Tom Lehrer is 80

by Kieran Healy on April 11, 2008



DennyCrane 04.11.08 at 10:35 pm

You animal, Lehrer, lol.

Happy birthday and thanks for the songs.


Righteous Bubba 04.11.08 at 10:45 pm

Since there’s been a kiddie-show kick lately here’s Lehrer’s disquisition on his love of SN from The Electric Company. Bad audio unfortunately but it’s available on DVD.


riffle 04.11.08 at 10:54 pm

I’ve listened to Lehrer songs hundreds — maybe thousands — of times over the decades, and even bought “The Remains of Tom Lehrer,” the complete 3-CD set from Rhino Records (highly recommended to Lehrer fans) in 2000 when my various tapes and LPs weren’t usable any more.

But I can’t recall ever having seen video of him performing. I’m from the US so never saw the BBC’s “That Was the Week That Was,” hence this was a revelation. Great thanks for pointing us to it.

And thanks to Mr Lehrer himself for all the wonderful tunes. I’d call him a genius of cleverness.


Bruce Baugh 04.11.08 at 11:01 pm

Happy birthday to Prof. Lehrer! He’s been such an influence on me, no matter what he might wish.


Matthew Kuzma 04.11.08 at 11:04 pm

“Nearly 3 billion hunks of well-done steak”

50 years later and the population is more than double that… I’m sure this is sustainable.


stand 04.11.08 at 11:16 pm

I love YouTube


bert 04.11.08 at 11:51 pm

From the same broadcast:
So long, mom
Who’s next?
Werner von Braun

Ah, the Cold War. Life was so much simpler then.


raghav 04.11.08 at 11:53 pm

My sister and I grew up on Tom Lehrer, and I would have liked to go to Santa Cruz to see if I could meet the Great Man myself if it weren’t just a bit rude/embarrassing. And my admiration only increased on finding that Dinesh D’Souza considers Lehrer “juvenile”.


vivian 04.12.08 at 12:27 am

The world really needs more like him – brilliant math teachers who are brilliant parodists and public intellectuals on the side. Fond memories of singing all his songs while waiting for trains. No New Yorker ever seemed to mind teenagers singing “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” for some reason.


Delicious Pundit 04.12.08 at 12:27 am

D’Souza, I see, also considers Monty Python juvenile. To him I say, “All humor is juvenile, fartpants.”


Donald A. Coffin 04.12.08 at 1:02 am

This is great. Lehrer did, in fact, appear on the US version of That Was The Week That Was. and seeing him there was my introduction to him…a 40 year + fandom.

Happy Birthday, Tom.


Lord Acton 04.12.08 at 2:50 am

vivian suggests: “The world really needs more like him – brilliant math teachers …”

Did you ever take a class with the good doctor? That must have been wonderful!

Back in the day when I was in school another student who had taken one of his poli sci classes as an undergrad said his lecturing style was much less entertaining than his … uh … entertaining.

Hearsay of course.

I have heard, however, that his UCSC math classes were wonderful. Probably because they were for liberal arts majors and not arithmetic types :-}


bernard Yomtov 04.12.08 at 3:29 am

Dinesh D’Souza considers Lehrer “juvenile”.????

Somebody tell D’Souza to put it where the sun don’t shine.

I wonder if anyone will be reading his garbage when he’s eighty.

Happy Birthday, Lehrer.


Randy Paul 04.12.08 at 3:36 am

From So Long Mom:

“This is what he said on
His Way to Armageddon.”

Sheer genius.

The only one who comes close these days may be Dave Frishberg.


Dan Hirschman 04.12.08 at 4:06 am

I recently ran across a delightful video of Lehrer performing calculus songs. I really loved “There’s a Delta for Every Epsilon.” Footage available here:


bad Jim 04.12.08 at 8:12 am

I can hardly look at pigeons without recalling his paean to spring, or hand my mother her visor without this theme running through my mind:

So be sweet and kind to mother
Now and then have a chat
Buy her candy or some flowers or a brand new hat
But maybe you should let it go at that


David Mackinder 04.12.08 at 2:36 pm

Happy birthday, Professor Lehrer. Now, I’m off to the park to — erm — track down some pigeons in your honor . . .


