Sunday, April 22, 2018

Music Reviews: Tom Lehrer

Tom Lehrer is a retired mathematician, satirist, parodist, writer, comedian, Army veteran, NSA worker, pianist and inventor of the Jello shot. Among other things, he also wrote music for the PBS show The Electric Company. Lehrer has a certain gift for finding absurdity in everyday life and a knack for writing songs with "blue" material but without any banned words. 

I first heard him on the Dr. Demento radio show, which I used to fall asleep listening to back in the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth. At the time I shared a bedroom with my younger brother who said then and maintains to this day that as oldest I got away with things which my parents would have shut down instantly had they known about, one of those things most definitely being the Dr. Demento show. Of course (1) you really shouldn't give credence to everything said by resentful younger siblings with questionable memories and (2) by today's standards the Dr. Demento show of the seventies and eighties was quite tame. And even back then Tom Lehrer was already something of an old fogie. He's been around a while. 

I enjoy Lehrer's musical and lyrical humor. Lehrer can occasionally evince something of a dirty mind (listen to I got it from Agnes and then listen to it again until you understand why Lehrer initially couldn't perform the song outside of adult nightclubs despite not using a single bad word). Lehrer usually expresses himself in a classy way with lots of did I really hear what I thought I heard plausible deniability.

I also like Lehrer's song The Elements, which lists all of the elements of the periodic table to the melody from Gilbert and Sullivan's Modern Major-General Song from The Pirates of Penzance. Some might say that you have to be slightly bent in your worldview to enjoy Lehrer's humor. I don't deny that he can appeal to the absurd, dark, cynical, and satyric that lurks within us but he also appeals to anyone who enjoys puns, wordplay and lyrical witticisms. He has obvious influence from people like Cole Porter and Stephen Sondheim. The important thing about Lehrer's humor is that it is not meant to be taken seriously.  Just listen and (hopefully) laugh.

I was reminded of Tom Lehrer because a Michigan weatherman sent out a tongue in cheek message "warning" everyone of spring's arrival and good weather going forward. Spring is here in other words. Well that phrase happens to be the opening lyric to Lehrer's Poisoning Pigeons in the Park. On Sundays, if you should happen to see an elderly man in the park handing out "goodies" to pigeons, do not try to apprehend him. Call the police.

Poisoning Pigeons In The Park

I Got it From Agnes

National Brotherhood Week

The Masochism Tango

The Elements

The Old Dope Peddler

I Wanna Go Back To Dixie

Oedipus Rex

Wernher von Braun


I Hold Your Hand In Mine

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