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April 9: Tom Lehrer

April 8, 2016

1035x1229-tomlehrer-1800-1403189020Songwriter, social satirist, and mathematician Tom Lehrer was born on this date in 1928. In the 1960s he gained a wide audience as the resident songwriter for the American version of That Was the Week That Was, a short-lived satirical television news show, for which he wrote a famous spoof about rocket scientist Werner Von Braun, as well as “National Brotherhood Week” and other topical songs. Lehrer is famous for three record albums released between 1953 and 1965; he largely stopped performing in the 1970s, commenting that the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the likes of Henry Kissinger in 1973 had “made satire obsolete.” Lehrer observed in a 2010 interview that writing “37 songs in 20 years is hardly what I would call a career.” “But what songs!” writes Dale C. Andrews at SleuthSayers. “[T]he truly amazing thing about Lehrer’s songs is how well they do in fact (even if darkly) continue to resonate. A new Pope faced with issues of reform in the Catholic Church? Time for The Vatican Rag. The Supreme Court re-examining provisions of the Voting Rights Act? Lets listen, once again, to Dixie. Scandal in the ranks of the Boy Scouts? That calls for Be Prepared. Censorship? In a word, Smut. Pollution? Pollution.” Lehrer has taught mathematics at Harvard, MIT, Wellesley, and the University of California at Santa Cruz. To see him performing “National Brotherhood Week,” look below.

“I don’t want to satirize George Bush and his puppeteers, I want to vaporize them.” —Tom Lehrer