Outside, it’s a beautiful Spring day. Inside, I’m a few hours away from the start of my third month of “social distancing”, wondering if the lack of direct sunlight will give me a Vitamin D deficiency, or scurvy, or something worse.
Ah! A Remembrance of Springs Past.* How I miss the simple joys of the Cherry Blossom Festival, the National Cathedral’s annual Flower Mart, the various “Taste of…” street fairs from Georgetown to Wheaton, and poisoning pigeons in the park.
That’s Tom Lehrer, performing a song from his 1959 record album. More of Tom Lehrer. Lehrer entered Havard College at 15, and at various times taught at MIT, Harvard, Wellesley, and UC Santa Cruz. His courses ranged from mathematics to political science, to musical theater.
Many of his songs were the black-humoured musical equivalent of Gahan Wilson cartoons. A search of the net will take you to things like his nostalgic tribute to “The Old Dope Peddler” and to the somewhat twisted love song “I Hold Your Hand In Mine”.
He also wrote sharp musical commentary on the political issues of the day. His most productive musical period was in the late 1950s through the middle 1960s, and with the passage of ~60 years, a lot of his references have become obscure. (Still, people smile at lines from Gilbert and Sullivan, more than a century after the subjects of their humour have turned to dust.)
Lehrer stopped performing and retired from teaching long ago, but is still with us. He celebrated his 92nd birthday in April 2020. As he wrote on the 1997 release of a collection called Songs & More Songs by Tom Lehrer, “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.”
“We’ll murder them all amid laughter and merriment,
Except for the few we’ll take home to…experiment.”
*Yeah, I know we’re supposed to call Proust’s seven-volume novel In Search of Lost Time nowadays, but I also still talk about dialing a phone and buying a record album [see above]. There’s a term for continuing to use an old word or phrase after it has been made obsolete by technology or the passage of time, but I’m too lazy to
look it up on the computer google it.