Abraham, Rachel, Soren and Liam. Our life together in Smalltown, Idaho.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Puff the Magic Dragon Finds a Friend

For Christmas this year my mother gave Soren a book/CD combo entitled "Down By the Bay."
The book illustrates the words to the children's song by the same name. I don't know if ya'll have ever heard this song, but it was a new one for me, and I gotta say, I find the lyrics intriguing. They go like this:

Down by the bay,
Where the watermelons grow,
Back to my home
I dare not go.
For if I do, my mother will say,
"Have you ever seen a snake baking a cake down by the bay?"

The verses repeat pretty much the same (Downbythebaywherethewatermelonsgrowbacktomyhomeidarenotgoforifidomymotherwillsay....), except each time the mother asks a different question. She inquires, for instance, if the singer has seen a cat wearing a hat, a frog walking his dog, a mouse painting his house, and a cow saying bow-wow...all down by the bay.

At first I was quite perplexed by the whole scenario and was slightly annoyed at the fact that "Down by the Bay" seemed to be one of those irritating children's books that was created merely for the loping rhythm and gratuitous rhyme. But the song was catchy, and it got stuck in my head, and one thing led to another and I started to wonder: Why exactly was this mother asking these strange questions? And why is the singer afraid to go home and face her inquiries?

For quite a while I was convinced that the mother had perhaps slipped into madness, and the singer was reluctant to return home and listen to her mother's lunatic ravings. But that still left some unanswered questions, for instance: What does this all have to do with watermelons? And why the word "dare"? What is the singer afraid of?

And then it occurred to me: the song is about drug abuse. Clearly the singer is a rebellious teen spending lots of time down by the bay where the "watermelons" (read: "hallucinogenic mushrooms") grow. She's afraid to go home because her mother, a recovered addict herself, senses something is wrong, and will ask the right questions to unmask her daughter's illicit drug abuse.

Pretty serious stuff for a light-hearted children's song, eh?

P.S. I really wanted to work the phrase "the dark underbelly of children's folk music" into this post somehow, but got tired of trying to wedge it in and decided just to post. I couldn't, however, just let it disappear forever, so there you have it.

P.P.S. Further evidence: The song was popularized in the 1970s by a man named Raffi. Need I say more?


kendra said...

I am pretty convinced that cartoons we grew up watching were created by drug addicts too!

Natalya said...

raffi is awesome! He sings Baby Beluga and The Tree in the Hole and the Hole in the Ground, etc.
Abe grew up on him.
Thinkin' too hard on this one.

Lara said...

Loved this song as a kid...never made that connection. Of course, Puff the Magic Dragon has always been my favorite "lullabye" - so I must be expressing some inner rebellion somehow.


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