Tom Lehrer: Wikis


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Tom Lehrer
Birth name Thomas Andrew Lehrer
Born April 9, 1928 (1928-04-09) (age 81)
New York, New York
Occupations Mathematician, teacher, lyricist, pianist, composer, singer/songwriter
Instruments Vocals
Years active 1945 - 1965
Website The Tom Lehrer Wisdom Channel

Thomas Andrew "Tom" Lehrer (born April 9, 1928) is an American singer-songwriter, satirist, pianist, and mathematician. He has lectured on mathematics and musical theater. Lehrer is best known for the pithy, humorous songs he recorded in the 1950s and 1960s.

His work often parodies popular song forms, such as in "The Elements", where he sets the names of the chemical elements to the tune of the "Major-General's Song" from Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance. Lehrer's earlier work typically dealt with non-topical subject matter and was noted for its black humor, seen in songs such as "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park". In the 1960s, he produced a number of songs dealing with social and political issues of the day, particularly when he wrote for the U.S. version of the television show That Was The Week That Was.


Early life

Born during 1928 in Manhattan, Tom Lehrer began studying classical piano music at the age of seven. He was more interested, however, in the popular music of the age. Eventually, his mother also sent him to a popular-music piano teacher.[1] At this early age, he began writing his own show tunes, which eventually would help him in his future adventures as a satirical composer and writer in his years at lecturing at Harvard University and later at other universities.[2]

Lehrer was graduated from the Loomis Chaffee School in Windsor, Connecticut. While studying mathematics as an undergraduate student at Harvard University, he began to write comic songs to entertain his friends, including "Fight Fiercely, Harvard" (1945). Those songs later were named, The Physical Revue, a joking reference to a leading scientific journal, The Physical Review.

Mathematics career

Lehrer earned his BA degree in mathematics (magna cum laude) from Harvard University in 1947, when he was nineteen. He received his MA degree the next year and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. He taught classes at MIT, Harvard, and Wellesley.

He remained in Harvard's doctoral program for several years, taking time out for his musical career and to work as a researcher at Los Alamos, New Mexico. He served in the Army from 1955 to 1957, working at the National Security Agency. (Lehrer has stated that he invented the Jell-O Shot during this time, as a means of circumventing liquor restrictions.)[3] All of these experiences eventually became fodder for songs: "Fight Fiercely, Harvard", "The Wild West Is Where I Want To Be" and "It Makes a Fellow Proud to Be a Soldier", respectively. Despite holding a master's degree in an era when American conscripts often lacked a high school diploma, Lehrer served as an enlisted soldier, achieving the rank of Specialist Third Class [later known as 'Specialist-4', and currently simply 'Specialist'], which he described as being a "corporal without portfolio".[4] In 1960, Lehrer returned to full-time studies at Harvard, however, he never completed his doctoral studies in mathematics.

From 1962, he taught in the political science department at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).[5] In 1972, he joined the faculty of the University of California, Santa Cruz, teaching an introductory course entitled "The Nature of Mathematics" to liberal arts majors—"Math for Tenors", according to Lehrer. He also taught a class in musical theater. He occasionally performed songs in his lectures, primarily those relating to the topic.[6]

In 2001, Lehrer taught his last mathematics class (on the topic of infinity) and retired from academia.[7] He has remained in the area, and still "hangs out" around the University of California, Santa Cruz.[8]


Mathematical publications

The American Mathematical Society database lists Lehrer as co-author of two papers:

  • RE Fagen & TA Lehrer, Random walks with restraining barrier as applied to the biased binary counter, Journal of the Society for Industrial Applied Mathematics, vol. 6, pp. 1-14 (March 1958) MR0094856
  • T Austin, R Fagen, T Lehrer, W Penney, The distribution of the number of locally maximal elements in a random sample, Annals of Mathematical Statistics vol. 28, pp. 786-790 (1957) MR0091251

Musical career

Influenced mainly by musical theater Lehrer's style consists of parodying various forms of popular song. For example, his appreciation of list songs led him to set an unordered list of the chemical elements to the tune of Gilbert and Sullivan's "Major-General's Song".

