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.”