MikeN 04.12.08 at 3:02 pm

And, of course, sadly true about the Spanish Civil War:

“They won all of the battles, but we had all the good songs.”


William Sjostrom 04.12.08 at 3:40 pm

One of his better songs, but I am surprised you did not put up his Sociology.


stostosto 04.12.08 at 5:55 pm

“These are the only ones of which the news have come to Harvard / And there may be many others but they haven’t been discovered.”


vivian 04.13.08 at 12:36 am

12: No, alas, but my undergrad advisor worked with him before my time. Rumor had them trashing the faculty meeting room after a raucous party and one too many puffs, but apparently reality was just that Lehrer would write/arrange for Christmas parties where they would sing together. Watching the video links from 15 in the corner of the screen as I type.


Gene O'Grady 04.13.08 at 12:58 am

At the risk of starting a flame war, may I say I was never particularly impressed with Lehrer’s self-indulgent humor? Gee I’m clever, and I’m probably a lot better than other people too.

And since I had one too many bishop worry more about holding on to real estate than dealing with priests buggering five year olds and no longer consider myself a Roman Catholic, may I also say that the famous Vatican Rag is the work of a bully and a bigot? He’s not getting anything on John Paul II or Cardinals George or Spellman, or Garry Wills, or on powerful Catholics in business, he’s standing there like an immature lout sneering at pious old ladies genuflecting and fumbling with their rosary beads (a dead give-away). I had a jerk of a neighbot who used to pull the same crap on a local Orthodox Jew whenever he looked through the window as the guy was celebrating Shabbat. Those of us who were slightly more civilized at least had the grace to be ashamed.


Righteous Bubba 04.13.08 at 1:41 am

may I also say that the famous Vatican Rag is the work of a bully and a bigot?

He is laughing at something that is stupid and worth laughing at.


Matt Austern 04.13.08 at 2:03 am

If you think that the Vatican Rag is laughing at traditional Catholic ritual, you’ve missed the point of the song. That’s very explicitly not what it’s making fun of.


bernard Yomtov 04.13.08 at 3:29 am

If you think that the Vatican Rag is laughing at traditional Catholic ritual, you’ve missed the point of the song. That’s very explicitly not what it’s making fun of.


Listen to Lehrer’s introduction to the song, which mocks the church not for traditionalism but for catering to popular demand.

It’s a song a conservative Catholic (with a sense of humor) should love.

“Fish gotta swim,
Birds gotta fly,
But they don’t get far if they try.”

(Totally irrelevant to my comment, but one of my favorite lyrics, from “Pollution.”)


Righteous Bubba 04.13.08 at 4:20 am

It’s a song a conservative Catholic (with a sense of humor) should love.

You might even say an orthodox one.


jcamfield 04.14.08 at 5:31 pm

I stumbled into Tom Lehrer when my father caught me researching Lobrachevsky for a HS geometry years ago. I listen to Poisoning Pigeons every spring still.


Russell Arben Fox 04.14.08 at 9:43 pm

Dinesh D’Souza considers Lehrer and Monty Python “juvenile”? Geez, what a complete idiot.


Maia 04.15.08 at 2:01 am

But please, always to call it “research”.

One of my Russian textbooks included biographical profiles of famous Russians. I knew I had met a fellow traveler when one of my classmates started to snigger as we read the profile of Nikolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky. No else got it, though, and the instructor just thought we were nuts when we tried to explain what was so funny (and I think her national pride was vaguely insulted at the suggestion that the great mathematician was a plagiarist).


ajay 04.15.08 at 12:47 pm

“Once the rockets go up, who cares where they come down?
That’s not my department, – says Wernher von Braun.”

Next: Gene O’Grady announces that “My Home Town” shows that Tom Lehrer was a typical Ivy League elitist mocking real small-town Americans. And “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” is horribly offensive to, er, pigeons. Or something.

Just to make the point again: mocking Catholics is bigoted. Mocking the Catholic Church is an entirely acceptable act, just as it would be acceptable to mock, say, the Republican Party or the government of France or any other large organisation.

And the Vatican Rag, of course, was about Vatican II, and so predates John Paul II and Cardinal George by more than a decade.

Finally, I would say it’s a happy day when a single Jewish mathematics lecturer can successfully bully the richest and most powerful religious organisation in the history of the world.

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