Author Isaac Asimov recounted in his second autobiographical volume In Joy Still Felt of seeing Lehrer perform in a Boston nightclub on October 9, 1954, during which Lehrer sang very cleverly about Jim getting it from Louise, and Sally from Jim, "and after a while you gathered the 'it' to be venereal disease [likely this was, "I Got It From Agnes"]. Suddenly, as the combinations grew more grotesque, you realized he was satirizing every perversion known to mankind without using a single naughty phrase. It was clearly unsingable (in those days) outside a nightclub." Asimov also recalled a song that dealt with the Boston subway system, making use of the stations leading into town from Harvard, observing that the local subject-matter rendered the song useless for general distribution. Lehrer subsequently granted Asimov permission to print the lyrics to the subway song in his book. "I haven't gone to nightclubs often," said Asimov, "but of all the times I have gone, it was on this occasion that I had by far the best time."[9]

Inspired by the success of his performances of his own songs, he paid for some studio time to record Songs by Tom Lehrer. At the time radio stations would not give Lehrer air time because of the his controversial subjects. Instead, he sold his album on campus at Harvard for three dollars, while "supportive record merchants and dorm newsstands bought copies…and marked them up fifty cents."[citation needed] After one summer, he also started to receive mail orders from all parts of the country (as far away as San Francisco after The Chronicle wrote an article on the record). Interest in his recordings was spread by word of mouth, friends and supporters brought their records home and played them for their friends, who then also wanted a copy.[10]

Self-published and without promotion, the album—which included the macabre "I Hold Your Hand in Mine", the mildly risqué "Be Prepared", and "Lobachevsky" (regarding plagiarizing mathematicians)—became a cult success via word of mouth. Lehrer then embarked on a series of concert tours and recorded a second album, which was released in two versions: the songs were the same, but More Songs by Tom Lehrer was studio-recorded, while An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer was recorded live in concert.

Lehrer's major breakthrough in the United Kingdom came as a result of the citation accompanying an honorary degree given to Princess Margaret, where she cited musical tastes as "catholic, ranging from Mozart to Tom Lehrer". This prompted significant interest in his works and helped secure distributors for his material in the U.K. It was there that his music achieved real popularity, as a result of the proliferation of university newspapers referring to the material, and the willingness of the BBC to play his songs on the radio (something that was a rarity in the USA).

By the early 1960s, Lehrer had retired from touring (which he intensely disliked) and was employed as the resident songwriter for the U.S. edition of That Was The Week That Was (TW3), a satirical television show. An increased proportion of his output became overtly political, or at least topical, on subjects such as education ("New Math"), the Second Vatican Council ("The Vatican Rag"), race relations ("National Brotherhood Week"), air and water pollution ("Pollution"), American militarism ("Send the Marines"), World War III "pre-nostalgia" ("So Long, Mom", premiered by Steve Allen), and nuclear proliferation ("Who's Next?" and "MLF Lullaby"). He also wrote a song that famously, satirized the alleged amorality of the rocket scientist, Wernher von Braun, who previously had worked for Nazi Germany before working for the United States. ("'Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down? That's not my department', says Wernher von Braun.") Lehrer did not appear on the television show; his songs were performed by a female vocalist and his lyrics often were altered by the network censors. Lehrer later performed the songs on the album, That Was The Year That Was, so that, in his words, people could hear the songs the way they were intended to be heard.

In 1967, Lehrer was persuaded to make a short tour in Norway and Denmark, where he performed some of the songs from the television program. The performance in Oslo, Norway, on September 10 was recorded on video tape and aired locally later that autumn.[11]

The record deal with Reprise Records for the That Was The Year That Was album also gave Reprise distribution rights for Lehrer's earlier recordings, as Lehrer wanted to wind up his own record imprint. The Reprise issue of Songs by Tom Lehrer was a stereo re-recording. This version was not issued on CD, but the songs were issued on the live Tom Lehrer Revisited CD instead. The live [recording] also included bonus tracks "L-Y" and "Silent E", which Lehrer wrote for the PBS children's educational series The Electric Company. Lehrer later commented that worldwide sales of the recordings under Reprise surpassed 1.8 million units in 1996. That same year, the album That Was The Year That Was went gold.[10]

Departure from the scene

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.[12] Another mistaken belief is that he had been sued for libel by the estate of Wernher Von Braun, the subject of one of his songs, and been forced to relinquish all of his royalty income to Von Braun. Lehrer firmly denied this in a 2003 interview.[8]

When asked about his reasons for abandoning his musical career, in an interview in the book accompanying his CD box set, released in 2000 he cited a simple lack of interest, a distaste for touring, and boredom with performing the same songs repeatedly. He observed that when he was moved to write and perform songs, he did, and when he wasn't, he did not, and that after a while he simply lost interest. It frequently has been observed that, although many of Lehrer's songs satirized the Cold War political establishment of the era, he stopped writing and performing just as the 1960s counterculture movement gained momentum.

