Tom Lehrer

From Quotes
Happiness is not pleasure, it is victory.
Zig Ziglar
Jump to: navigation, search
All the world seems in tune
On a spring afternoon,
When we're poisoning pigeons in the park.

Thomas Andrew Lehrer (born 9 April 1928) American singer-songwriter, satirist, pianist, and mathematician.


  • (on the current state of satire) Alas, irreverence has been subsumed by mere grossness, at least in the so-called mass media. What we have now--to quote myself at my most pretentious--is a nimiety of scurrility with a concomitant exiguity of taste. For example, the freedom (hooray!) to say almost anything you want on television about society's problems has been co-opted (alas!) by the freedom to talk instead about flatulence, orgasms, genitalia, masturbation, etc., etc., and to replace real comment with pop-culture references and so-called "adult" language. Irreverence is easy--what's hard is wit.
    • Rhino Records online chat, June 17th, 1997.
  • Andrew Wiles gently smiles,
    Does his thing, and voila!
    Q.E.D., we agree,
    And we all shout hurrah!
    As he confirms what Fermat
    Jotted down in that margin,
    Which could've used some enlargin'.
    • That's Mathematics (verse added in 1993 to celebrate the achievement of Andrew Wiles)
  • No one is more dangerous than someone who thinks he has "The Truth". To be an atheist is almost as arrogant as to be a fundamentalist. But then again, I can get pretty arrogant.
    • Responding to a question on whether he considered himself an atheist or an agnostic. Interview (June 1996)
  • I find enough mystery in mathematics to satisfy my spiritual needs. I think, for example, that pi is mysterious enough (don't get me started!) without having to worry about God. Or if pi isn't enough, how about fractals? or quantum mechanics?

Songs by Tom Lehrer (1953)

  • I would like to state at this time that I am not now and have never been... a member of the Boy Scouts of America. Their motto is, as you know, "Be Prepared!" and that is the name of this song.
    • Introduction to "Be Prepared"
  • Don't solicit for your sister, that's not nice,
    Unless you get a good percentage of her price.
    • "Be Prepared"
  • If you're looking for adventure of a new and different kind,
    And you come across a Girl Scout who is similarly inclined,
    Don't be nervous, don't be flustered, don't be scared. Be prepared!
    • "Be Prepared"
  • I always like to make explicit the fact that before I went off not too long ago to fight in the trenches, I was a mathematician by profession. I don't like people to get the idea that I have to do this for a living. I mean, it isn't as though I had to do this, you know, I could be making, oh, 3000 dollars a year just teaching.
    • Intro to "Lobachevsky"
  • I am never forget the day I first meet the great Lobachevsky.
    In one word he told me secret of success in mathematics: Plagiarize!
    Let no one else's work evade your eyes,
    Remember why the good Lord made your eyes,
    So don't shade your eyes,
    But plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize...
    Only be sure always to call it please "research".
    • "Lobachevsky"
  • In all probability
    I'll lose my virility
    And you your fertility
    And desirability,
    And this liability
    Of total sterility
    Will lead to hostility
    And a sense of futility,
    So let's act with agility
    While we still have facility,
    For we'll soon reach senility
    And lose the ability.
    • When You Are Old And Grey
  • I hold your hand in mine, dear,
    I press it to my lips.
    I take a healthy bite
    From your dainty fingertips.
    My joy would be complete, dear,
    If you were only here,
    But still I keep your hand
    As a precious souvenir.
    • "I Hold Your Hand In Mine"
  • You know, of all the songs I have ever sung, that is the one I've had the most requests not to.
    • Afterword to "I Hold Your Hand In Mine"

An Evening (Wasted) With Tom Lehrer (1959)

Live performances recorded in Sanders Theater at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts (20-21 March 1959)

