Tuesday, May 22, 2007


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Tom Lehrer is one of the great post-war American informal satirists, and also an excellent and talented mathematician, pianist, singer and entertainer, an altogether remarkable man. A friend introduced me to him, and I was hooked. His excessively irreverential, flippant, and brilliantly sardonic wit, ensconced in precisely metered and sparkling tunes and piano waltzes, is some of the most rambunctious and fun-filled entertainment I can listen to. He takes potshots at everything; religion, the armed forces, and politicians. Of course, everyone does it these days, but Lehrer did it in the 50s and 60s. And you have got to hear his high-speed and extremely accomplished rendition of the Periodic Table.
He is just so funny!

Here's one of his most popular pieces poking sharp fun at the Vatican, "The Vatican Rag":
First you get down on your knees
Fiddle with your rosaries
Bow your head with great respect
And genuflect, genuflect, genuflect

Do whatever steps you want if
You have cleared them with the Pontiff
Everybody say his own kyrie eleison
Doin' the Vatican Rag

Get in line in that processional
Step into that small confessional
There, the guy who's got religion'll
Tell you if your sin's original

If it is, try playin' it safer
Drink the wine and chew the wafer
Two, four, six, eight
Time to transubstantiate

So get down upon your knees
Fiddle with your rosaries
Bow your head with great respect
And genuflect, genuflect, genuflect

Make a cross on your abdomen
When in Rome do like a Roman
Ave Maria, gee it's good to see ya
Gettin' ecstatic an' sorta dramatic an'
Doin' the Vatican Rag"
Naturally, there's no substitute for listening to it. So do that here (the song plays automatically when the page loads)

In the introduction to another of his great songs, "It makes a fellow proud to be a soldier", here's what Lehrer says:
"One of the many fine things about the army that one has to admit, is that they have carried the American democratic ideal to its logical conclusion, in the sense that not only do they prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race, creed and colour, but also on the grounds of ability"
Now what country and government does that remind me of?...



Blogger Ed - The Music Man said...

I completely agree with you and with the blurb on the sheet music that says you have to offend in order to be satirical. Of course you do. And poking fun at yourself and others is the only way to show how we can all progress and work for a better world.

What I love about Tom Lehrer is that he was such a wealth of common sense - unusually so from a man who was so witty and smart.

9:57 AM  

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