Lehrer's musical career was brief; in an interview in the late 1990s, he pointed out that he had performed a mere 109 shows and written 37 songs over 20 years. Nevertheless, he developed a significant cult following both in the U.S. and abroad.

Return to music

In the 1970s, Lehrer concentrated on teaching mathematics and musical theater, although he also wrote ten songs for the children's television show The Electric Company—Lehrer's Harvard schoolmate Joe Raposo was the show's musical director for its first three seasons. In the early 1980s, Tom Foolery, a revival of his songs on the London stage, was a hit. Although not its instigator, Lehrer eventually gave the stage production his full support and updated several of his lyrics for the production (such as "Who's Next", in which Neiman-Marcus, not Alabama, gets the bomb). Tom Foolery contained 27 Lehrer songs and led to more than 200 productions,[10] including an off-Broadway production at the Village Gate, which ran for 120 performances in 1981.[13]

On June 7 and 8, 1998, Lehrer performed in public for the first time in 25 years at the Lyceum Theatre, London as part of the gala show Hey, Mr. Producer! celebrating the career of impresario Cameron Mackintosh, who had been the producer of Tom Foolery. The June 8 show was his only performance before Queen Elizabeth II. Lehrer sang "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park" and an updated version of the nuclear proliferation song "Who's Next?". The DVD of the event includes the former song.[14]

In 2000, boxed set of CDs, The Remains of Tom Lehrer, was released by Rhino Entertainment. It included live and studio versions of his first two albums, That Was The Year That Was, the songs he wrote for The Electric Company, and some previously unreleased material. It was accompanied by a small hardbound book containing an introduction by Dr. Demento and lyrics to all the songs.

In April of 2010 a CD and a never before available DVD, called The Tom Lehrer Collection[15], was released by Shout! Factory. It included the whole of Lehrer's videotaped performance in Oslo, Norway, on September 10 1967 and other bonus tracks on video, as well as radio interviews with Tom Lehrer.

Musical legacy

Lehrer has commented that he doubts his songs had any real effect on those not already critical of the establishment: "I don't think this kind of thing has an impact on the unconverted, frankly. It's not even preaching to the converted; it's titillating the converted... I'm fond of quoting Peter Cook, who talked about the satirical Berlin kabaretts of the 1930s, which did so much to stop the rise of Hitler and prevent the Second World War."[12]

In 2003 he commented that his particular brand of political satire is more difficult in the modern world: "The real issues I don't think most people touch. The Clinton jokes are all about Monica Lewinsky and all that stuff and not about the important things, like the fact that he wouldn't ban land mines... I'm not tempted to write a song about George W. Bush. I couldn't figure out what sort of song I would write. That's the problem: I don't want to satirise George Bush and his puppeteers, I want to vaporize them."[8]

In a phone call to Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post in February 2008, Lehrer instructed Weingarten to "Just tell the people that I am voting for Obama."[16]

A play, Letters from Lehrer, written by Canadian Richard Greenblatt, was performed by him at CanStage, from January 16 to February 25, 2006. It followed Lehrer's musical career, the meaning of several songs, the politics of the time, and Greenblatt's own experiences with Lehrer's music, while playing some of Lehrer's songs. There are currently no plans for more performances, although low-quality audio recordings have begun to circulate around the internet.

