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!