Tom Lehrer Revisited

  1. Introduction
  2. I Wanna Go Back To Dixie
  3. The Wild West Is Where I Want To Be
  4. The Old Dope Peddler
  5. Fight Fiercely, Harvard!
  6. Lobachevsky
  7. The Irish Ballad
  8. The Hunting Song
  9. My Home Town
  10. When You Are Old And Gray
  11. The Wiener Schnitzel Waltz
  12. I Hold Your Hand In Mine
  13. Be Prepared


I'd like to introduce now the featured artist of this evening's... ordeal. I'm sure that you'll all agree without any hesitation that Tom Lehrer is the most brilliant creative genius that America has produced in almost 200 years, so perhaps a few words of biographical background might not be amiss. Endowed by nature with perhaps the most glorious baritone voice to be heard on an American stage since the memorable concert debut in 1835 of Millard Fillmore; endowed also with twelve incredibly agile fingers; Mr. Lehrer has had a long and varied career in the field of entertainment starting with nine years at Harvard University... where it was that he first decided to devote his life to what has since become a rather successful scientific project -- namely, the attempt to prolong adolescence beyond all previous limits.
Even before he came to Harvard, however, he was well known in academic circles for his masterly translation into Latin of The Wizard of Oz, which remains even today the standard Latin version of that work. A few years ago he was inducted... forcibly... into the United States Army and spent most of his indenture in Washington as sort of Army liaison to the Office of Naval Contemplation. About his service record he is justifiably modest, but it is known that in a short time he rose to the rank of brigadier general. However, before he could acquire a tenure, he was discharged, and owing to nepotism and intrigue, he emerged with only the rank of specialist 3rd class, which was roughly equivalent to the rank of corporal without portfolio.
But to return to his career in show business: for several years he toured vaudeville theaters with an act consisting of impressions of people in the last throws of various diseases. I'm sure that many of you here tonight still recall with pleasure his memorable diphtheria imitation. He is generally acknowledged to be the dean of living American composers, and is currently working on a musical comedy based on the life of Adolf Hitler. Without further ado -- Tom Lehrer...

[music] I Wanna Go Back To Dixie

Well, what I like to do on formal occasions like this is to take some of the various types of songs that we all know and presumably love, and, as it were, to kick them when they're down. I find that if you take the various popular song forms to their logical extremes, you can arrive at almost anything from the ridiculous to the obscene, or -- as they say in New York -- sophisticated. I'd like to illustrate with several hundred examples for you this evening, first of all, the southern type song about the wonders of the American south. But it's always seemed to me that most of these songs really don't go far enough. The following song, on the other hand, goes too far. It's called I Wanna Go Back To Dixie.

I wanna go back to Dixie,
Take me back to dear ol' Dixie,
That's the only li'l ol' place for li'l ol' me.
Ol' times there are not forgotten,
Whuppin' slaves and sellin' cotton,
And waitin' for the Robert E. Lee.
(It was never there on time.)
I'll go back to the Swanee,
Where pellagra makes you scrawny,
And the Honeysuckle clutters up the vine
I really am a-fixin'
To go home and start a-mixin'
Down below that Mason-Dixon line.

Oh, poll tax, how I love ya, how I love ya,
My dear old poll tax.

Won'tcha come with me to Alabammy,
Back to the arms of my dear ol' Mammy,
Her cookin's lousy and her hands are clammy,
But what the hell, it's home.
Yes, for paradise the Southland is my nominee.
Jes' give me a ham hock and a grit of hominy.

I wanna go back to Dixie
I wanna be a dixie pixie
And eat cornpone 'til it's comin' outta my ears
I wanna talk with Southern gentlemen
And put my white sheet on again,
I ain't seen one good lynchin' in years.
The land of the boll weevil,
Where the laws are medieval,
Is callin' me to come and nevermore roam.
I wanna go back to the Southland,
That "y'all" and "shet-ma-mouth" land,
Be it ever so decadent,
There's no place like home.