Lehrer was praised by Dr. Demento as "the best musical satirist of the twentieth century". Other artists who cite Lehrer as an influence include "Weird Al" Yankovic, whose work generally addresses more popular and less technical or political subjects[17], and educator and scientist H. Paul Shuch, who tours under the stage name Dr. SETI and calls himself "a cross between Carl Sagan and Tom Lehrer: he sings like Sagan and lectures like Lehrer." More stylistically influenced performers include American political satirist Mark Russell,[18] and the British duo Kit and The Widow.[citation needed] British medical satirists Amateur Transplants acknowledge the debt they owe to Tom Lehrer on the back of their first album, Fitness to Practice. Their songs "The Menstrual Rag" and "The Drugs Song" are to the tunes of Lehrer's "The Vatican Rag" and "The Elements" respectively. Their second album, Unfit to Practise, opens with an update of Lehrer's "The Masochism Tango" and is called simply "Masochism Tango 2008". Syndicated conservative morning-radio talk show host Jim Quinn sings with piano backing in a Lehrer-like tribute in a song on how political correctness has destroyed so many Christmas traditions with the song "A Politically Correct Christmas".

Lehrer has said of his musical career, "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."[19]

Music lists

Reviews selected by Lehrer for his liner notes

Solo discography

Many Lehrer songs also are performed (but not by Lehrer) in That Was The Week That Was (Radiola LP, 1981)

The sheet music to many of Lehrer's songs is published in The Tom Lehrer Song Book (Crown Publishers, Inc., 1954) Library of Congress Card Catalog Number 54-12068 and Too Many Songs by Tom Lehrer: with not enough drawings by Ronald Searle (Pantheon, 1981, ISBN 0-394-74930-8).


  1. ^ Liner notes, "Songs & More Songs By Tom Lehrer", Rhino Records, 1997.
  2. ^ Tom Lehrer: The Political Musician That Wasn't. By Jeremy Mazner.
  3. ^ "", Jack Boulware, San Francisco Weekly, April 19, 2000. Retrieved February 1, 2007.
  4. ^ Monologue preface to "It Makes a Fellow Proud to Be a Soldier" on An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer.
  5. ^ "", Eric Longley, Tom Lehrer in St. James Encyclopedia of Pop Culture 2002. Accessed December 21, 2007.
  6. ^ Internet Archive: Details: Tom Lehrer.
  7. ^ I hope Tom doesn't read this. He doesn't like the attention.
  8. ^ a b c Interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, February 28, 2003.
  9. ^ Asimov, Isaac, In Joy Still Felt: The Autobiography of Isaac Asimov, 1954-1978. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1980, p. 15.
  10. ^ a b c Jim Bessman. "Rhino Reissues Lehrer's Seminal 'Songs' Albums." Billboard. June 21, 1997.
  11. ^ Tom Lehrer, performing in Norway, at Retrieved July 5, 2007.
  12. ^ a b Interview with the Onion AV Club, May 24, 2000.
  13. ^ Tomfoolery at the Internet off-Broadway Database
  14. ^ Poisoning Pigeons in the Park (original version) at Retrieved March 25, 2008.
  15. ^ The Tom Lehrer Collection
  16. ^ "Chatalogical Humor", February 12, 2008.
  17. ^ "Weird Al's FAQs". Retrieved June 12, 2009. 
  18. ^ "NewsHole". 2000-03-05. Retrieved June 12, 2009. 
  19. ^ Liner notes, "Songs & More Songs By Tom Lehrer", Rhino Records, 1997.

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

All the world seems in tune
On a spring afternoon,
When we're poisoning pigeons in the park.

Thomas Andrew Lehrer (born 9 April 1928) American singer-songwriter, satirist, pianist, and mathematician.



  • (on the current state of satire) Alas, irreverence has been subsumed by mere grossness, at least in the so-called mass media. What we have now--to quote myself at my most pretentious--is a nimiety of scurrility with a concomitant exiguity of taste. For example, the freedom (hooray!) to say almost anything you want on television about society's problems has been co-opted (alas!) by the freedom to talk instead about flatulence, orgasms, genitalia, masturbation, etc., etc., and to replace real comment with pop-culture references and so-called "adult" language. Irreverence is easy--what's hard is wit.
    • Rhino Records online chat, June 17th, 1997.
  • Andrew Wiles gently smiles,
    Does his thing, and voila!
    Q.E.D., we agree,
    And we all shout hurrah!
    As he confirms what Fermat
    Jotted down in that margin,
    Which could've used some enlargin'.
    • That's Mathematics (verse added in 1993 to celebrate the achievement of Andrew Wiles)
  • No one is more dangerous than someone who thinks he has "The Truth". To be an atheist is almost as arrogant as to be a fundamentalist. But then again, I can get pretty arrogant.
    • Responding to a question on whether he considered himself an atheist or an agnostic. Interview (June 1996)
  • I find enough mystery in mathematics to satisfy my spiritual needs. I think, for example, that pi is mysterious enough (don't get me started!) without having to worry about God. Or if pi isn't enough, how about fractals? or quantum mechanics?

