THE DRUG SONG DETECTIVE IS ON THE JOB
Some of my favorite moments have come when I have been sitting at my desk, quietly doing my regular job, when somebody bursts through my office door in a panic, requiring my help in determining whether a given song contains any narcotics allusions. Many years ago, one of my most desperate clients was a co-worker who had just been told by a friend that Simon and Garfunkel were lovers and that “Puff, the Magic Dragon” was a drug song. Although I was able to reassure him that I had never heard anything about Paul and Art being lovers, and that it seemed unlikely to me—not to mention that if they had been, they were currently engaged in the world’s longest-running lovers’ spat, I had to tell him that yes, “Puff” (to give it its actual title), was indeed a drug song. And what thanks did I get for this valuable service? He poutily informed me that when he listened to it, he wasn’t thinking about narcotics, so it was in fact not actually a drug song, therefore elevating the philosophy of solipsism to heights hitherto undreamt of. So taken aback was I that I never felt able to charge him my usual fee.
Not that I should have been all that surprised. I had experienced a more passive version of the same conversation when both I and talk radio were in our formative years. At that time, it was not unusual for a radio station to program both music and talk shows, and one night an irate listener called in to demand that the station discontinue airing the then-popular record “Up, Up, and Away”—it was a drug song. The show’s host placidly informed said caller that—you guessed it—he didn’t think of narcotics when he listened to it, so, no, in fact it was actually not a drug song.
Give the matter a moment’s thought, and it might occur to one that people who are so obsessed with the concept of a drug song tend to be self-proclaimed guardians of public morality, and thus would actually be more interested in the notion of a stealth drug song getting past them and corrupting the neighborhood youth. Certainly that’s my reaction on the rare occasions when I catch the youth of America engaging in morally dubious practices which were unknown when I was in my salad days.
Now I suppose that part of the fun of being a baby boomer was (and still is, as the rising generation, more able to just come out and say things, seems unable to catch the oblique reference) that not only were our elders unable to reprimand us for listening to drug songs because they didn’t get the references, but occasionally they would take to enjoying them themselves, the most amusing example I know of being Billy Paul’s easy listening chart-topper “Me and Mrs. Jones”, but it’s a lot less fun when, upon Paul’s death some forty years on, his obituary writers still didn’t get it (or pretended not to, which would be even worse), turning the world’s cleverest dope ode into a third-rate country cheatin’ song. And if I hadn’t already been hurt enough by my drug song detective credentials being badmouthed, a Gen X friend huffily informed me that “Jones” was not a drug reference to the Gen X hipster, but rather meant something close to what in Squaresville would have been known as “kidding”, and, so, yep, it wasn’t a drug song.
But despite the decades of criticism I soldier on, offering my services as drug song detective to an uncaring nation. And that fellow whose heart I broke by telling him the raw truth about “Puff”? Not a week had passed before he returned to my office to tell me that I didn’t ‘get’ the drug references in the Grateful Dead’s songs because they were encrypted and I just didn’t know the code.