Monday, April 09, 2018

Tom Lehrer Is Turning 90

     Tom Lehrer, whose lyrical wit hovers between "acerbic" and "acidulous," in sharp and delightful contrast to his upbeat, Broadwayesque tunes, turns 90 this month, and he is, notably, still turning.

     He's not turning out new songs; he's not written much since Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973,* an event he said, "Made political satire obsolete."

     It's a pity.  Agree or disagree with some of his more-partisan stances, you can hardly dislike such gems as "National Brotherhood Week," "Lobachevsky†," or "The Elements."  Tom Lehrer made erudition a doorway to humor -- and with eloquent cleverness, lampooned a lot of things too often taken for granted.   We could use more of that.
* In fairness, Kissinger tried to give it back after the Vietnam cease-fire failed.  Turns out the Nobel doesn't work that way, no doubt to the acute relief of later winners.

† "...Some of you may have had occasion to run into mathematicians and to wonder, therefore, how they got that way...." always gets a smile or a snicker from me.


Drang said...

Turns out Tom Lehrer invented the jello shot.
He was tasked with devising a way to smuggle booze past the MPs for the unit Christmas Party, which was being held in the SCIF...

(He had a degree in math at 18. In a rare example of the Army making a good decision, he was assigned as a cryptanalyst.)

Ken said...

Lehrer's That Was The Year That Was album was a staple of my childhood in the 1960s (along with a sizable stack of Bill Cosby, Smothers Brothers, and Bob Newhart albums). There are some (maybe many) things we'd disagree on, but his comedy is brilliantly entertaining even when I don't buy the premise.

Borepatch said...

Base 8 is just like Base 10. If you're missing two fingers.

His music was pretty cool for a teen age kid, back in the day. Most of it has aged really well.

Rick T said...

An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer was popular at our house. "Be Prepared", "National Brotherhood Week", and "The Elements" were all genius.

RandyGC said...

Thank you for reminding me of his work and for the links!

Ken said...

When I figured out (while reading Douglas Adams) that multiplying 6 by 9 actually does get you 42 in base 13, I thought of "New Math."