The world is full of smart asses, though as a patriot I like to think America leads the world in sheer numbers. Unfortunately, the "ass" part is nearly almost more prominent than the "smart," and they tend to be a plague and affliction upon us all. A welcome exception is Tom Lehrer.
Lehrer has smarts, alright. He graduated from Harvard with a degree in mathematics at the age of eighteen, went on to work for the Army at Los Almos (where, according to some reports, he invented the vodka Jell-O shot as a way to evade a ban on "alcoholic beverages"), then returned to his alma mater to teach math, a position he holds to this day though he spends his winters teaching at the University of Santa Cruz. The second part of the equation is demonstrated in the songs he wrote and recorded in the fifties and sixties which stand as the best satire in the annals of American song.
|Channeled though Lehrer's brain and piano, dated controversies over the MLF Treaty ("Once all the Germans were warlike and mean, but that couldn't happen again/ We taught them a lesson in 1918 and they've hardly bothered us since then") and the Vatican II Conference ("Get into that long processional, step into that small confessional/ There the guy that's got religion'll tell you if your sin's original/ If it is try playing it safer, drink the wine and chew the wafer/ Two, four, six, eight, time to transubstantiate!") have a lasting snap and impact. On lingering issues like Pollution ("brush with toothpaste, then rinse your mouth with industrial waste") and Smut (the only thing he really seems to be in favor of, "Stories of tortures used by debauchers/ lurid, licentious, and vile, make me smile"), his songs have a contemporary resonance, and in fact are frequently played to amplify news stories on television and radio.||
When You Are Old & Gray
I still appreciate you,
teeth will start to go, dear,
Our Hero, Tom Lehrer
Since this is Valentine's Day I am irresistibly drawn to Lehrer's songs of love, and since most of you won't receive this publication until the holiday is well over I selected "When You Are Old and Gray" from his oeuvre, in honor of all that time destroys. What follows is Tom Lehrer's own introduction to the song on his live album, An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer:
most popular type of popular song is of course the love song, and I'd like
to illustrate several subspecies of this form during the evening. First of
all, the type of love song where the fellow tells the girl that although the
years ahead will almost certainly destroy every vestige of her already dubious
charms, that nonetheless his love for her will shine on forever through the
years, you know. Another example of stark realism in the popular song. This
particular example is called "When You Are Old And Gray," and I'd like to
dedicate it to anyone in the audience who is still in love with each other.