The Wild West Is Where I Want To Be

Now if I may indulge in a bit of personal history, a few years ago I worked for a while at the Los Alamos scientific laboratory in New Mexico. I had a job there as a spy. No, I guess you know that the staff out there at that time was composed almost exclusively of spies... of one persuasion or another. And, while I was out there, I came to realize how much the Wild West had changed since the good old days of Wyatt Earp and Home on the Range, and here then is a modern cowboy ballad commemorating that delightful metamorphosis called The Wild West Is Where I Wanna Be.

Along the trail you'll find me lopin'
Where the spaces are wide open,
In the land of the old A.E.C. (yea-hah!)
Where the scenery's attractive,
And the air is radioactive,
Oh, the wild west is where I wanna be.

Mid the sagebrush and the cactus,
I'll watch the fellas practice
Droppin' bombs through the clean desert breeze.
I'll have on my sombrero,
And of course I'll wear a pair o'
Levis over my lead B.V.D.'s.

Ah will leave the city's rush,
Leave the fancy and the plush,
Leave the snow and leave the slush
And the crowds.
Ah will seek the desert's hush,
Where the scenery is lush,
How I long to see the mush-
room clouds.

'Mid the yuccas and the thistles
I'll watch the guided missiles,
While the old F.B.I. watches me. (yea-hah!)
Yes, I'll soon make my appearance
(Soon as I can get my clearance),
'Cause the wild west is where I wanna be.

[music] The Old Dope Peddler

You are no doubt familiar with songs about the old lamplighter and the old umbrella man and the old garbage collector and all these lovable old characters who go around spreading sweetness and light to their respective communities. But, it's always seemed to me that there is one member of this happy band who does an equally splendid job, but who has never been properly recognized in song or story, and this is an attempt to remedy, at least in part, that deplorable situation.

When the shades of night are falling,
Comes a fellow ev'ryone knows,
It's the old dope peddler,
Spreading joy wherever he goes.
Ev'ry evening you will find him,
Around our neighborhood.
It's the old dope peddler
Doing well by doing good.

He gives the kids free samples,
Because he knows full well
That today's young innocent faces
Will be tomorrow's clientele.
Here's a cure for all your troubles,
Here's an end to all distress.
It's the old dope peddler
With his powdered ha-happiness.

[music] Fight Fight, Harvard!

I know it's very bad form to quote one's own reviews, but I would like to mention something that the New York Times said about me a year ago which I've always treasured -- they said: "Mr. Lehrer's muse is not fettered by such inhibiting factors as taste".
Now we come to that peculiar bit of Americana known as the football fight song. I was reminded not too long ago, upon returning from my lesson with the Scrabble pro at the Harvard club in Boston, of the days of my undergraduacy long ago when there used to be these very long Saturday afternoons in the fall with nothing to do -- the library was closed -- just waiting around for the cocktail parties to begin. And on occasions like that, some of us used to wander over to the... I believe it was called the stadium, to see if anything might be going on over there. And one did come to realize that the football fight songs that one hears in comparable stadia have a tendency to be somewhat uncouth, and even violent, and that it would be refreshing, to say the least, to find one that was a bit more genteel. And here it is, dedicated to my own alma mater, and called Fight Fiercely, Harvard.

Fight fiercely, Harvard,
fight, fight, fight!
Demonstrate to them our skill.
Albeit they possess the might,
Nonetheless we have the will.
How we shall celebrate our victory,
We shall invite the whole team up for tea
(How jolly!)
Hurl that spheroid down the field, and
Fight, fight, fight!

Fight fiercely, Harvard,
fight, fight, fight!
Impress them with our prowess, do!
Oh, fellows, do not let the crimson down,
Be of stout heart and thru.
Come on, chaps, fight for Harvard's glorious name,
Won't it be peachy if we win the game?
(Oh, goody!)
Let's try not to injure them, but
Fight, fight, fight!
And do fight fiercely!
Fight, fight, fight!