Songs by Tom Lehrer (1953)

  • I would like to state at this time that I am not now and have never been... a member of the Boy Scouts of America. Their motto is, as you know, "Be Prepared!" and that is the name of this song.
    • Introduction to "Be Prepared"
  • Don't solicit for your sister, that's not nice,
    Unless you get a good percentage of her price.
    • "Be Prepared"
  • If you're looking for adventure of a new and different kind,
    And you come across a Girl Scout who is similarly inclined,
    Don't be nervous, don't be flustered, don't be scared. Be prepared!
    • "Be Prepared"
  • I always like to make explicit the fact that before I went off not too long ago to fight in the trenches, I was a mathematician by profession. I don't like people to get the idea that I have to do this for a living. I mean, it isn't as though I had to do this, you know, I could be making, oh, 3000 dollars a year just teaching.
    • Intro to "Lobachevsky"
  • I am never forget the day I first meet the great Lobachevsky.
    In one word he told me secret of success in mathematics: Plagiarize!
    Let no one else's work evade your eyes,
    Remember why the good Lord made your eyes,
    So don't shade your eyes,
    But plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize...
    Only be sure always to call it please "research".
    • "Lobachevsky"
  • In all probability
    I'll lose my virility
    And you your fertility
    And desirability,
    And this liability
    Of total sterility
    Will lead to hostility
    And a sense of futility,
    So let's act with agility
    While we still have facility,
    For we'll soon reach senility
    And lose the ability.
    • When You Are Old And Grey
  • I hold your hand in mine, dear,
    I press it to my lips.
    I take a healthy bite
    From your dainty fingertips.
    My joy would be complete, dear,
    If you were only here,
    But still I keep your hand
    As a precious souvenir.
    • "I Hold Your Hand In Mine"
  • You know, of all the songs I have ever sung, that is the one I've had the most requests not to.
    • Afterword to "I Hold Your Hand In Mine"

An Evening (Wasted) With Tom Lehrer (1959)

Live performances recorded in Sanders Theater at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts (20-21 March 1959)

