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March 25, 2010 9:50 PM   Subscribe

Julian Cope reviews Tom Lehrer. In case you haven't heard Julian Cope, this is he. In case you haven't heard Tom Lehrer, this is he.
posted by escabeche (47 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
Awesome! I've been listening to Tom Lehrer all week.

The uploader of the abovelinked Lehrer video has most of the concert (live in Oslo, 67) in their uploads. However the videos are slowly being taken down as the concert has been released on DVD.
posted by griphus at 9:58 PM on March 25, 2010


The whole Julian Cope's Album of the Month series is glorious. The man has impeccable taste.
posted by Kattullus at 10:03 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Good god, I had no idea Lehrer was from that long ago. I loved, loved, loved his stuff in the 1980s. Dr. Demento didn't do a lot of explaining, he just played the records, and wow did I think the Masochism Tango was funny stuff. I could probably still sing all the verses, twenty years later. I realized it had been around awhile, but I just had no idea, until right this minute, that that stuff dated from the 1950s.

It's hard to imagine that anyone could get away with music like that, way back then. It sounds like he didn't, in fact, get completely away with it, but bravo to him for mostly managing it. I can only imagine the horror on the part of mainstream culture.

Of course, I bet it didn't hurt any that they were very good songs. :)
posted by Malor at 10:10 PM on March 25, 2010


love it! thanks for posting - I grew up with Tom Lehrer too - my parents had some of his records, and we all knew the words. Just as I was clicking on the third link, I caught myself singing "genuflect, genuflect, genuflect..." reminds me that I need to play his stuff for some of my friends who haven't heard it before.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 10:18 PM on March 25, 2010


Okay, now that we're in a Tom Lehrer thread - what the hell does he mean by "Massachusetts is, after all, the only state with three senators" on That Was The Year That Was? The audience goes wild for that one and I have no idea what's going on.
posted by griphus at 10:26 PM on March 25, 2010


griphus: Bobby Kennedy was a Senator representing New York at that time.
posted by shii at 10:28 PM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Make a cross on your Ab-dough-men"

"You can't take 3 from 2, 2 is less than three so you look at the 4 in the eights place. Now that's really four 8s so you make it three 8s regroup and you change the one to eight ones and you add it to the 2 and get 12..."

Love Tom Lehrer (also from my youth)
posted by Windopaene at 10:28 PM on March 25, 2010


My favorite Tom Lehrer-ism is "sliding down the razorblade of life." Scrumptious!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:32 PM on March 25, 2010


Thanks shii! That's been bugging me for about five years now. And as long as we're quoting our favorite lines:

"Who needs a hobby like tennis or philately/I've got a hobby -- rereading Lady Chatterly!"
posted by griphus at 10:33 PM on March 25, 2010


Oh geez, I've been dipping into some of these Julian Cope reviews and they're just amazing. I'm willing to bet a fine bottle of alcohol that as of this writing there exists no other review of a Van Halen album which quotes The Intellectual Culture of the Igluilik Eskimos.
posted by Kattullus at 10:48 PM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


To me Tom Lehrer is the musical equivalent of J.D. Salinger: an artist who produced stupendous work before I was born and then more or less vanished for the ensuing forty years.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:53 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I grew up with Tom Lehrer records, and can recite many of his songs from memory. But I had never actually seen him perform until these videos started appearing on the web. I may be crazy, but I am struck by how many facial mannerisms he shares with (dare I say it?) Chevy Chase (who is far less talented, an entire galaxy's worth of less-funny, in fact). Am I imagining this resemblance?
posted by words1 at 10:55 PM on March 25, 2010


Lehrer was amazingly ahead of his time. He deserves way more appreciation than he gets.
posted by DZack at 10:59 PM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


I was part of a college production of "Man for All Seasons" playing Cardinal Wolsey (dramatic scene arguing with title character in first act, then killed off-stage). In costume, I wowed the company with my rendition of "Vatican Rag" during rehearsal but the Director/Faculty Adviser lived in terror that I might break character onstage and "Go Lehrer". There was one line I remember where Wolsey said "Our ambassador is a ninny" that, in rehearsal, I would shift from my Orson Welles impression (Welles had already played Wolsey in the film version) to a Paul Lynde impression. It was damned funny!!! For the rest of my time at that college I never got a role with more than 3 lines... when they did "Midsummer Night's Dream", I was stuck with "Father of One of the Star-Crossed Lovers" - the only thing that was funny about the role was my costume, classic 'middle-aged-man-in-tunic-and-tights'... I looked a little like Tron Guy ifyouknowwhatImean. Undeclared major at the time, crossed "Drama" off my list of options...
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:04 PM on March 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'll add my deep abiding thanks to shii for that explanation as well. It's been puzzling me for over twenty years!