For many years now, Mr. Danny Kaye, who has been my particular idol since childbirth, has been doing a routine about the great Russian director Stanislavsky and the secret of success in the acting profession. And I thought it would be interesting to stea... to adapt this idea to the field of mathematics. 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.
Be that as it may, some of you may have had occasion to run into mathematicians and to wonder therefore how they got that way, and here, in partial explanation perhaps, is the story of the great Russian mathematician Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky.

Who made me the genius I am today,
The mathematician that others all quote,
Who's the professor that made me that way?
The greatest that ever got chalk on his coat.

One man deserves the credit,
One man deserves the blame,
And Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky is his name.
Nicolai Ivanovich Lobach-

I am never forget the day I first meet the great Lobachevsky.
In one word he told me secret of success in mathematics:

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'.

And ever since I meet this man
My life is not the same,
And Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky is his name.
Nicolai Ivanovich Lobach-

I am never forget the day I am given first original paper
to write. It was on analytic and algebraic topology of
locally Euclidean parameterization of infinitely differentiable
Riemannian manifold.
Bozhe moi!
This I know from nothing.
But I think of great Lobachevsky and get idea - ahah!

I have a friend in Minsk,
Who has a friend in Pinsk,
Whose friend in Omsk
Has friend in Tomsk
With friend in Akmolinsk.
His friend in Alexandrovsk
Has friend in Petropavlovsk,
Whose friend somehow
Is solving now
The problem in Dnepropetrovsk.

And when his work is done -
Ha ha! - begins the fun.
From Dnepropetrovsk
To Petropavlovsk,
By way of Iliysk,
And Novorossiysk,
To Alexandrovsk to Akmolinsk
To Tomsk to Omsk
To Pinsk to Minsk
To me the news will run,
Yes, to me the news will run!

And then I write
By morning, night,
And afternoon,
And pretty soon
My name in Dnepropetrovsk is cursed,
When he finds out I publish first!

And who made me a big success
And brought me wealth and fame?
Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky is his name.
Nicolai Ivanovich Lobach -

I am never forget the day my first book is published.
Every chapter I stole from somewhere else.
Index I copy from old Vladivostok telephone directory.
This book was sensational!
Pravda - well, Pravda - Pravda said: (Russian double-talk)
It stinks.
But Izvestia! Izvestia said: (Russian double-talk)
It stinks.
Metro-Goldwyn-Moskva buys movie rights for six million rubles,
Changing title to 'The Eternal Triangle',
With Brigitte Bardot playing part of hypotenuse.

And who deserves the credit?
And who deserves the blame?
Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky is his name.

[music] The Irish Ballad

Now I'd like to turn to the folk song, which has become in recent years the particularly fashionable form of idiocy among the self-styled intellectual. We find that people who deplore the level of current popular songs -- although I admit they do seem to be recording almost anything these days. Have you heard Sesue Hayakawa's record of Remember Pearl Harbor? These same people who deplore the level of current popular songs and yet will sit around enthralled singing Jimmy crack corn and I don't care or Green Grow The Rushes, Oh! -- whatever that means. At any rate, for this elite I have here an ancient Irish ballad, which was written a few years ago, and which is replete with all the accoutrements of this art form. In particular, it has a sort of idiotic refrain, in this case rickety-tickety-tin you'll notice cropping up from time to time, running through, I might add, interminable verses. The large number of verses being a feature expressly designed to please the true devotees of the folk song who seem to find singing fifty verses of On Top Of Old Smokey is twice as enjoyable as singing twenty-five.
This type of song also has what is known technically in music as a modal tune, which means -- for the benefit of any layman who may have wandered in this evening -- that I play a wrong note every now and then.
This song though does differ strikingly from the genuine folk ballad in that in this song the words which are supposed to rhyme - actually do.
I, ah, I really should say that - I do not direct these remarks against the vast army of folk song lovers, but merely against that peculiar hard core who seem to equate authenticity with artistic merit and illiteracy with charm.
Oh, one more thing. One of the more important aspects of public folk singing is audience participation, and this happens to be a good song for group singing. So if any of you feel like joining in with me on this song, I'd appreciate it if you would leave -- right now.

