Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Happy eightieth birthday, Tom

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I first encountered Tom Lehrer at the age of around 22. Unlike most of his fans who seem to have been inducted during their Bright College Days, I'd already graduated and had a proper, albeit poorly-paid, job. During the week I lived and worked in Sevenoaks in Kent, having left My Home Town in search of gainful employment (as per Norman Tebbit’s dad), but most weekends I stayed in a disreputable house in Portsmouth with my old college buddies. We would have drunk lots of beer if we hadn't all been so cripplingly poor. Instead, we painted wargaming miniatures and indulged in table-top wargames, roleplaying and computer games. Does anyone remember the Sinclair Spectrum’s 'Elite'? A quarter of a century later, I’m pleased to report that we now all have lives, thank you. But I digress. Occasionally during our riotous evenings in this hotbed of celibacy someone would pull out an ancient vinyl disc of An Evening (Wasted) with Tom Lehrer, and very soon I found myself singing along.

As Lehrer points out on the album soundtrack, The Elements 'may prove useful to some of you someday, under a somewhat bizarre set of circumstances', and this is indeed what happened. I learned it, and have performed it live for Redditch Choral Society, Tinker's Farm Opera, and even the Doha Players. The latter was part of my bit for a revue show; other bits included When You are Old and Gray, I Hold Your Hand In Mine and the extremely dubious Masochism Tango.

It came as a shock to a pub pianist in Loughborough to discover, when he played We’ll All Go Together When We Go, that at least one of the patrons – you can guess which one – knew all the words and the tune.

At one point I even borrowed a copy of the 'Tomfoolery' vocal score and jotted down the alternative lyrics in my copy of Too Many Songs by Tom Lehrer (and Not Enough Drawings by Ronald Searle) (Pantheon, 1981, ISBN 0-394-74930-8). Not that I can read music, of course. My own ability with reading the blobs is extremely limited. I learned to sing most of Tom Lehrer's works by listening to my three CD set of Tom Lehrer Revisited, An Evening (Wasted)... and That Was The Year That Was.

So who enjoys Tom Lehrer? Typically it’s college students, even after they’ve grown up and got jobs, mortgages, families, a semi-detached Ford Mondeo and 2.2 pinstriped garden gnomes. Apparently, those who can appreciate the vocabulary and still enjoy scatological humour and smutty innuendo.

That’s me, that is. If it’s also you, this link might prove entertaining.



Mme Cyn said...

Happy birthday, Tom. Though I used to think you were cruel and unusual, now that I'm older and wiser I understand where you were coming from on the pigeon front.

(And I DID discover Tom in my Bright College Days)

EyeOnDubai said...

Indeed, many an evening have I too wasted with Tom Lehrer!

Paraglider said...

I've been a Tom Lehrer fan for near-on 50 years and have even been known to perform some of his numbers. (Though I prefer Jake Thackray for off-the-wall bardery)

Paraglider said...

p.s. - found your blog while trying to work out why some of the listed blogs on uae community are asterisk'd. Realised it meant recently updated. Mine was. So was yours. So came to look. It's a good one - much enjoyed the read.

Grumpy Goat said...

Thank you for your support, Paraglider.

Anonymous said...

I ALWAYS enjoy your read---and the only Lehrer I know from my college or post-college days, is the journalist. TMiL.


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