  • I'd like to take you now, on wings of song as it were, and try and help you forget for a while your drab, wretched lives.
    • Introduction to "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park"
  • All the world seems in tune
    On a spring afternoon,
    When we're poisoning pigeons in the park.
    Every Sunday you'll see
    My sweetheart and me,
    As we poison the pigeons in the park.
    • "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park"
  • When they see us coming, the birdies all try an' hide,
    But they still go for peanuts when coated with cyanide.
    My pulse will be quickenin',
    With each drop of strych-a-nine,
    We feed to a pigeon
    it just takes a smidgen
    To poison a pigeon in the park.
    • "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park"
  • Oh, soon we'll be out amid the cold world's strife. Soon we'll be sliding down the razor blade of life. Oooh.
    • "Bright College Days"
  • A few years ago, a motion picture version appeared of Sophocles' immortal tragedy "Oedipus Rex". This picture played only in the so-called art theaters, and it was not a financial success. And I maintain that the reason it was not a financial success... you're way ahead of me... was that it did not have a title tune which the people could hum, and which would make them actually eager to attend this particular...flick. So, I've attempted to supply this, and here then is the prospective title song from "Oedipus Rex".
    • Intro to "Oedipus Rex"
  • There once lived a man named Oedipus Rex,
    You may have heard about his odd complex.
    His name appears in Freud's index
    'Cause he loved his mother.
    • "Oedipus Rex"
  • His rivals used to say quite a bit
    That as a monarch he was most unfit.
    But still in all they had to admit
    That he loved his mother.
    • "Oedipus Rex"
  • Yes, he loved his mother like no other,
    His daughter was his sister and his son was his brother.
    One thing on which you can depend is,
    He sure knew who a boy's best friend is.
    • "Oedipus Rex"
  • So be sweet and kind to mother/
    Now and then, have a chat!/
    Buy her candy or some flowers or a brand-new hat/
    But maybe you best let it go at that!/
    Or you may find yourself with a quite complex/
    You may end up like Oedipus/
    I'd rather marry a duck-billed platypus!/
    Than end up like poor Oedipus Rex!
    • "Oedipus Rex", final stanza
  • The usual jokes about the Army aside, one of the many fine things one has to admit is the way that the Army has carried the American democratic ideal to its logical conclusion, in the sense that not only do they prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race, creed and color, but also on the grounds of ability.
    • Introduction to "It Makes a Fellow Proud to be a Soldier"
  • I ache for the touch of your lips, dear,
    But much more for the touch of your whips, dear.
    You can raise welts
    Like nobody else,
    As we dance to the Masochism Tango.
    • "The Masochism Tango"
  • Take your cigarette from its holder,
    And burn your initials in my shoulder.
    Fracture my spine,
    And swear that you're mine,
    As we dance to the Masochism Tango.
    • "The Masochism Tango"
  • "Life is like a sewer — what you get out of it depends on what you put into it." It's always seemed to me that this is precisely the sort of dynamic, positive thinking that we so desperately need today in these trying times of crisis and universal brouhaha.
    • Introduction to "We Will All Go Together When We Go"
  • When you attend a funeral,
    It is sad to think that sooner o'
    Later those you love will do the same for you.
    And you may have thought it tragic,
    Not to mention other adjec-
    Tives, to think of all the weeping they will do.
    (But don't you worry.)
    • "We Will All Go Together When We Go"
  • And we will all go together when we go.
    What a comforting fact that is to know.
    Universal bereavement,
    An inspiring achievement,
    Yes, we will all go together when we go.
    • "We Will All Go Together When We Go"
  • Oh we will all fry together when we fry.
    We'll be french fried potatoes by and by.
    There will be no more misery
    When the world is our rotisserie,
    Yes, we will all fry together when we fry.
    • "We Will All Go Together When We Go"
  • And we will all bake together when we bake.
    There'll be nobody present at the wake.
    With complete participation
    In that grand incineration,
    Nearly three billion hunks of well-done steak.
    • "We Will All Go Together When We Go"

That Was the Year That Was (1965)

