Thursday, April 10th, 2014

Tom Lehrer, American Hero

"In the recent history of American music, there’s no figure parallel to [Tom] Lehrer in his effortless ascent to fame, his trajectory into the heart of the culture — and then his quiet, amiable, inexplicable departure. During his golden decade, he appeared on The Tonight Show twice, drew a denunciation in Time magazine, and by the early 1960s, seemed poised for a lasting place on an American cultural scene that itself was undergoing a radical upheaval. Then Lehrer simply stopped performing. His entire body of work topped out at 37 songs. He bounced around Cambridge, never quite finishing his doctorate on the concept of the mode — the most common number in a set — in statistics. He kept the Sparks Street house but began spending most of his time in Santa Cruz, Calif., where he became a beloved instructor in math and musical theater for some 40 years."


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CTD (#233,611)

Damn, you had me worried he was dead!

@CTD – Same here. Also, being "a beloved instructor in math and musical theater" sounds like more or less the perfect job.

Ralph Haygood (#13,154)

"inexplicable departure": Oh, I really don't think it's inexplicable. For anyone who sees the world as clearly as Tom Lehrer, celebrityhood is hardly appealing, and for anyone as intelligent as Tom Lehrer, there are happier ways to make a living, such as teaching math and musical theater in Santa Cruz.

"His entire body of work topped out at 37 songs.": Yes, it's like the oeuvre of Maurice Ravel: small (compared to, say, Bach, Beethoven, or Brahms) but practically perfect, nearly every piece a masterpiece.

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