If you’re a regular reader of Sixties Music Secrets, you know that we have frequently discussed the incredible confluence of musical diversity’s that came together in the 1960’s! Folk Rock, Motown, Surf Music and the British Invasion just to mention a few! One of our favorite periods was the emergence of the Counter Culture, activist, comedian singer songwriter! Sure, we got a little taste of it in the fifties with acts like The Kingston Trio, Peter Paul and Mary and The New Christy Minstrels, But it wasn’t until The 60’s that we’d enjoy the full thrust of this cynical, political, comical, topical and always entertaining new genre, and it was everywhere, born from the clubs and College Campuses But now all over television! We know you loved them as much as we did; The Smothers Brothers, Victor Borge, Pete Seeger, Woody and “Lil Arlo” Guthrie, Alan Sherman, George Carlin, Steve Martin, and of course Randy Newman!
However, in the early 60’s, quietly, moving out of the shadows and performing at colleges around the country, bringing down the House every night introducing and perfecting this new genre with his original blend of Counter Culture Comedy and Composition was our favorite, Tom Lehrer! A master pianist with a penchant, ability and passion for every type of music from Folk, Rock, Rogers and Hart to Mozart and all Musical Theater! Tom was not just a master of these styles, he frequently incorporated them into his own original compositions, poking fun at them while respecting them and paying great homage to the great work and it’s place in history. But, here’s the rub, if you’ve never seen Tom Lehrer, mere words can never properly describe him, but one word comes close, “INTELLIGENCE”
There is no question that you had to have an I Q that was “Smarter than the average bear” to compete and succeed in this area of music! But, get this, Tom was a Master Of Political Science, Musical Theater, philosophy and he was a Mathematician! Between gigs and recording sessions Tom Lehrer taught Political Science at M I T and he was a Professor Of mathematics at Harvard! He would also make guest appearances around the country lecturing on Musical Theater! One of the greatest examples of who Tom Lehrer was, is his song “Elements.” In this song Lehrer takes the names of nearly all the elements in the world and puts them to the melody of “A Modern Major Generals Song “ from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Pirates Of Penzance “ You certainly walk around the house singing that one don’tja ? But that’s exactly why WE LOVE TOM LEHER!
We grew up in a serious catholic environment, our mom was a Rosary carrying Black Belt catholic and one day she overheard me listening to Tom’s classic “Vatican Rag” THAT WAS IT! Every subversive rock n Roll song I liked paled in comparison to the outrages lyrics my mom heard in Vatican Rag, thanx Tom, I think I owe you one…. MAYBE two! LEHER also claims ( seriously) that while teaching at U.C. Santa Cruz, he was experimenting with the best properties for incorporating alcohol, YES, Tom invented JELLO SHOTS! Maybe Three!!
The last we heard about Tom and his work in education was in the early 2000’s where his was working on his thesis on defining infinity in mathematics! Yeah, we were just thinking ‘bout that very same thing just yesterday!
Tom has been praised and idolized by everyone from Jack Paar, Steve Allen, Randy Newman, Dr. Demento , Weird Al and Frank Zappa!
But here is the most important question, are you one of us lucky few who heard Tom? If so, please share your thoughts and experiences. And perhaps the best way to wrap up our piece on Tom is to share Tom’s own words on his musical career! “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.”- Tom Leher
Without question, Tom Leher is one of “Our Favorite Things about the 1960’s
How ‘bout You? We’re you a fan? Well, here’s your opportunity to become one!
Take a listen to “Vatican Rag” But don’t let your mom hear it!
And here is Tom’s amazing “Elements”