Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tom Lehrer

(I'm back. Subject matter may stray from Cleveland, because I am trying to get into the funny. So here we goes.)

Thomas Andrew "Tom" Lehrer (born April 9, 1928) is America's greatest living satirist. In the 1950s he sang and performed songs for the piano which were entirely inappropriate in mixed company, without using a single smutty word. He spoke truth to power, decimating hypocrisy wherever it lay, which he found everywhere. He also taught me the difference between long and short vowels:

Tom Lehrer is not to be confused with Mark Russell, who has never been controversial, nor funny.

In 1954 Isaac Asimov claimed to have visited a nightclub in Boston where he caught Lehrer's act. It was worth recording in his autobiography that one of the songs performed was I Got It From Agnes, a sprightly little number about VD.
"I haven't gone to nightclubs often, but of all the times I have gone, it was on this occasion that I had by far the best time." - Isaac Asimov
In 1953 he had self-produced his first LP, Songs by Tom Lehrer which absolutely no radio station would play. He sold them himself for $3 each, at Harvard (where he graduated magna cum laude with an AB in mathematics, later his MA) and in the Boston area, but word spread across the country, and he even gained a great deal of popularity in the UK.

The compositions on this album (which he recorded in one hour) include the songs I Wanna Go Back To Dixie, My Home Town, and I Hold Your Hand In Mine, which respectively cover issues of racism, pedophilia and necrophilia, as well as Be Prepared which helpfully instructs young Boy Scouts to pack condoms ... though of course he never comes right out and says that. Most of these songs were recorded for his live album Revisited in 1960.


"Mr. Lehrer's muse is not fettered by such inhibiting factors as taste." - The New York Times

"More desperate than amusing." - New York Herald Tribune

"He plays the piano acceptably." - The Oakland Tribune
Later works became appreciably darker, stretching from simple grotesquery to a fixation on the nuclear arms race -- see: So Long, Mom (A Song for World War III), Who's Next and We Will All Go Together When We Go.. With copies of his work lying around my house growing up, Mr. Lehrer is yet another contributor to my generally cheery disposition.

Like all funny people, Tom Lehrer was born and raised in Manhattan, and he's Jewish.

Is there a Cleveland Connection? Sure.

Tom Lehrer played Korman's Back Room in 1957, and on April 4, 1959 at The Hanna Theatre, where rumor has it the cover photo from his album An Evening Wasted With Tom Lehrer was taken.

So there you go.

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