Questions With… Peter Yarrow
When you think of Peter, Paul and Mary, you probably think of your parents. You’ll soon have to add children to the list of Peter Yarrow’s fans, since an illustrated children’s book of Peter, Paul and Mary’s 1963 hit “Puff, the Magic Dragon” has been doing well on Amazon.com since its release earlier this month. We spoke to Peter Yarrow about why he waited to make this book, if any other Peter, Paul and Mary songs will be given the same treatment, and the therapy-worthy interpretations of Puff.
Why did you turn “Puff” into a children’s book?
The objective is to link to the folk renaissance when these songs had a great impact. I hope my work in the spirit of a nation that wasn’t so much devoted to power and wealth, but devoted to hard issues and authentic exchange between people. That was the renaissance of perspective that took place in the ’60s. Puff is on the bestseller list, so there’s a hunger for this spirit and ethos.
Why did you re-record the song with your daughter (Bethany Yarrow) for the CD that comes with the book?
The inter-generational experience that has a great deal to do with the message of the book. I’m not bringing along my daughter now, she’s my peer. She’s become the artist that she is in a very solid way. When we sing “Puff” we sing as if we’re in front of a few kids and relating to them in a personal way. It’s not a good song without a sense of exchange.
Will you make other Peter, Paul, and Mary songs into children’s books?
Yes. Right now we have definite plans to create books based on “Day is Done” and “Light One Candle.” We’ll also record CDs that include other traditional folk songs like the one with that comes with Puff.
Did your children love Puff when they were young?
It wasn’t their favorite, but they did hear it. Bethany loved “If I Had Wings” and [Yarrow’s son] Christopher loved “The Great Mandala.”
Why did you choose Eric Puybaret to do the illustrations?
Charlie Nurnberg, head of Sterling Publishing, chose him, but I loved him too. You can sense everything in Honalee is alive, with a sense of mystery about it. It’s a surrealist perspective.
Why didn’t you make “Puff” into a children’s book until now?
It wasn’t really a good idea until now. Why would I have done it before? To make money? Who cares? I want to do things that move me. Kaylee Davis, a friend of mine in publishing, had been on my case for fifteen years to do it, but I didn’t have the desire or the will until now.
In the song, Puff ends up alone, but the book is different. Were any purists upset by the change?
At the end of the song, Puff is all alone, but it was never intended that Puff would be alone forever. Anyone who thinks that he would be should see their therapist.