The point is not that we aren’t a perfect society and never have been. The point is that the revolutionary nature of our heritage and history has always held out the promise that we can be better. Not the absolute certainty of designed outcomes that enamors many on the left today. Not the “perfect” equality sought by the Utopians. Rather, simply the promise that if enough of us demand change — demand it loudly enough and long enough - progress toward making the words of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution mean what they say will occur.

These reflections were rattling through my head this morning after the news reached me that Mary Travers died. The New York Times may be decidedly biased in their political coverage, but few match them when it comes to obits of the famous:

Mary Travers, whose ringing, earnest vocals with the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary made songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “If I Had a Hammer” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” enduring anthems of the 1960s protest movement, died on Wednesday at Danbury Hospital in Connecticut. She was 72 and lived in Redding, Conn.


Ms. Travers brought a powerful voice and an unfeigned urgency to music that resonated with mainstream listeners. With her straight blond hair and willowy figure and two bearded guitar players by her side, she looked exactly like what she was, a Greenwich Villager directly from the clubs and the coffeehouses that nourished the folk-music revival.

“She was obviously the sex appeal of that group, and that group was the sex appeal of the movement,” said Elijah Wald, a folk-blues musician and a historian of popular music.

Ms. Travers’s voice blended seamlessly with those of her colleagues, Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey, to create a rich three-part harmony that propelled the group to the top of the pop charts. Their first album, “Peter, Paul and Mary,” which featured the hit singles “Lemon Tree” and “If I Had a Hammer,” reached No. 1 shortly after its release in March 1962 and stayed there for seven weeks, eventually selling more than two million copies.

I have written previously of our family’s immersion into the Folk revival of the 1950’s and 60’s, commenting on the passing of the Kingston Trio’s Nick Reynolds and the Clancy Brothers Tommy Makem. (My brother Jim’s emotional tribute to KT’s John Stewart can be found here.).

And now, another link in the chain stretching back to my early childhood and my exposure to the Great American Songbook of traditional folk tunes has been broken with the death of Travers. We don’t realize at the time how childhood experiences shape our lives, our thinking, or our interests. My fascination with American history surely is at least partly the result of learning and listening to the traditional Scotch-Irish folk tunes, the sea shanties, the songs to which men marched off to war, performed backbreaking manual labor, dreamed of freedom, lived, loved, and died over the centuries.

They are songs mostly about ordinary people - a social history of the United States set to music - and it fired my imagination, spurring me to discover more about an America you don’t usually find in grammar school textbooks or High School reading assignments. What really happened in Harlan County, Tennessee Kentucky? How did the Underground Railroad work? Why are the Irish so fatalistic?

Mary Travers, Peter Yarrow, and Paul Stookey sang songs that posed questions about American society - and the human condition - that demanded answers. And around campfires, and library sing alongs, our family belted out the music, harmonizing and sharing our sheer joy of being together, learning, laughing, loving. This is why the death of these folk icons are almost like a death in the family to me. The memories the songs they wrote and sang are so powerful, so sweet, so full of the things that make life worth living for all of us, that I cannot help but allow a tear or two to course down my cheek.

As a musical group, Peter, Paul, and Mary were polished, professional, and chose their music with the utmost care. Their manager/producer, the legendary Milt Okun saw to that. With his keen ear and unfailing sense of a commercially viable package, Okun made Peter, Paul, and Mary into a hugely popular act whose success lasted almost a decade. Okun would go on to manage other iconic folk groups like The Chad Mitchell Trio, the Brothers Four, and John Denver.

It was their rendition of Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind that launched their careers. At once beautifully harmonized and featuring a driving rhythm, the song - along with their other huge hits If I had a Hammer and Where have all the Flowers Gone - became anthems of the civil rights and anti-war movements. It is perhaps telling that Hammer and Flowers were both written and originally sung by Pete Seeger and his 50’s era group The Weavers, who were banned in many jurisdictions for their left wing sympathies.

When you’re a kid, you don’t think much about the politics of a song. You sing it because it’s good music and stirs emotions in your breast. Today, I probably don’t agree with 90% of the politics promoted by Seeger, Travers, Baez, and the rest of the folkies from that time. But you can’t argue with the fact that they were dead right about civil rights, and I still think they were mostly right about the Viet Nam War.

I learned long ago you can love left wing writers, artists, singers, and actors by admiring the talent while ignoring the politics. Barbara Streisand is a putz about politics, but an extraordinary talented singer. Joan Didion writes achingly beautiful prose (as does John Updike), but I wouldn’t give a fig for their political opinions. That’s how I feel about Mary Travers and Peter Paul and Mary.