About a maid I'll sing a song,
Sing rickety-tickety-tin,
About a maid I'll sing a song
Who didn't have her family long.
Not only did she do them wrong,
She did ev'ryone of them in, them in,
She did ev'ryone of them in.

One morning in a fit of pique,
Sing rickety-tickety-tin,
One morning in a fit of pique,
She drowned her father in the creek.
The water tasted bad for a week,
And we had to make do with gin, with gin,
We had to make do with gin.

Her mother she could never stand,
Sing rickety-tickety-tin,
Her mother she could never stand,
And so a cyanide soup she planned.
The mother died with a spoon in her hand,
And her face in a hideous grin, a grin,
Her face in a hideous grin.

She set her sister's hair on fire,
Sing rickety-tickety-tin,
She set her sister's hair on fire,
And as the smoke and flame rose high'r,
Danced around the funeral pyre,
Playin' a violin, -olin,
Playin' a violin.

She weighted her brother down with stones,
She weighted her brother down with stones,
And sent him off to Davy Jones.
All they ever found were some bones,
And occasional pieces of skin, of skin,
Occasional pieces of skin.

One day when she had nothing to do,
Sing rickety-tickety-tin,
One day when she had nothing to do,
She cut her baby brother in two,
And served him up as an Irish stew,
And invited the neighbors in, -bors in,
Invited the neighbors in.

And when at last the police came by,
Sing rickety-tickety-tin,
And when at last the police came by,
Her little pranks she did not deny,
To do so she would have had to lie,
And lying, she knew, was a sin, a sin,
Lying, she knew, was a sin.

My tragic tale, I won't prolong,
My tragic tale I won't prolong,
And if you do not enjoy the song,
You've yourselves to blame if it's too long,
You should never have let me begin, begin,
You should never have let me begin.

[music] The Hunting Song

Almost every day during the hunting season you see at least one item in the newspapers about somebody who has shot somebody else, under the impression that he was a deer with a red hat perhaps, maybe a large flesh-colored squirrel. At any rate, it seems to me that this marks an encouraging new trend in the field of blood sports, and deserves a new type of hunting song which I present herewith.

I always will remember,
'Twas a year ago November,
I went out to hunt some deer
On a mornin' bright and clear.
I went and shot the maximum the game laws would allow,
Two game wardens, seven hunters, and a cow.

I was in no mood to trifle,
I took down my trusty rifle
And went out to stalk my prey.
What a haul I made that day.
I tied them to my fender, and I drove them home somehow,
Two game wardens, seven hunters, and a cow.

The law was very firm, it
Took away my permit,
The worst punishment I ever endured.
It turned out there was a reason,
Cows were out of season,
And one of the hunters wasn't insured.

People ask me how I do it,
And I say, "There's nothin' to it,
You just stand there lookin' cute,
And when something moves, you shoot!"
And there's ten stuffed heads in my trophy room right now,
Two game wardens, seven hunters, and a pure-bred Guernsey cow.

[music] My Home Town

Next we have the dear-hearts-and-gentle-people's school of songwriting, in which the singer tells you that, no matter how much sin and vice and crime go on where he comes from, it's still the best place in the world because it's home, you know. Sort of gets you. This example is called My Home Town.

I really have a yen
To go back once again,
Back to the place where no one wears a frown,
To see once more those super-special just plain folks
In my home town.

No fellow could ignore
The little girl next door,
She sure looked sweet in her first evening gown.
Now there's a charge for what she used to give for free
In my home town.

I remember Dan, the druggist on the corner, 'e
Was never mean or ornery,
He was swell.
He killed his mother-in-law and ground her up real well,
And sprinkled just a bit
Over each banana split.

The guy that taught us math,
Who never took a bath,
Acquired a certain measure of renown,
And after school he sold the most amazing pictures
In my home town.

That fellow was no fool
Who taught our Sunday School,
And neither was our kindly Parson Brown.
We're recording tonight so I have to leave this line out.
In my home town.

I remember Sam, he was the village idiot.
And though it seems a pity, it
Was so.
He loved to burn down houses just to watch the glow,
And nothing could be done,
Because he was the mayor's son.

