Saturday, August 18, 2007

One of Our favorite heroes: Tom Lehrer

From Wikipedia:
Thomas Andrew (Tom) Lehrer (born April 9, 1928) is an American singer-songwriter, satirist, pianist, and mathematician. He used to lecture on mathematics and musical theater.

Before attending college, Lehrer graduated from the Loomis Chaffee School in Windsor, Connecticut. As an undergraduate student at Harvard University, he began to write comic songs to entertain his friends, including "Fight Fiercely, Harvard" (1945). Those songs later became (in a joking reference to a leading scientific journal, The Physical Review) The Physical Revue. Influenced mainly by musical theater, his style consisted of parodying then-current forms of popular song. For example, his appreciation of list songs led him to set the names of the chemical elements to the tune of Gilbert and Sullivan's "Major-General's Song".

Inspired by the success of his performances of his songs, he paid for some studio time to record an album, Songs By Tom Lehrer, which he sold by mail order. Self-published and unpromoted, the album, which included the macabre ("I Hold Your Hand In Mine"), the mildly risqué ("Be Prepared"), and the mathematical ("Lobachevsky"), became a success via word of mouth. With a cult hit, he embarked on a series of concert tours and released a second album, which came in two versions: the songs were the same but More Songs by Tom Lehrer was studio-recorded, while An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer was recorded live in concert.

Lehrer's major break into the UK came as a result of the citation accompanying an honorary degree given to Princess Margaret, where she cited musical tastes as "catholic, ranging from Mozart to Tom Lehrer". This produced significant interest in his works, and helped secure distributors for his material. Ironically, it was in the UK where his music ended up more popular due to the proliferation of University Newspapers referencing the material, and the willingness of the BBC to play his songs on the radio (something that was a rarity in the USA).

By the early 1960s Lehrer had retired from touring (which he intensely disliked) and was employed as the resident songwriter for the U.S. edition of That Was The Week That Was (TW3), a satirical TV show. An increased proportion of his output became overtly political, or at least topical, on subjects such as pollution ("Pollution"), Vatican II ("The Vatican Rag"), race relations ("National Brotherhood Week"), education ("New Math"), American militarism ("Send the Marines"), World War III nostalgia ("So Long, Mom", premiered by Steve Allen), and nuclear proliferation ("Who's Next?" and "MLF Lullaby"). He also wrote a song which satirized the alleged amorality of Wernher von Braun. A selection of these songs was released in the album That Was The Year That Was.

Here's a couple of treats compliments of YouTube. The first is the beloved Tom Himself doing "Wernher von Braun" and the second is "Poisoning Pigeons In The Park" with some clever visuals.

Including Wikipedia there's a great resource for Tom's wonderful lyrics at Tom Lehrer Annotated.
I ache for the touch of your lips, dear,
But much more for the touch of your whips, dear.
You can raise welts
Like nobody else,
As we dance to the Masochism Tango.

Let our love be a flame, not an ember,
Say it's me that you want to dismember.
Blacken my eye,
Set fire to my tie,
As we dance to the Masochism Tango.

At your command
Before you here I stand,
My heart is in my hand...
It's here that I must be.

My heart entreats,
Just hear those savage beats,
And go put on your cleats
And come and trample me.

Your heart is hard as stone or mahogany,
That's why I'm in such exquisite agony.
My soul is on fire,
It's aflame with desire,
Which is why I perspire when we tango.

You caught my nose
In your left castanet, love,
I can feel the pain yet, love,
Ev'ry time I hear drums.

And I envy the rose
That you held in your teeth, love,
With the thorns underneath, love,
Sticking into your gums.

Your eyes cast a spell that bewitches.
The last time I needed twenty stitches
To sew up the gash
That you made with your lash,
As we danced to the Masochism Tango.

Bash in my brain,
And make me scream with pain,
Then kick me once again,
And say we'll never part.

I know too well
I'm underneath your spell,
So, darling, if you smell
Something burning, it's my heart... [hiccup]
'Scuse me!

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.

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