  • I'd like to take you now, on wings of song as it were, and try and help you forget for a while your drab, wretched lives.
    • Introduction to "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park"
  • All the world seems in tune
    On a spring afternoon,
    When we're poisoning pigeons in the park.
    Every Sunday you'll see
    My sweetheart and me,
    As we poison the pigeons in the park.
    • "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park"
  • When they see us coming, the birdies all try an' hide,
    But they still go for peanuts when coated with cyanide.
    My pulse will be quickenin',
    With each drop of strych-a-nine,
    We feed to a pigeon
    it just takes a smidgen
    To poison a pigeon in the park.
    • "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park"
  • Oh, soon we'll be out amid the cold world's strife. Soon we'll be sliding down the razor blade of life. Oooh.
    • "Bright College Days"
  • A few years ago, a motion picture version appeared of Sophocles' immortal tragedy "Oedipus Rex". This picture played only in the so-called art theaters, and it was not a financial success. And I maintain that the reason it was not a financial success... you're way ahead of me... was that it did not have a title tune which the people could hum, and which would make them actually eager to attend this particular...flick. So, I've attempted to supply this, and here then is the prospective title song from "Oedipus Rex".
    • Intro to "Oedipus Rex"
  • There once lived a man named Oedipus Rex,
    You may have heard about his odd complex.
    His name appears in Freud's index
    'Cause he loved his mother.
    • "Oedipus Rex"
  • His rivals used to say quite a bit
    That as a monarch he was most unfit.
    But still in all they had to admit
    That he loved his mother.
    • "Oedipus Rex"
  • Yes, he loved his mother like no other,
    His daughter was his sister and his son was his brother.
    One thing on which you can depend is,
    He sure knew who a boy's best friend is.
    • "Oedipus Rex"
  • 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 best let it go at that!/
    Or you may find yourself with a quite complex/
    You may end up like Oedipus/
    I'd rather marry a duck-billed platypus!/
    Than end up like poor Oedipus Rex!
    • "Oedipus Rex", final stanza
  • The usual jokes about the Army aside, one of the many fine things one has to admit is the way that the Army has 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 color, but also on the grounds of ability.
    • Introduction to "It Makes a Fellow Proud to be a Soldier"
  • I ache for the touch of your lips, dear,
    But much more for the touch of your whips, dear.
    You can raise welts
    Like nobody else,
    As we dance to the Masochism Tango.
    • "The Masochism Tango"
  • Take your cigarette from its holder,
    And burn your initials in my shoulder.
    Fracture my spine,
    And swear that you're mine,
    As we dance to the Masochism Tango.
    • "The Masochism Tango"
  • "Life is like a sewer — what you get out of it depends on what you put into it." It's always seemed to me that this is precisely the sort of dynamic, positive thinking that we so desperately need today in these trying times of crisis and universal brouhaha.
    • Introduction to "We Will All Go Together When We Go"
  • When you attend a funeral,
    It is sad to think that sooner o'
    Later those you love will do the same for you.
    And you may have thought it tragic,
    Not to mention other adjec-
    Tives, to think of all the weeping they will do.
    (But don't you worry.)
    • "We Will All Go Together When We Go"
  • And we will all go together when we go.
    What a comforting fact that is to know.
    Universal bereavement,
    An inspiring achievement,
    Yes, we will all go together when we go.
    • "We Will All Go Together When We Go"
  • Oh we will all fry together when we fry.
    We'll be french fried potatoes by and by.
    There will be no more misery
    When the world is our rotisserie,
    Yes, we will all fry together when we fry.
    • "We Will All Go Together When We Go"
  • And we will all bake together when we bake.
    There'll be nobody present at the wake.
    With complete participation
    In that grand incineration,
    Nearly three billion hunks of well-done steak.
    • "We Will All Go Together When We Go"

That Was the Year That Was (1965)

  • Any ideas expressed on this record should not be taken as representing Mr. Lehrer's true convictions, for indeed he has none. "If anyone objects to any statement I make," he has said, "I am quite prepared not only to retract it, but also to deny under oath that I ever made it."
    • Liner notes
  • I do have a cause though. It's obscenity. I'm for it.
    • Introduction to "Smut"
  • But don't panic. Base eight is just like base ten really — if you're missing two fingers.
    • "New Math"
  • Last December 13th, there appeared in the newspapers the juiciest, spiciest, raciest obituary it has ever been my pleasure to read.
    It was that of a lady named Alma Mahler Gropius Werfel, who had, in her lifetime, managed to acquire as lovers practically all of the top creative men in central Europe. And, among these lovers, who were listed in the obituary, by the way, which is what made it so interesting, there were three whom she went so far as to marry: One of the leading composers of the day, Gustav Mahler, composer of "Das Lied von der Erde" and other light classics, one of the leading architects, Walter Gropius, of the "Bauhaus" school of design, and one of the leading writers, Franz Werfel, author of the "Song of Bernadette" and other masterpieces.
    It's people like that who make you realize how little you've accomplished. It is a sobering thought, for example, that when Mozart was my age, he had been dead for two years.
    • Introduction to "Alma"
  • The loveliest girl in Vienna
    Was Alma, the smartest as well.
    Once you picked her up on your antenna,
    You'd never be free of her spell.
    • "Alma"
  • And that is the story of Alma,
    Who knew how to receive and to give.
    The body that reached her embalma'
    Was one that had known how to live.
    • "Alma"
  • Speaking of love, one problem that recurs more and more frequently these days, in books and plays and movies, is the inability of people to communicate with the people they love: husbands and wives who can't communicate, children who can't communicate with their parents, and so on. And the characters in these books and plays and so on, and in real life, I might add, spend hours bemoaning the fact that they can't communicate. I feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up.
    • Afterword to "Alma"
  • I feel that if any songs are gonna come out of World War III, we'd better start writing them now.
    • Introduction to "So Long Mom (A Song For World War III)
  • 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!
    • "The Vatican Rag"
  • So get down upon your knees,
    Fiddle with your rosaries,
    Bow your head with great respect,
    And genuflect, genuflect, genuflect!
    • "The Vatican Rag"
  • During National Brotherhood Week various special events are arranged to drive home the message of brotherhood — this year, for example, on the first day of the week, Malcolm X was killed, which gives you an idea of how effective the whole thing is.
    I'm sure we all agree that we ought to love one another, and I know there are people in the world who do not love their fellow human beings — and I hate people like that!
    • Introduction to "National Brotherhood Week"
  • Oh, the white folks hate the black folks,
    And the black folks hate the white folks;
    To hate all but the right folks
    Is an old established rule.
    • "National Brotherhood Week"
  • Oh, the poor folks hate the rich folks,
    And the rich folks hate the poor folks.
    All of my folks hate all of your folks,
    It's American as apple pie.
    • "National Brotherhood Week"
  • Step up and shake the hand
    Of someone you can't stand,
    You can tolerate him if you try!
    • "National Brotherhood Week"
  • Oh, the Protestants hate the Catholics
    And the Catholics hate the Protestants,
    And the Hindus hate the Moslems,
    And everybody hates the Jews.
    • "National Brotherhood Week"
  • It's only for a week so have no fear!/
    Be grateful that it doesn't last all year!
    • "National Brotherhood Week", closing stanza
  • What is it that put America in the forefront of the nuclear nations? And what is it that will make it possible to spend twenty billion dollars of your money to put some clown on the moon? Well, it was good old American know how, that's what, as provided by good old Americans like Dr. Wernher von Braun!
    • Introduction to "Wernher Von Braun"
  • Don't say that he's hypocritical,
    Say rather that he's apolitical.
    "Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down?
    That's not my department," says Wernher von Braun.
    • "Wernher Von Braun"