Perhaps our favorite PPM song was not about politics, or protest, but rather the magical imagination of a little boy named Jackie Paper who conjured up a friendly dragon with whiom he had wonderful, exciting adventures. No, Puff the Magic Dragon is not about smoking dope or tripping on LSD. It is a classic American folk song rooted in celebrating a child’s imagination and how, sadly, we all grow up and move on to other adventures.

Together they would travel
On a boat with billowed sail.
Jackie kept a lookout perched
On Puff’s gigantic tail.
Noble kings and princes
Would bow whenever they came,
Pirate ships would lower their flags
When Puff roared out his name. Oh!

Puff, the magic dragon
Lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist
In a land called Honah Lee. Oh!
Puff, the magic dragon
Lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist
In a land called Honah Lee.

Today, somewhere near Honah Lee, Jackie Paper read of Mary Travers death and is weeping.

UPDATE: 9/18

A shout out to all the good people at Kingston Crossroads who come here because I paid my brother Jim an exorbitant fee to promote my blog with all you left wing folkies. After all, he’s just a poor teacher, poisoning the minds of our young people with his Marxist claptrap and needs every cent he can get just so that his subscription to The Daily Worker doesn’t expire.

Don’t worry. There’s not much chance of contamination as long as you don’t breathe the air or touch anything. And please watch where you step. I recently slaughtered a few liberals and I haven’t had time to clean up yet…


  1. Thanks Rick. A very nice tribute.

    Comment by Bob — 9/17/2009 @ 10:36 am

  2. That was beautiful and the music also touched my heart. Wanted to go out and make the world a better place!

    Comment by funny man — 9/17/2009 @ 11:17 am

  3. Just a question: I always thought ‘where have all the flowers gone’ was originally from Marlene Dietrich. The original title is ‘where have all the men gone’ and was sung in WWII. Maybe I’m wrong but Joan Baez also sang it in German occasionally.

    Seeger wrote it in 1949. It may be that the tune is from WW2 but the anti-war/peace motif was all Seeger.


    Comment by funny man — 9/17/2009 @ 11:21 am

  4. Nicely done, Rick.

    Wikipedia (who else?) reports that Marlene Dietrich first recorded it in 1962. Interestingly, it was performed at the funeral of Harry Patch of England last month. He was the last surviving English soldier from World War I.

    Comment by Larry, your brother — 9/17/2009 @ 11:53 am

  5. When I was a kid we used to watch Hootenanny every week to catch the various folk acts. I agree that their politics were okay initially (civil rights, etc.,) and then became crap, but they could make terrific music. My favorite PP&M song though is “The Marvelous Toy”.

    Tom Paxton song. Used to sing that with kids around - they just loved it,


    Comment by Brainster — 9/17/2009 @ 12:49 pm

  6. Lovely, Rick, just lovely.

    I saw Peter, Paul and Mary for the first time at the Carter Barron amphitheater in Washington, D.C. when I was 15 — my first big live concert — and it was a transforming experience. I collected and sang along to all of their Sixties albums and while my parents weren’t into folk, as civil-rights activists they adored PP&M because of their own role in the struggle for equality and, as the NYTimes noted, the urgency they brought to their music.

    And like you, my imagination and historic interest was fired by the tales that their songs (and the songs they covered) told.

    Comment by shaun — 9/17/2009 @ 12:54 pm

  7. Great Tribute. I love their music.

    Comment by gregdn — 9/17/2009 @ 12:59 pm

  8. Nice tribute, Rick. My folks were huge fans of the Kingston Trio and I grew wup with the sounds of their music. As with many commentors, I remember seeing PP&M on the show Hootenanny along with the other folk acts of the day. And to this day I cannot avoid the beginnings of a tear when I hear songs like Lemon Tree, Go Tell It On THe Mopuntain, and If I Had a Hammer.

    Regardless of their politics, performers like Mary Travers will be sorely missed.

    Comment by SShiell — 9/17/2009 @ 1:16 pm

  9. Evidently, the songs didn’t make you curious enough because it’s Harlan County, Kentucky - not Tennessee.

    Heh - right you are - will fix.


    Comment by tc — 9/17/2009 @ 1:30 pm

  10. Thanks, Rick. Nice rememberance otherwise.

    Comment by Tc — 9/17/2009 @ 5:00 pm

  11. went over to U-tube. This is just beautiful. Dylan was a great songwriter!

    Comment by funny man — 9/17/2009 @ 7:07 pm

  12. On my list folk music ranks about one half notch below disco. It’s so boring.

    But when I was a young man I definitely had the hots for her.

