Saturday, March 19, 2005

An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer

I am impressed by what libraries keep in their collections. I have always been an advocate for weeding out what is no longer useful or of interest, but defining what is useless is difficult. Some librarians come to conclusions which differ from mine. This is good.

I looked at the SWAN Catalog of the Metropolitan Library System to see what I could find by Tom Lehrer. Lehrer was a popular comic musician of the 1950s and 1960s, who entertained many college campuses with songs that ridiculed academics and politics. Who would remember him now? Would any library have any of his recordings? To my surprise, they did. Five different CDs were in the catalog. Seven libraries had copies of An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer! Two libraries still had copies of Tom Lehrer Revisited in cassette. One library had the libretto to Tom Follery, a musical review based on Lehrer’s works, and seven libraries had Lehrer songbooks for voice and piano. Can you imagine people getting together with friends, a piano, and the songbook and singing “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park?” It would be fun.

I have my own copies of An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer and That Was the Year That Was in vinyl, which I picked up at a Western Springs Library Friends’ sale last year. They are both in excellent condition. The first of these titles is a recording of a live performance in Cambridge, Massachusetts in March 1959. All the Greek scholars at the concert enjoyed the song “Oedipus Rex” (“Boy, did he LOVE his mother”), while the chemists enjoyed Lehrer’s singing the periodic table of elements to a tune by Gilbert and Sullivan. Anyone who enjoys P. D. Q. Bach will enjoy the song “Clementine.” Being a time of Cold War tension, he finished the concert with “We Will All Go Together When We Go.” It was a very funny concert.

What worries me is that almost every item in the SWAN Catalog is currently on shelf. This situation may reflect library catalogs everywhere. Music lovers, it is time to act and check out some Lehrer CDs. Baby boomers, revisit your youth. Generation Xers, learn what made your folks laugh. Act now!


Dan Trabue said...

sounds cool. I'm going to have to go see if his lyrics are available on line.

Miss Katharine said...

I *love* Tom Lehrer! I am 32 years old and remember playing my father's TW3 album endlessly as a child. I didn't even really get what some of the songs were about, but my brothers and I laughed and sang along. A few years back, I got the Tom Lehrer cd boxed set.

People from my generation may not know Lehrer's albums, but may be interested to know that he wrote and sang several songs from one of our most popular shows, The Electric Company, including "Silent E."

Mr. Lehrer resides in California now. He was (maybe still is) a mathematics professor. When we has an auction to raise money for a new children's wing at a library I worked at a few years back, he generously sent us a signed copy of Tom Foolery.

I'm going to listen to some Lehrer tonight!