Sydney Morning Herald interview (2003)

Sydney Morning Herald (1 March 2003)

  • I'm not tempted to write a song about George W.Bush. I couldn't figure out what sort of song I would write. That's the problem: I don't want to satirise George Bush and his puppeteers, I want to vaporise them. And that's not funny. ... OK, well, if I say that, I might get a shock laugh, but it's not really satire.
  • Things are much more complicated. Feminism versus pornography, for example. There are a lot of feminists who think it is bad, but others think it's good. I have become, you might call it mature — I would call it senile — and I can see both sides. But you can't write a satirical song with 'but on the other hand' in it, or 'however'. It's got to be one-sided.
  • The real issues I don't think most people touch. The Clinton jokes are all about Monica Lewinsky and all that stuff and not about the important things, like the fact that he wouldn't ban landmines.
  • One of the problems I see with these comics on television, particularly cable television, is, since you can say anything in terms of sex and scatological references and so on, therefore, you should do it. So they all limit themselves to these subjects and this vocabulary. My objection is that it is a lack of articulateness ... Irreverence is easy, but what is hard is wit. Wit is what these comedians lack.
  • The audience usually has to be with you, I'm afraid. I always regarded myself as not even preaching to the converted, I was titillating the converted.
    The audiences like to think that satire is doing something. But, in fact, it is mostly to leave themselves satisfied. Satisfied rather than angry, which is what they should be.
  • You can make fun with Saddam Hussein jokes ... but you can't make fun of, say, the concentration camps. I think my target was not so much evil, but benign stupidity people doing stupid things without realising or, instead, thinking they were doing good

Quotes about Lehrer

  • The best musical satirist of the 20th Century. ~ Dr. Demento
  • Lehrer is that rarest of beasts a performer who was never seduced by the roar of the crowd and who rejected show business well before it had a chance to do the same to him. His concert tours were brief and motivated either by a desire to visit a new place (such as Australia, in 1960) or to test and polish material for a recording. ~ Sydney Morning Herald
  • Lehrer was able to express and to expose, in humorous verse and lilting music, some of the most powerful dangers of the second half of the century ... Many of the causes of which Lehrer sang became, three decades later, part of the main creative impulse of mankind. ~ Sir Martin Gilbert, historian, who in 1999 named Lehrer as one of the 10 great figures of the previous 100 years.


Dear Mr. Lehrer:

I am sorry to inform you that there is no interest in your


Thank you for submitting your songs to us.


-(rejection letter from Capitol Records (in its entirety), January 27th, 1954)

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