Tom Lehrer lives!

At ninety-frickin’-six (!) he hardly seems to have lost a step

Anyone in London and able to see this show? I fondly remember seeing Tomfoolery in London in 1980, just a collection of his songs with some attempt at stagecraft.

Good grief. I had no idea; my first reaction was ‘no, he doesn’t, they must be saying that his music lives.’

Thanks for fighting my ignorance!

And that’s a fascinating article. [ETA: I am nowhere near London and no will not be able to see the show. But I bet it’s a good one.]

Nitpick on the linked Guardian article – he was already teaching math when he was writing and performing his songs. They were always a sideline, although he did a fair amount of in-person performing at his height of popularity.

I have less tolerance now than I did at the time for the sort of satire that you find in many of his most popular (old) songs. Much of it seems mean-spirited to me, as if he is making fun of everyone who isn’t him. He was facile with the piano, certainly, and clever with words, and I liked him on That Was The Week That Was. Good for him for still performing.

Seriously though, pigeons are the worst!

From the intro to Lobachevsky:

I always like to make explicit the fact that before I went off not too long ago to fight in the trenches, I was a mathematician by profession. I don’t like people to get the idea that I have to do this for a living. I mean, it isn’t as though I had to do this, you know, I could be making, oh, 3000 dollars a year, just teaching.

Wow, I’ve always thought of Tom Lehrer as the nicest author of biting incisive thought-provoking satire who ever lived. Well, maybe with the exception of Walt Kelly.

Here are all the songs, with lyrics, sheet music, and some audio. Including stuff I never heard, and I thought I was a fan. So maybe I’m missing some later stuff when he grew bitter. I’d need them specifically pointed out, though.

I also think that any satirist who is not preceding “as if he is making fun of everyone who isn’t him” is by definition not a satirist at all. Can you give any examples of satirists whose work is worth listening to yet do not fit into this description? My first thought would be Walt Kelly, but at base he’s making fun of everybody who isn’t Pogo himself. Everybody is a character.


Satirists are the little boys who shout, not say, that the Emperor has no clothes and a laughably teeny penis.

Tom was that guy for several years.

To be sure, it’s easy to turn into a whiny curmudgeon from there. C.f. Andy Rooney & 60 Minutes.

Still and all, Tom captured a counter culture zeitgeist that was waay out there at the time.

We each could do a hell of a lot worse than to live that life.

This discussion has raised a question I’ve had for quite some time. When I was a kid, I enjoyed listening to my dad’s albums. And one of them was “Songs by Tom Lehrer” - I was initially intrigued by the cover, with a devilish Tom Lehrer at the piano, surrounded by flames, but the songs hooked me, particularly the “Hunting Song”:

and “I hold your hand in mine, dear”:

I didn’t really get “Fight Fiercely, Harvard”, and my mom wasn’t that enthusiastic about me listening to “The Old Dope Pedlar”: “Mom, what’s a dope pedlar?”

But here’s the puzzle: where did my dad, in a little town in Saskatchewan, get a copy of the first pressing of Tom Lehrer’s songs? Dad did not attend Harvard, and it sounds like that’s where Lehrer peddled them, on his own dime. And I don’t think they’re the sort of thing that got a lot of mail-order advertising.

So how did one of them end up in WeeTown Sask in the early 1960s?

(I couldn’t find it when I was closing out Dad’s estate. No idea what happened to it.)

I have a 10" copy of it, too. A rare treasure? Don’t know. Were there multiple pressings of the 10"? It became ridiculously popular immediate. Were there any differences between them? Discogs says yes. Do I know where my copy is? Can I find it to look at the numbers in the runout? Discogs has no answer for this.