The guy that took a knife
And monogrammed his wife,
Then dropped her in the pond and watched her drown.
Oh, yes indeed, the people there are just plain folks
In my home town.

[music] When You Are Old And Gray

The most popular type of popular song is of course the love song, and I'd like to illustrate several subspecies of this form during the evening. First of all, the type of love song where the fellow tells the girl that although the years ahead will almost certainly destroy every vestige of her already dubious charms, that nonetheless his love for her will shine on forever through the years, you know. Another example of stark realism in the popular song.
This particular example is called When You Are Old And Gray, and I'd like to dedicate it to anyone in the audience who is still in love with each other.

Since I still appreciate you,
Let's find love while we may.
Because I know I'll hate you
When you are old and gray.

So say you love me here and now,
I'll make the most of that.
Say you love and trust me,
For I know you'll disgust me
When you're old and getting fat.

An awful debility,
A lessened utility,
A loss of mobility
Is a strong possibility.
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.

Your teeth will start to go, dear,
Your waist will start to spread.
In twenty years or so, dear,
I'll wish that you were dead.

I'll never love you then at all
The way I do today.
So please remember,
When I leave in December,
I told you so in May.

[music] The Wiener Schnitzel Waltz

Now to continue with the love song, here we have the Viennese waltz type of the Franz Lehar/Johann Strauss school, conjuring up images of gaily waltzing couples and probably stale champagne drunk from sweaty slippers. This example is called The Wiener Schnitzel Waltz.

Do you remember the night I held you so tight,
As we danced to the Wiener Schnitzel Waltz?
The music was gay, and the setting was Viennese,
Your hair wore some roses (or perhaps they were peonies),
I was blind to your obvious faults,
As we danced 'cross the scene
To the strains of the Wiener Schnitzel Waltz.

Oh, I drank some champagne from your shoe.
I was drunk by the time I got through.
I didn't know as I raised that cup,
It had taken two bottles to fill the thing up.

It was I who stepped on your dress.
The skirts all came off, I confess.
Revealing for all of the others to see
Just what it was that endeared you to me.

I remember the night I held you so tight,
As we danced to the Wiener Schnitzel Waltz.
Your lips were like wine (if you'll pardon the simile),
The music was lovely and quite Rudolf Frimly.
I drank wine, you drank chocolate malts,
And we both turned quite green
To the strains of the Wiener Schnitzel Waltz.

I Hold Your Hand In Mine

One more love song. I generally like to include at least one or two love songs in the evening's program, partly perhaps to convince people that even at the Harvard University Graduate School, that hotbed of celibacy that I used to call home, we did have our moments. This one is a tender ballad entitled simply I Hold Your Hand In Mine.

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.

The night you died I cut it off.
I really don't know why.
For now each time I kiss it
I get bloodstains on my tie.

I'm sorry now I killed you,
For our love was something fine,
And till they come to get me
I shall hold your hand in mine.

You know: of all the songs I've ever sung, that is the one I've had the most requests not to.

[music] Be Prepared

I have time for one more here. This one is a little song dedicated to the Boy Scouts of America. [applause] We seem to have a convention here tonight. The Boy Scouts of America, those noble little... bastions of democracy, and the American Legion of tomorrow. Their motto is... 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.

Be prepared! That's the Boy Scout's marching song,
Be prepared! As through life you march along.
Be prepared to hold your liquor pretty well,
Don't write naughty words on walls if you can't spell.

Be prepared! To hide that pack of cigarettes,
Don't make book if you cannot cover bets.
Keep those reefers hidden where you're sure
That they will not be found
And be careful not to smoke them
When the scoutmaster's around
For he only will insist that it be shared.
Be prepared!

Be prepared! That's the Boy Scouts' solemn creed,
Be prepared! And be clean in word and deed.
Don't solicit for your sister, that's not nice,
Unless you get a good percentage of her price.

Be prepared! And be careful not to do
Your good deeds when there's no one watching you.
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!

Back to Bright Tom Lehrer Days. This page was last updated on Jun 19, 2005.