Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A Forgotten Genius: Tom Lehrer

"Take your cigarette from its holder,
And burn your initials in my shoulder.
Fracture my spine,
And swear that you're mine,
As we dance to the Masochism Tango."

So goes the wonderfully bizarre lyrics of the comic genius Tom Lehrer.
A Harvard educated mathematician and scientist, Lehrer is most famous for his series of hilarious satirical songs made in the early 60s. It is legend that Lehrer died an alcoholic but in fact he simply lost the zeal to perform and went back to teaching math and theatre. Coaxed out of retirement a couple times, most notably in 1965 for the TV comedy review "That Was the Week That Was", Lehrer again tired of his songs being edited, censored or poorly performed and retired again. He writes songs occasionally and still walks among us.

Many of the songs are dated for younger audiences, filled with references to nuclear war drills (like getting under our desks and covering our eyes was going to really help), Werner Von Braun and Alma Mahler, mysteries to many these days. But "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park", "The Elements" (the periodic table of the elements set to the "Major General's Song" by Gilbert and Sullivan (you all know it), and the "Vatican Rag"...

"So get down upon your knees,
Fiddle with your rosaries,
Bow your head with great respect,
And genuflect, genuflect, genuflect!"

...are timeless classics.

His humor is intelligent, satirical and always fun. Lehrer made only a few recordings and luckily still available. Check them out, you will not be disappointed.


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