Ode to Mr Lehrer

Good morning! This is a new departure for me, as it’s the first time I’ve ever contributed a poem to these pages. I don’t know how often poetry appears in Slugger, but if it’s not very often I guess this probably won’t be damaging to anyone or anything – except possibly my own reputation….

Anyway, today is the 90th Birthday of one of America’s finest satirists – a musician who began his life as a lecturer of mathematics at Harvard University. Many will, I’m sure, have already surmised that I’m referring to one Thomas Andrew Lehrer – he of “Vatican Rag”, “The Old Dope Peddler”, “I Wanna Go Back to Dixie”, and “So Long Mom (Song for World War III)” fame (among others). My musical talents these days only going as far as my vocal cords, I thought it might be somehow appropriate to pen a tribute to him in verse, as he prepares to summon up the air to extinguish ninety cake candles…


Tom Lehrer

Well done on making the big Nine-Oh, Professor (though you’re not actually a Professor),
And we have to wonder what you’ll do to mark it –
Will you go for a long walk in the country,
And consider poisoning pigeons in the park? It’s…

…certainly been a while since we heard from you –
And some of us thought we’d missed your demise –
And how have you written nothing new since the early ’90s?
It can’t all be down to Kissinger’s Peace Prize –
Which certainly took most people by surprise,
As the man himself had a rep so erratic, and kinda dramatic,
Though he’d never be doing the Vatican Rag…

Will you consider, that night, holding your loved one so tight
While you dance to the Wiener Schnitzel Waltz?
(And while I’m at it, is that a real thing, drinking chocolate malts…?)
Or is your dance of choice your fabled Masochism Tango –
With various moves showing just how far anyone can go –
Or will you hold your loved one’s hand in yours –
While taking care it’s still attached to her body, of course…?
Will you go hunting in the woods, though this time making sure now
That you don’t shoot two game wardens, seven hunters, and a cow?
Or will you drink a toast to the great scientists of renown
(excepting, of course, Dr Wernher von Braun)?

No – you’ll be celebrating your main cause: obscenity!
For you’re a fan of smut, a market they can’t glut,
Provided it’s uncut and unsubtle…
And you won’t be doing anything political, or vaguely analytical,
And something nothing that’s ever hypocritical,
For you taught us to to remember to look at things hyper-critically…

Moreover, we know you won’t join the Folk Song Army
(Every one of whom cares – for they all hate poverty, war and injustice,
Unlike the rest of us squares…),
Or even the Marines, who we know only pursue peaceful means
(For we’ve got to be protected, all our rights respected,
Till someone of whom they do approve can be elected),
Though there is an outside chance you may go with the flow,
And catch a bullfight with your buddies down in Old Mehhhhico!

Meantime, Happy Birthday, Tom, and remember: we, too, all know
That in this day and age, we will all go together when we go!

Based in Birmingham, Dan is a journalist, broadcaster and actor.

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