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Tom Lehrer: Not Bad for a Math Teacher

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Tom Lehrer has a short and brilliant career. He retired to lecture in mathematics and teach musical theater in California. Here is the beginning of an appreciation at Topless Robot:

​If you’re wondering who this Tom Lehrer guy is and what he’s doing on a site devoted largely to action figure news and stories about Care Bears raping each other, let me introduce you to one of the genius forefathers of popular nerdism. Coming to prominence in the Jewish comedy boom of postwar America, Lehrer brought academic satire to the masses with his dry demeanor and winkingly corny songs about chemistry, mathematics, and nuclear physicists, among other subjects. Some of his most perennial tunes include “The Masochism Tango”, “Lobachevsky” and the inescapable “The Elements”, still sung by Harry Potter actors everywhere (Isaac Asimov, too, has gone on record as a fan). Also he was allegedly one of the pioneers of the jello shot, so we all owe him a debt of thanks regardless of the shade of your particular nerdly stripes. (Continue Reading…)

Lehrer’s pick of liner notes concludes his interesting Wikipedia profile:

Above is We All Will Go Together When We Go and below is The Elements.

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--A Tribe Called Quest to The Dick Hyman Trio (In other words, A to H)

--Indigo Girls to Queen Ida (I to Q)

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Reading Music

The stories of the great bands and musicians are fascinating. Musicians as a group are brilliant, but often troubled. The combination of creativity and drama makes for great reading.

Here are some books to check out.

Duke Ellington brought class, sophistication and style to jazz which, until that point, was proudly unpolished and raucous. His story is profound. The author, Terry Teachout, also wrote "Pops," the acclaimed bio of Louis Armstrong. Click here or on the image.


What else is there to say? Here is the story behind every song written by The Beatles. Click here or on the image.


The Grateful Dead don't get enough credit for the profound nature of its lyrics. Many of the band's songs are driven by a deep and literate Americana ("I'm Uncle Sam/That's who I am/Been hidin' out/In a rock and roll band" and "Majordomo Billy Bojangles/Sit down and have a drink with me/What's this about Alabama/Keeps comin' back to me?").

David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.

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