Patterico's Pontifications


A Brilliant Tom Lehrer Performance

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 4:07 pm

I just watched this and wanted to share it with you. What a genius. I’m glad he’s still with us.

17 Responses to “A Brilliant Tom Lehrer Performance”

  1. I did not know him but he is like an American version of Victor Borge.

    DRJ (03cb91)

  2. You just got aroud to watching this????

    God, how I miss TW3.

    The Unverse is sending you a message: get off Twitter, P.

    DCSCA (f4c5e5)

  3. tomlehrerchannel – YouTube

    DCSCA (f4c5e5)

  4. This has been around for a while — and obviously the performance was long ago –but it is truly great. If only he’d been active in the Trump years … so much material.

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  5. In 2020, Lehrer donated all his music and lyrics to the public domain.

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  6. Under the copyright law of the time when these works were created, copyright only lasted 56 years, so any work he made before 1965 was originally set to enter the public domain by now. Until several congressional takings. Rumor has it he felt that keeping the work in copyright was of little use to him (he’s 93) and would make it less likely the work would survive.

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  7. This might be some indication that he’s not forgotten:

    Daniel Radcliffe sings “The Elements”

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  8. I did not know him but he is like an American version of Victor Borge.

    Victor Borge is one of my all-time favorites. Not one cuss word and only the mildest of blue jokes, yet he was consistently funny and his comedy still garners a laugh twenty years since he has been gone.

    JVW (ee64e4)

  9. You’ve written that you tried your hand at the same sort of thing in your college days, Patterico. You have also written, in other contexts, about the importance of having the right audience.

    I would say, that in the instance of Tom Lehrer, the secret of his success was an audience of prétentieux aspirants sophistiqués who would rather sit on a nail than admit that they were bored stiff.

    Present company excepted as always.

    nk (1d9030)

  10. While the quality of satire songs may be somewhat better than most of what is on Saturday Night Live, I think it has a lower batting average of fairness and accuracy.

    Sammy Finkelman (b434ee)

  11. I did not realize The Elements was by Lehrer, so I do know him. That brings back fun memories.

    DRJ (03cb91)

  12. I liked Borge, too, JVW. Good comedy (like good drama, art and even advertising) doesn’t have to be shocking to be interesting. Just be clever.

    DRJ (03cb91)

  13. Yes, I’ve been a fan for decades. It was actually my love of Gilbert and Sullivan that led a friend to suggest I listen to the Elements. Not to be confused with Primo Levi’s book.

    felipe (484255)

  14. Oh, I just remembered that it is only in my family that Levi’s book The periodic Table is referred to as “the elements.” Sorry about that.

    felipe (484255)

  15. Kevin M (ab1c11) — 6/5/2021 @ 8:11 pm

    Thanks for that, Kevin. few ever sing “These are the only ones of which the news has come to Har-vard. There may be many many others, but they’ve never been discov-ard!

    felipe (484255)


    Have all his LPs.
    He made TW3 must see TV in our home.
    And his skewering of Von Braun remains legendary.

    It’s worth your time to watch/listen to his pieces posted on YouTube. ‘New Math’ is hilarious – because it is so true. And ‘Pollution’ remains truer than ever.

    DCSCA (f4c5e5)

  17. Singing “The Elements” is the kind of thing where your muscles or your subconscious remembers the pattern and then when you do it you can’t let your conscious mind get too involved because it will mess things up.
    It’s like Genesis Exodus Leviticus Numbers Deuteronomy Joshua Judges Ruth … There’s a certain sequence in what follows that I do best if I run through it fast and don’t think about it.
    Many years after I had studied any biology, I blurted out “Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus Species” one day, and I had no idea why I remembered it when there’s so much that I forget.

    Then there’s finger memory if you play an instrument: You think about the notes, but not about where your fingers are supposed to go. Especially in a great little passage in the Prokofiev Violin Concert No. 2. I once tried it after years of absence and I nailed it. But then I thought about it too much and stumbled.
    It’s here, starting at 3:50, and I love it. The whole concerto is wonderful, perhaps the 2nd movement most of all. But as I mentioned before, the 3rd movement as Repin plays it here is thrilling. (Starts at 20:24.) It’s far more exciting than anything that ever came out of rock-and-roll. It engages the brain and the animal spirit alike. You’d have to tie me up to make me sit still through it.

    Radegunda (2a2f56)

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