Tom Lehrer Quotes

Thomas Andrew “Tom” Lehrer

Born: 9 April 1928, Manhattan, New York, New York

Lehrer graduated from Loomis Chaffee School at Windsor, Connecticut, then went on to Harvard where he earned his BA (1947 in math, Magna cum Laude). It was at Harvard that he first composed and performed caustic and satiric tunes at parties. After earning an MA the following year he stayed on to teach at Harvard as well as MIT and Wellesley, taking leave later to tour with an expanded repertoire. He recorded his first album, Songs by Tom Lehrer, possibly the most profitable recording project ever: he paid $50 for recording time and sold 370,000 copies, mostly by mail. He served in the Army from 1955 to 1957, actually working for the National Security Agency at Los Alamos. He never finished his doctorate. He taught at MIT for ten years, apparently in the political science department. He was the resident songwriter for the American version of That Was the Week that Was from late 1963 through May of 1965 although the songs were sung by a female vocalist and he didn’t think much of the performance, he released them himself as That Was the Year that Was after the series ended. In 1972 he joined the faculty of the University of California at Santa Cruz where he taught a class called “The Nature of Mathematics” to liberal-arts students (he referred to this as “Math for Tenors”) and a class in musical theater. He taught his last class there in 2001. He has been lauded as the finest musical satirist of the century by such experts as Dr Demento, “Weird Al” Yankevich, and the Quotemaster.

Tom Lehrer quotes:

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.

Tom Lehrer

Rhino Records online chat (17 June 1997)
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.”

Tom Lehrer

Liner notes, That Was the Year That Was (1965)
But don’t panic. Base eight is just like base ten really, if you’re missing two fingers.

Tom Lehrer

Introduction to “New Math”, That Was the Year That Was (1965)
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!

Tom Lehrer

introduction to “National Brotherhood Week”, That Was the Year That Was (1965)
For there is surely nothing more beautiful in this world than the sight of a lone man facing single-handedly a half a ton of angry pot roast!

Tom Lehrer
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, three thousand dollars a year just teaching.

Tom Lehrer

Introduction to “Lobachevsky”, Songs by Tom Lehrer (1953)
I didn’t feel the need for anonymous affection, for people in the dark applauding. To me, it would be like writing a novel and then getting up every night and reading your novel. Everything I did is on the record and, if you want to hear it, just listen to the record.

Tom Lehrer

Interview with Sydney Morning Herald (1 March 2003)
I don’t think this kind of thing has an impact on the unconverted, frankly. It’s not even preaching to the converted; it’s titillating the converted…. I’m fond of quoting Peter Cook, who talked about the satirical Berlin kabaretts of the 1930s, which did so much to stop the rise of Hitler and prevent the Second World War.

Tom Lehrer

Interview with the Onion AV Club (24 May 2000)
I feel that if a person can’t communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up.

Tom Lehrer

Afterword to “Alma”, That Was the Year That Was (1965)
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?

Tom Lehrer

interview with Celebrity Atheist List (June 1996)
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.

Tom Lehrer
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.

Tom Lehrer

Introduction to “Be Prepared”, Songs by Tom Lehrer (1953)
I’d like to take you now, on wings of song as it were, and help you forget for a moment, perhaps, your drab, wretched lives.

Tom Lehrer

Introduction to “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park”, An Evening (Wasted) With Tom Lehrer (1959)
If, after hearing my songs, just one human being is inspired to say something nasty to a friend, or perhaps to strike a loved one, it will all have been worth the while.

Tom Lehrer

Liner notes, “Songs & More Songs By Tom Lehrer” (1997)
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.

Tom Lehrer

Interview with Sydney Morning Herald (1 March 2003)

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