I've always wondered too why Lehrer was so determined to disappear. Julian Cope's extraordinary window into just how naughty that material was in its time may have given me a clue. After a while, I think the relentless assault on social mores must have just become exhausting.

A million thanks for posting this.
posted by donmateo at 12:05 AM on March 26, 2010


[this is good]
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:17 AM on March 26, 2010


Also, favorite Lehrer quote (from the liner notes on the Rhino re-release of his albums):

"If, after hearing my songs, just one human being is inspired to say something nasty to a friend, or perhaps to strike a loved one, it will all have been worth the while."
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:51 AM on March 26, 2010 [10 favorites]


nice sleeping gas reference. julian cope is a genius, but i always find it somewhat unfortunate that many people realize this more from his analysis of music than the music he makes. either way, though, he's great, and he does excellent guides to neolithic stone circles as well.
posted by snofoam at 12:55 AM on March 26, 2010


I always found that memorizing Tom Leherer songs (and especially ones from the album That Was The Week that Was) gave me an unfair advantage in Trivial Pursuit .
posted by jeffen at 4:48 AM on March 26, 2010


There's so much I could say about my love for Tom Lehrer. I, like Cope, have been listening to his music since before I could understand a lot of the jokes, and he's become one of the primary influences on my sense of humor. Not to mention his performance skills-- listen to "An Evening Wasted With Tom Lehrer"; it's like a master class on comedic musical timing.

Of course, Lehrer is also part of a long lineage of comedy musicians. Stan Freberg was a contemporary. Jonathan Coulton, Paul and Storm and "Weird Al" Yankovic all owe him debts today, as does every single performer on The FuMP. But even before Lehrer, we had Spike Jones, Benny Bell and the now sadly underappreciated Abe Burrows, whose influence you can easily hear in Lehrer's material. (Go listen to him here and here.) Go even further back and you'll find vaudeville performers like Nat Wills. I guess all of this is just to show off how much I love comedy music, and I'm really getting off the topic, which is Tom Lehrer. Sorry about that.

I'm not done tooting my own horn, though (Spike Jones would appreciate that). In my files is a letter from Lehrer himself, granting my crew, Pirates For Sail, permission to cover and record "The Irish Ballad." In return, we sent him letters of induction and made him an honorary member of the crew. If you listen religiously to Coverville or Bilgemunky's podcast, you've already heard our version, as we spread it around for St. Patrick's Day. If you want to hear it but don't feel like listening to a whole podcast, it was also included in this post on Cover Me. I sing lead.

So yes, that was a big wodge of self-promotion, but I hope you learned something, too. I really, really love Tom Lehrer.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:24 AM on March 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


As the judge remarked the day that he acquitted my Aunt Hortense,
To be smut it must be utterly without redeeming social importance.


Best couplet about the legal definition of obscenity ever!
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:27 AM on March 26, 2010


Call him a Nazi, he won't even frown:
"Ah, Nazi schmazi," says Werner Von Braun.







(Did I just Godwin a Tom Lehrer thread? Oy.)
posted by grubi at 5:53 AM on March 26, 2010


I also found on iTunes a copy of the Harvard Marching Band playing (and singing!) a version of "Fight Fiercely, Harvard!"
posted by grubi at 5:57 AM on March 26, 2010


My favorite Tom Lehrer song is the darkly comedic "We'll all go together" about nuclear annihilation.
posted by ExitPursuedByBear at 6:10 AM on March 26, 2010


To quote from a poster on the youtube link I posted "Huh - two verses are missing 1- Down by the old malestrom - there'll be a storm before the calm - and the best line: you will go to your respective Valhallas, do not pass go do not collect 200 dollars. "

That's the winner line right there. :)
posted by ExitPursuedByBear at 6:14 AM on March 26, 2010


Of all the things I owe my parents, and in particular my dad, is a warped sense of humour brought on by constantly listening to tapes of Tom Lehrer, Flanders & Swann and the Goon Show as a child.

"So long mom, I'm off to drop the bomb, so don't wait up for meeee"
posted by patricio at 6:18 AM on March 26, 2010


To me Tom Lehrer is the musical equivalent of J.D. Salinger: an artist who produced stupendous work before I was born and then more or less vanished for the ensuing forty years.

Huh, the Kissinger thing is an urban legend. Also, I can't believe not a single person here mentioned his awesome work for Electric Company. The -ly Song, Silent E and SN in particular are faves of mine.
posted by DU at 6:46 AM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


OMG, Flanders and Swann. Has anyone done a MeFi post about them?

The intercom said "mwa mwa mwa mwaaaa, mwa mwa mwa mwaaa"...so we did that.
posted by DU at 6:47 AM on March 26, 2010


Faint of Butt, I I will buy you a sock-puppet account if you re-work that into an FPP. (NB: I will not actually buy you a sock-puppet account. But I will thank you profusely.)