  • Any ideas expressed on this record should not be taken as representing Mr. Lehrer's true convictions, for indeed he has none. "If anyone objects to any statement I make," he has said, "I am quite prepared not only to retract it, but also to deny under oath that I ever made it."
    • Liner notes
  • I do have a cause though. It's obscenity. I'm for it.
    • Introduction to "Smut"
  • But don't panic. Base eight is just like base ten really — if you're missing two fingers.
    • "New Math"
  • Last December 13th, there appeared in the newspapers the juiciest, spiciest, raciest obituary it has ever been my pleasure to read.
    It was that of a lady named Alma Mahler Gropius Werfel, who had, in her lifetime, managed to acquire as lovers practically all of the top creative men in central Europe. And, among these lovers, who were listed in the obituary, by the way, which is what made it so interesting, there were three whom she went so far as to marry: One of the leading composers of the day, Gustav Mahler, composer of "Das Lied von der Erde" and other light classics, one of the leading architects, Walter Gropius, of the "Bauhaus" school of design, and one of the leading writers, Franz Werfel, author of the "Song of Bernadette" and other masterpieces.
    It's people like that who make you realize how little you've accomplished. It is a sobering thought, for example, that when Mozart was my age, he had been dead for two years.
    • Introduction to "Alma"
  • The loveliest girl in Vienna
    Was Alma, the smartest as well.
    Once you picked her up on your antenna,
    You'd never be free of her spell.
    • "Alma"
  • And that is the story of Alma,
    Who knew how to receive and to give.
    The body that reached her embalma'
    Was one that had known how to live.
    • "Alma"
  • Speaking of love, one problem that recurs more and more frequently these days, in books and plays and movies, is the inability of people to communicate with the people they love: husbands and wives who can't communicate, children who can't communicate with their parents, and so on. And the characters in these books and plays and so on, and in real life, I might add, spend hours bemoaning the fact that they can't communicate. I feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up.
    • Afterword to "Alma"
  • I feel that if any songs are gonna come out of World War III, we'd better start writing them now.
    • Introduction to "So Long Mom (A Song For World War III)
  • Get in line in that processional,
    Step into that small confessional.
    There the guy who's got religion'll
    Tell you if your sin's original.
    If it is, try playin' it safer,
    Drink the wine and chew the wafer,
    Two, four, six, eight,
    Time to transubstantiate!
    • "The Vatican Rag"
  • So get down upon your knees,
    Fiddle with your rosaries,
    Bow your head with great respect,
    And genuflect, genuflect, genuflect!
    • "The Vatican Rag"
  • During National Brotherhood Week various special events are arranged to drive home the message of brotherhood — this year, for example, on the first day of the week, Malcolm X was killed, which gives you an idea of how effective the whole thing is.
    I'm sure we all agree that we ought to love one another, and I know there are people in the world who do not love their fellow human beings — and I hate people like that!
    • Introduction to "National Brotherhood Week"
  • Oh, the white folks hate the black folks,
    And the black folks hate the white folks;
    To hate all but the right folks
    Is an old established rule.
    • "National Brotherhood Week"
  • Oh, the poor folks hate the rich folks,
    And the rich folks hate the poor folks.
    All of my folks hate all of your folks,
    It's American as apple pie.
    • "National Brotherhood Week"
  • Step up and shake the hand
    Of someone you can't stand,
    You can tolerate him if you try!
    • "National Brotherhood Week"
  • Oh, the Protestants hate the Catholics
    And the Catholics hate the Protestants,
    And the Hindus hate the Moslems,
    And everybody hates the Jews.
    • "National Brotherhood Week"
  • It's only for a week so have no fear!/
    Be grateful that it doesn't last all year!
    • "National Brotherhood Week", closing stanza
  • What is it that put America in the forefront of the nuclear nations? And what is it that will make it possible to spend twenty billion dollars of your money to put some clown on the moon? Well, it was good old American know how, that's what, as provided by good old Americans like Dr. Wernher von Braun!
    • Introduction to "Wernher Von Braun"
  • Don't say that he's hypocritical,
    Say rather that he's apolitical.
    "Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down?
    That's not my department," says Wernher von Braun.
    • "Wernher Von Braun"

Sydney Morning Herald interview (2003)

Sydney Morning Herald (1 March 2003)

  • I'm not tempted to write a song about George W.Bush. I couldn't figure out what sort of song I would write. That's the problem: I don't want to satirise George Bush and his puppeteers, I want to vaporise them. And that's not funny. ... OK, well, if I say that, I might get a shock laugh, but it's not really satire.
  • Things are much more complicated. Feminism versus pornography, for example. There are a lot of feminists who think it is bad, but others think it's good. I have become, you might call it mature — I would call it senile — and I can see both sides. But you can't write a satirical song with 'but on the other hand' in it, or 'however'. It's got to be one-sided.
  • The real issues I don't think most people touch. The Clinton jokes are all about Monica Lewinsky and all that stuff and not about the important things, like the fact that he wouldn't ban landmines.
  • One of the problems I see with these comics on television, particularly cable television, is, since you can say anything in terms of sex and scatological references and so on, therefore, you should do it. So they all limit themselves to these subjects and this vocabulary. My objection is that it is a lack of articulateness ... Irreverence is easy, but what is hard is wit. Wit is what these comedians lack.
  • The audience usually has to be with you, I'm afraid. I always regarded myself as not even preaching to the converted, I was titillating the converted.
    The audiences like to think that satire is doing something. But, in fact, it is mostly to leave themselves satisfied. Satisfied rather than angry, which is what they should be.
  • You can make fun with Saddam Hussein jokes ... but you can't make fun of, say, the concentration camps. I think my target was not so much evil, but benign stupidity people doing stupid things without realising or, instead, thinking they were doing good

Quotes about Lehrer

  • The best musical satirist of the 20th Century. ~ Dr. Demento
  • Lehrer is that rarest of beasts a performer who was never seduced by the roar of the crowd and who rejected show business well before it had a chance to do the same to him. His concert tours were brief and motivated either by a desire to visit a new place (such as Australia, in 1960) or to test and polish material for a recording. ~ Sydney Morning Herald
  • Lehrer was able to express and to expose, in humorous verse and lilting music, some of the most powerful dangers of the second half of the century ... Many of the causes of which Lehrer sang became, three decades later, part of the main creative impulse of mankind. ~ Sir Martin Gilbert, historian, who in 1999 named Lehrer as one of the 10 great figures of the previous 100 years.


Dear Mr. Lehrer:

I am sorry to inform you that there is no interest in your


Thank you for submitting your songs to us.


-(rejection letter from Capitol Records (in its entirety), January 27th, 1954)

External links

Wikipedia has an article about: