Tom Lehrer – 80

I read on that other (more illustrious) CT that Tom Lehrer turned 80 recently (on the 9th April). I guess most Troppo readers know him. I can’t think of a greater talent for satirical music ever. Prodigious in quality rather than quantity – he performed 109 shows, and wrote 37 songs over 20 years and then effectively ‘retired’ to his day job which was teaching maths. Like the Beatles – and culminating at around the same time, the late 60s – he hated touring and just got better and better at writing and performing songs and then . . . that was it. He lost interest. The YouTube video above is of a good, funny song, but not one of his best. His best songs were almost all on his last of three albums – That was the year that was. In 1967 I was a kid in America for six months and played it to myself over and over, mostly for its easy musicality as I only half got most of the jokes. I know all the words by heart. It’s a pity he retired – for some of us anyway, if not for him.

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Caroline
13 years ago

Snap Nicholas, I too know every lyric on That was the Year that Was. I loved his musicality and of course his songs. I thought it deliciously wicked that our family had a bootleg copy of it. Some of it just won’t date.

Goes off singing-

The loveliest girl in Vienna . . .

Sir Roger Migently
13 years ago

I was surely still in short pants (and just plain Roger, then), living in a NSW country town, when I first heard Tom Lehrer. One of my father’s friends had smuggled home a 10″ LP of Tom Lehrer.

All our family’s adult friends gathered to listen around the loudspeaker box in our living room – and we children, through the door behind which we had been banished and shooshed – to this terribly naughty, shocking and illicit record. Thanks to Ming’s attempts to shield the nation from the unseemly and impure the adults seemed to be concerned not to attract the interest of the police.

It was all very exciting. It’s odd to think that one’s attraction to forbidden ideas could have grown from that night and that single, seditious LP. My father’s friend, an amateur electronics buff even made him an anonymous bootleg copy which we enjoyed for years, by which time we eventually got the joke about “Don’t solicit for your sister. That’s not nice, Unless you get a good percentage of her price.”

David
David
13 years ago

Lehrer claimed he retired because Kissinger’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize had rendered satire irrelevant.

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
13 years ago

Urban myth had it that he retired as part of an out of court settlement after the von Braun family took out a law suit against him.

He was (perhaps still is?) a great pianist, original and clever lyricist, and astute political analyst. I wonder was he any good as a matheamtician?

Nabakov
Nabakov
13 years ago

I have long been a great aficionado of Tom Lehrer. In fact I can sing the complete lyrics of “Lobachevsky” at parties. Even before people think of asking me not to do so.

But only now, through the magic of blogs, I was pointed to his wikipedia entry which reveals he invented jelly shots in order to circumvent drink restrictions at the NSA.

Truly a god walking amongst us. Although at his age with his royalties, it’s probably more of a super hi-tech solar-powered wheelchair hum these days.

TimT
13 years ago

He was (perhaps still is?) a great pianist, original and clever lyricist, and astute political analyst.

I agree with everything except the first proposition! His abilities at the piano were workable, at best – though he had an uncanny sense for putting the right sort of tune to the right words.

The relatively small output shouldn’t matter too much; great vaudeville performers were known to subsist their whole life on a few small acts.

Dave Bath
13 years ago

Maybe the 2020 summit group on educational policy should listen to “new math”. And how many of the problems he satirized have been fixed in 40 years? Now, it seems, we “can’t find the water and ruined the air”. Mind you, now Howard’s dog whistling has stopped, I’m not humming “National Brotherhood Week” as much.

BTW: In the early 90s I got a book of scores and lyrics to most of his stuff. It’s worth hunting around for, even if it’s only for 88 string guitar.

p.s. Don’t forget the satire wrapped in mediocre tunes of Gilbert and Sullivan!

FDB
FDB
13 years ago

There’s a (Radio National?) piece on him from 2006(?) – excellent interview and a few songs. I wonder if it’s archived on-line?

*googles*

Bah! Transcript only. Still, not a bad read.

FDB
FDB
13 years ago

I just got spamulated.

Caroline
13 years ago

Who’s Next?

Gummo Trotsky
13 years ago

Once all the Germans, were warlike and mean
But that couldn’t happen again …

Joshua Gans
Joshua Gans(@joshua-gans)
13 years ago

…mediocre tunes of Gilbert and Sullivan!

I suppose you mean the tunes of Sullivan. There’s nothing at all mediocre about them. They are perfect for the kind of inspired satirical lyrics that both Lehrer and Gilbert produced.

9 April is a very fine date, incidentally. Paul Robeson, Joern Utzon, and Antal Dorati (and one or two others) were also born on it.

Caroline
13 years ago

Eeegypts gonna get one too,
Just to use on you know who.
So, Israel’s getting tense
wants one in self-defense
the Lord’s our Shepherd says the Psalm
but just in case
we betta get a bomb.