Wednesday, January 02, 2008

All The World Seems In Tune

Little by little, the industrious (or even lazy) blogger reveals more about himself than he realizes or intends. My few long-time readers may recall mentions of the roles Star Trek, Monty Python, Victor Borge, Carl Sagan, Walt Kelly, Disney, NASA, comic books, comic strips, and many other influences played in forming little me. However, I have never mentioned the towering influence of Tom Lehrer.

Mr. Lehrer is a musical satirist who came to prominence in the late 1950s and '60s, a proto-Weird Al who composed and performed little piano ditties on best-selling comedy albums and, occasionally, on stage. His songs were smart, sharp, funny, wry, very dark and a little naughty--the perfect combination to appeal to 14-year-old Brian. His heyday was before my time but we got acquainted through a local radio comedy hour that played him regularly, and he perfectly captured the dry, sarcastic, mocking, too-cool-for-school attitude that comprises the mandatory uniform of adolescence. Song titles include "The Old Dope Peddler," "The Vatican Rag," "I Got It From Agnes" (a saucily subtle ode to VD), and "Lobachevsky," a jaunty tribute to the Russian mathematician. Luckily, and unlike many favorites from my youth, Mr. Lehrer still turned out to be pretty cool even after I grew up.

Mr. Lehrer left entertainment to teach math at the University of California, Santa Cruz, cementing his nerd credibility forever. He became something of the Salinger of Satire (or perhaps the Watterson of Wit) and rarely performed in public after the 1960s, although he did surface briefly in 1980 when a Broadway show titled "Tomfoolery" revived his songs in a well-reviewed revue. He is also reputed to have invented the Jell-O shot. I won't go so far as to say Tom Lehrer was an important intellectual influence in my life, but he sure was a fun one.

That's my introduction to these videos that capture the magic of Mr. Lehrer. My favorite is the last, which not only features one of my favorite Lehrer songs but shows a rare later performance in 1998 to honor the producer of "Tomfoolery," who also did a little show called "Cats." If you're inclined to watch, I hope you enjoy.

Extra Bonus Video: Something else by Mr. Lehrer that those slightly younger may remember from "The Electric Company":


Martha in Michigan said...

Sorry these were removed before I got a chance to see them....

Brian Fies said...

Martha, they still work for me. Not sure what the problem is, maybe a short-term glitch...?