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OLD, GIFTED AND BACKPETER, PAUL AND MARY THROW OUT LIFELINES TO ANOTHER GENERATION

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Ironically, "Puff," the tender story of "boy-meets-dragon, boy-outgrows-dragon, dragon-becomes-suicidal," incurred the wrath of a later vice president of the United States. Spiro Agnew led the charge against rock songs with hidden messages and insisted "Puff the Magic Dragon" was a drug song.

It was on the trio's third album that PP&M gave Dylan his first substantial royalty check by covering both "Blowin' in the Wind" and "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right."

Stookey qualifies that statement. "It's funny you would say 'covered'; we introduced Dylan. Because while he was really happening at a coffee-house level, we were really happening at a concert and radio level." Since PP&M had the national hits with those songs, they are as much Peter, Paul and Mary's as they are Dylan's. Soon they became everybody's, with cover versions of "Don't Think Twice" ranging from the Wonder Who (actually the Four Seasons with Frankie Valli singing like Betty Boop) to Lawrence Welk's terminally cheerful version on which every "babe" is accompanied by a harpsichord stab.

It's hard to even remember hearing a song like "Blowin' in the Wind" for the first time, as if it's already been around for hundreds of years. "Frankly, I feel that Albert and Peter heard that song and really understood how it would translate across generations much better than I did," admits Stookey. "Mary said, 'If this song were to be put in a time capsule and sent to the year 600 in Greece, if they were to read those questions, they'd say, "Yeah, those are good questions."' I like the fact that 'the answer is blowing in the wind' is not so vague as it is obtainable. It's just a question of whether or not we have ears to hear it."

Ears and tastes began a-changin' in 1965, and Dylan would have a lot to do with it. As the story goes, when Dylan performed two electric songs at that year's Newport Folk Festival, he was booed off the stage. He returned to deliver a scathing acoustic version of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," basically a fuck-you to the whole folk movement he rode in on.

Stookey begs to differ. "Dylan was like the James Dean of Newport. He could've come on with a trombone and we would've loved him. There wasn't any yelling during the first two tunes, but he'd only rehearsed two tunes, and then he walked offstage and he didn't come back. That's when the booing started.

"Backstage there was a lot going on between Pete Seeger's objection that there should be no electric music and Dylan's not planning well," Stookey continues. "As lucid as Dylan is in his lyrics, and as communicative as he is on so many subliminal levels, he is reluctant to be that up-front on a one-to-one basis. Certainly at Newport that year, he did not communicate well." Peter Yarrow was on the board of directors with Pete Seeger and tried keeping peace backstage in an official capacity. Allegedly, Yarrow handed Dylan the acoustic and demanded he apologize to the crowd. Dylan's grandstanding tactics made many of the traditional participants at the Newport Festival, including PP&M, seem like the stodgy old guard in comparison. By the end of that year, people only seemed interested in discussing "folk rock."

Peter, Paul and Mary's albums continued selling respectably, but the group didn't place a single in the Top 40 for two and a half years. When they finally did in September of 1967, it was "I Dig Rock 'n' Roll Music," which some took to be a reactionary dig at the rock acts who displaced their brand of traditional folk from the pop charts. The message coming across seemed to be, It's only rock 'n' roll, but we don't really care for it all that much.

First the trio gets the jump on Frank Zappa in declaring the Beatles are only in it for the money ("They've got a word 'Love' to sell you"). Then they give the Mamas and the Papas a backhanded compliment ("They have a good thing going when the words don't get in the way"). Finally, Donovan is lampooned as cosmically stupid (well, no argument there). While Stookey's vocal impressions of these acts are okay, it's his incessant use of words like "dig," "groovy" and "get it on that scene" that make Stookey and company sound like bad undercover narcotic agents on a very special episode of The Mod Squad.

"I'm as ambivalent now as I was when I pulled the song together," says Stookey about the vague Top 10 hit he wrote. "I was always the one in the group pushing the envelope. What I was looking for was a platform that resembled rock 'n' roll, which I love to do, and one which gave us the opportunity to send up our friends." Did their good friends in the Mamas and the Papas really have words that got in their way? "I really have to confess that I was just looking for rhymes," Stookey sheepishly admits.

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Serene Dominic
Contact: Serene Dominic