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Top 10 Oldies Myths

Urban legends and other misperceptions about early rock and roll


5. Peter, Paul and Mary's 1965 hit "Puff, The Magic Dragon" is about smoking marijuana.

Sometimes you can see the wheels turning in the minds of those who make up urban legends -- if hippie folk trio sings a song with "puff" in the title, it must be about the demon weed. From there you can make up the details yourself, and many did, casting our hero Little Jackie Paper as a reference to cigarette rolling papers and the "Land of Honah Lee" as a shout out to a particularly fertile part of Hawaii, hint hint.

The true facts are these: the lyrics to "Puff" were written by Cornell student Lenny Lipton in 1959. One particularly melancholy evening, Lipton realized his childhood was gone forever, and after reading Ogden Nash's "The Tale Of Custard The Dragon" at the college's library, he ventured into nearby Ithaca to visit his friend and fellow student Lenny Edelstein. No one was home, however, so Lenny let himself in and used the typewriter to craft an ode to his carefree days. Edelstein's roommate Peter Yarrow -- the Peter in Peter, Paul, and Mary -- eventually found the poem and wrote music around it.

Yarrow, for his part, also claims that no college student smoked pot in 1959, and the climate of the times seems to bear him out. In concert, the trio debunk the myth further by playing the US national anthem and humorously attempting to "find" drug references in it.

6. Charles Manson auditioned for the Monkees.

This rumor keeps popping up for two reasons. One, massively influential Los Angeles DJ Rodney Bingenheimer, who went down to the auditions held from September 9-12, 1965, claims to have seem him there. And there is a fascination with those famous folks who DID audition and were turned away, mainly because their lives would have gone in entirely different directions -- Paul Williams, Stephen Stills, and Three Dog Night's Danny Hutton are perhaps chuckling over that bit of fate to this day.

Notorious multiple-murder mastermind Manson was not at the auditions, however, for two other very good reasons. At 30 years of age, he didn't fit the call for 17-21 year olds (Stills was passed on merely for looking older than that). More importantly, Manson was also in jail -- serving a ten-year sentence for check forgery. He did get out early, but not until six months after the show hit the air.

7. Paul is dead.

As rock critic Dave Marsh has pointed out, a dead Paul McCartney could not possibly have legally filed the suit which broke up the Beatles. Likewise, many "clues" have turned out to be bogus as well, such as John's "I buried Paul" quote on "Strawberry Fields Forever." (The original master tapes, released in part on Anthology 3, prove that he's really saying "cranberry sauce." Which is what he'd been claiming for years.)

8. "Mama" Cass Elliot died from choking on a ham sandwich.

The former Mamas and Papas singer, who was quite overweight for her height, died from a weak heart caused by her excessive weight, the crash diets she used to try and control that weight, and (some say) cocaine. The reason this myth persists is because a half-eaten ham sandwich was found on the stand next to her bed, and initial reports from the police speculated that choking might have been the cause. But the official coroner's report found no food whatsoever in her trachea.
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