A thousand years ago (okay, maybe a bit of an exaggeration) there was a lounge singer by the name of Tom Lehrer. He was, by most measures, too clever by half, and his songs are still revered by a certain sort of music geek, of which I am most definitely one. He retired from performing in the early 1970s, and went on to a distinguished career in academia, teaching math at MIT and at the University of California. His last lecture, in 2001, on the topic of infinity, was said to have gone on forever. But I am getting a bit ahead of myself. What we want to concentrate on here is his musical career, particularly the lyrical aspect, couplets from which equal or surpass anything penned by Cole Porter, Gilbert/Sullivan, or Lennon/McCartney (assuming that you have a humorous bent that drags you well off center, and especially to the left). For Lehrer, no topic was verboten: the Catholic Church, as depicted in “The Vatican Rag” (“First you get down on your knees, fiddle with your rosaries, bow your heads with great respect, and genuflect, genuflect, genuflect…”); the tensions among the races, from “National Brotherhood Week” (“But during National Brotherhood Week, National Brotherhood Week, It’s National Smile-at-one-another-hood Week, Be nice to people who are inferior to you, It’s only for a week so have no fear, be grateful that it doesn’t last all year!”); and sexual peccadilloes, from “The Masochism Tango” (“I ache for the touch of your lips, dear, but much more for the touch of your whips, dear…”). Happily, although he is retired both from showbiz and academia, Tom Lehrer is still among us (he might say, “as unkillable as a fungus”).
But who is ready to step up to the plate and carry on where Lehrer left off, you might well ask? The answer: Roy Zimmerman, who tortures rhymes at every turn, delighting left-leaning audiences with such gems as “Our attorney general is Alberto Gonzales, a man who believes in the rule of law, uber alles…” or how about “Iraq is the front in the war against terror, might be because we invited them there or, perhaps there’s some terrible clerical error, maybe a faulty equation, like ‘911 = US invasion’…”. Zimmerman opines on the issues of the day (“Every time we think about same-sex marriage, it makes us sick to our guts, I mean, two people who want to commit to a stable monogamous life-long relationship, what are they, nuts?”), science (“They put a telescope in outer space, so Mother Earth could look about her space, and what she saw was rather shocking, it was Stephen Hawking, and he was talking, about expanding universal understanding…”), and the ongoing battles between the non-religious and the fundamentalists (“Creation Science 101, in the beginning it begun, and you are just beginning to educate yourself when you shun, evolution…”).
In another tongue-in-cheek moment, Zimmerman envisions a world where everyone is getting along, playing well with one another, and celebrating the midwinter holiday of “Christma-Hanu-Rama-Ka-Dona-Kwanzaa” together. Somehow, I think Tom Lehrer would find a lot to like in that sentiment.
By the way, both Zimmerman’s and Lehrer’s tunes can be found all over the internet, especially on YouTube. Don’t miss Tom Lehrer’s “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” and “In Old Mexico”, and Roy Zimmerman’s “What If the Beatles Were Irish?”