Not to mention his performance skills-- listen to "An Evening Wasted With Tom Lehrer"; it's like a master class on comedic musical timing.

The stage banter on that album is virtuosic.
posted by griphus at 6:52 AM on March 26, 2010


Seriously? We're this far in and no mention of The Elements? Or did I miss it?
posted by The Bellman at 6:54 AM on March 26, 2010


Julian Cope Is Dead
posted by elmono at 7:38 AM on March 26, 2010


I've wanted for years to take a class in which a pop quiz required me to name as many elements as possible, just so I could rattle off the lyrics to The Elements.

AND BLOW MY TEACHER'S MIND.
posted by grubi at 7:41 AM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


All of the comments started making a lot more sense once I realized that in skimming the post I had mistakenly come to the conclusion that for reasons I could not fathom Julian Cope was interviewing Jim Lehrer of the News Hour.
posted by Babblesort at 7:45 AM on March 26, 2010


Even though I can't check any of the material in the OP here at work (grrrr!), as the Greatest Tom Lehrer Fan In The World, I officially approve of this thread. And, like Faint of Butt, I also managed to wrangle a TL tune (The Elements, which I sang, thankyouverymuch)into a high school play/musical (but I didn't ask permission, so I suck).

Will check this out at home later.

And I second the suggestion of a Flanders & Swann FPP...
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 7:47 AM on March 26, 2010


Among the many great things we can thank Tom Lehrer: his fantastic song "Silent E" for the kids' TV show "Electric Company." A little hug becomes hugE instantly....
posted by jhiggy at 8:08 AM on March 26, 2010


You can do just what you want, if
First you clear it with the Pontiff


My Tom Lehrer earworm. . . .sorta takes on a sinister connotation this week.
posted by Danf at 8:20 AM on March 26, 2010


Not just Silent E! Let's not forget the timeless classic "L-Y". How do you down your 50th piece of pie? Eagerly... ugh... eagerly... yech... Eager... L-Y."

St. Matthew's Passion, Rite of Spring, L-Y. Everything else is junk.

Quietly... quietly... quiet... L-Y
posted by range at 8:21 AM on March 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Huh, the Kissinger thing is an urban legend.

Is this a weird straw man or did you somehow misread Salinger for Kissinger?

My point was that he had his heyday long before I was born and still casts a long shadow decades later. And in contrast to the dozens or hundreds of writers and musicians who keep plugging away long after the public has lost interest, both of these guys brushed their hands off and walked away on their own terms.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:29 AM on March 26, 2010


I already knew I loved Tom Lehrer but I had no idea he wrote for the Electric Company! Now I love him even more.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:33 AM on March 26, 2010


Is this a weird straw man or did you somehow misread Salinger for Kissinger?

richochet biscuit: I think DU was just remarking on the fact that Lehrer's retirement wasn't, as many believed, precipitated by events surrounding Henry Kissinger. From Wikipedia:
There is an urban legend rumoring that Lehrer gave up political satire when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Henry Kissinger in 1973. He did comment that awarding the prize to Kissinger made political satire obsolete, but has denied that he stopped creating satire thereafter as a form of protest, asserting that he had stopped several years prior to the award.
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:06 AM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yes, thank you for explaining the thought processes that I omitted when writing that very confusing sentence.
posted by DU at 9:22 AM on March 26, 2010


Cope's review is great. I knew Lehrer was scandalous at the time, but hearing how scandalous he was on the British side of the pond was a revelation.
posted by immlass at 9:31 AM on March 26, 2010


The gusto of the audience on That Was the Year that Was is one of the most powerful receptions I've ever heard.

My parents used to catch him at the bar he'd play at in Cambridge, and they said he was always well received (and awesome, playing standards or originals).

I, too, heard his albums long before I understood what he joking about.
'Pollution' was particularly confusing, because of the mix of happy and sad signals.
posted by Busithoth at 10:05 AM on March 26, 2010


I was surprised just last night to learn that They Might Be Giants were unaware of Tom Lehrer when they wrote their recent elements song.
posted by sineater at 10:19 AM on March 26, 2010


I was surprised just now to learn that They Might Be Giants were unaware of Tom Lehrer at any point.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:57 AM on March 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


All the world seems in tune
On a spring afternoon
When we're poisoning pigeons in the park
posted by owtytrof at 12:41 PM on March 26, 2010


Tom Lehrer kept me sane through junior high by reminding me that no matter how fucked up the world could get, you could still make fun of it.

Regarding his self-imposed retirement, the only quote of his I ever found was something from the songbook, which asked "What good are laurels if you can't rest on them?" Works for me.

My favorite bit of Lehrer philosophy, however, is "Life is like a sewer: What you get out of it depends on what you put into it."
posted by Spatch at 8:35 PM on March 26, 2010


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