    Comment by CZ — 9/18/2009 @ 8:11 am

  13. i feel nostalgic about “Puff the Magic Dragon” too, but then i remind myself that these folks were marxist radicals intent on destroying my country and i don’t feel so warm and fuzzy anymore, these days i look back on lot’s of music and movies and i see the socialistic and marxist themes apparent in them and wonder how i never noticed them before.

    no sympathy for my enemy

    Comment by shoey — 9/18/2009 @ 2:10 pm

  14. A beautiful remembrance, Rick! I was sad to see so little coverage of MT’s death. A truly wonderful voice! Politics matter little in the face of such a talent.

    Comment by MochaLite — 9/18/2009 @ 2:45 pm

  15. Rick, thank you for a beautiful, moving piece. I feel the same way.

    Comment by Kathy Kattenburg — 9/18/2009 @ 4:35 pm

  16. [...] Moran, a conservative blogger who is also an independent thinker and not always predictable, writes eloquently and movingly about his family’s love for folk music and what Mary Travers, a…: Mary Travers, Peter Yarrow, and Paul Stookey sang songs that posed questions about American [...]

    Pingback by Mary Travers Link Collection : Comments from Left Field — 9/18/2009 @ 10:59 pm

  17. I really enjoyed this. Thank you.

    Comment by phoenix — 9/19/2009 @ 1:30 am

  18. Actually, Rick, Kingston Trio fans tend to come from all points on the political spectrum with a goodly share of classic, dyed-in-the-wool conservatives like yourself. Haven’t noticed among them, though, many of the hard core nuts that occasionally drop by your place here - you know, the kind described in that old Chad Mitchell trio song about Goldwater -

    “Let’s go back to the days when men were men
    And start the First World War all over again…”

    Another fine article, good light hand on the politics (and no, unlike the sainted Pete Seeger, PP&M were way too commercial to be Marxists), and a fine evocation of the weight of music in our family’s collective memory.

    I personally always put on a gas mask before visiting your site, and your timely notice also prompted me to wear rain boots and a slicker, lest I slip on slaughtered liberals’ blood.

    Been plowing through Sam Tannenhaus’s interesting but flawed book “Death of Conservatism” and perhaps the most insightful theme he advances is that “movement” conservatism - “revanchists” he calls them - have thrown the rational right off the rails by acting most unconservatively. In this, I am agreement generally but have several major disagreements with his specifics.

    The point is, I think to some degree, it is a generational thing. What I might term “Reagan conservatives” like Peggy Noonan, David Brooks, Bruce Bartlett, Martin Anderson, and most of what the revanchists see as the “elites,” are fighting a losing battle to keep conservatism’s feet on the ground with reasonable, yet powerful critiques of the liberalism of Barack Obama.

    They are far overshadowed by the hysterical, out of control, exaggerated screaming coming from the base. It is being driven by the pop conservatives in Talk Radio who pander, encourage, and ultimately, deliberately create an atmosphere of paranoia and fear, milking these emotions for ratings and money. They have so skewed the perception of what conservatism is all about that the disfavor both the politics and philosophy into which the right has fallen will take decades to overcome - if ever.

    I joke about lefty folkies, of course - more playing to stereotype than reality. But we are of a generation that perhaps learned valuable lessons about civic disagreements and how they can truly lead to bloodshed unless we all remember that we are Americans who love our country and wish only the best for it. If only we could all start from that premise, I think a lot of the ugliness in our politics would be muted and we could get down to the business of truly addressing some of the problems facing the country today.


    Comment by Your Brother Jim — 9/19/2009 @ 1:44 am


    Pingback by Right Wing Nut House » STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS SATURDAY — 9/19/2009 @ 6:34 am

  20. Dear Jacky Paper, The pirates Peter, Paul and Mary stole our song from 12 year old Michael Holland Shepard. He even taught them how to sing our song. Do you think the people will ever believe in truth or has the lie been carried to long. Do you think its right to not give credit to the songwriter? To not pay him? Puff The Magic Dragon

    Comment by Michael Holland Shepard — 9/19/2009 @ 3:38 pm

  21. [...] Rick Moran: As a musical group, Peter, Paul, and Mary were polished, professional, and chose their music with the utmost care. Their manager/producer, the legendary Milt Okun saw to that. With his keen ear and unfailing sense of a commercially viable package, Okun made Peter, Paul, and Mary into a hugely popular act whose success lasted almost a decade. Okun would go on to manage other iconic folk groups like The Chad Mitchell Trio, the Brothers Four, and John Denver. [...]

    Pingback by Puff The Magic Basketball Diaries, By Henry Gibson « Around The Sphere — 9/19/2009 @ 7:38 pm

  22. its all about a boy and when he grows up he finally understands what is real and what is not real and i dont why people mix this song would drugs it has nothing to do would drugs

    Comment by Adam White — 9/26/2009 @ 5:07 pm

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