Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Valentine: 4th July, Al Capone, and more Tom Lehrer

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-02-14

A few words on an Australian perspective of Valentine’s Day, and the problem with special days for modified behaviour that are desirable the year around, as so well described by Tom Lehrer (video links below, as well as to lots of other versions of Lehrer’s songs on YouTube)

The Feast of St Valentine became well-known in 19th century United States, and promoted by greeting card manufacturers  Any association with love on that day before the middle ages was with the Roman (and earlier Greek) Lupercalia (from lupus=wolf), which was a fertility festival where lots of young males run around naked, with perhaps the best modern equivalent of such practices being the Sydney Mardi Gras.

Australians should take as much notice of this as we do the 4th of July, where awareness of the day was extremely limited only a couple of decades ago, until again, greeting card manufacturers pushed the idea for profit: hardly romantic.

Indeed, when I was a kid, if you were doing a word association test, and given "St Valentine’s Day", you would have blurted out "massacre or "Al Capone", and then made tommy-gun noises.

Tom Lehrer’s satirical take on the Love Song is "She’s My Girl" (lipsynched by a modern).  Unfortunately, this isn’t Lehrer’s best tune.  His best "love song" is Clementine as reworked by Cole Porter, Mozart, etc, and of course, G&S.

The more general issue with these days like St Vs, even ones that have a tradition, is the tendency to only modify behaviour to above minimal efforts for a single day, and then lapse the rest of the time.

This phenomenon was brilliantly captured by Tom Lehrer in his song "National Brotherhood Week":

But during National Brotherhood Week, National Brotherhood week,
it’s National Smile At One-Another-Hood Week.
Be nice to people who
are inferior to you,
it’s only for a week but have no fear:
be grateful that it doesn’t last all year.

There is a YouTube National Brotherhood Week video of Tom singing it, although because some of the video is lost, the first few seconds of the song is a black screen.

Half the reason I’m posting this is actually nothing to do with Valentine, but to use the phenomenon of hypocritical one-day breaks to introduce a new generation to the brilliance of Tom Lehrer.

So… after running around the streets naked then putting your other-half up against a wall and blasting them with a machine gun, enjoy at least a few of the the many other videos of Tom Lehrer songs, with a starter list below (favorites for each bolded/larger font if there is more than one version listed per song):

Here are a few of Lehrer’s professions in the 1950s and 1960s:

  • Lecturer in quantitative sociology in the politics department of MIT, and Harvard
  • Songwriter for the weekly satirical show (think Glasshouse) TW3
  • Touring cult artist
  • Researcher at Los Alamos and National Security Agency (dunno how his peacenik and environmental songs went down there!)

Enjoy, and feel free to comment about your favorite Lehrer song (although it’s hard to pick one).


7 Responses to “Valentine: 4th July, Al Capone, and more Tom Lehrer”

  1. Meself said

    “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” pushes all my buttons … or press studs, or hooks and eyes.

  2. Meself said

    … the ultimate alar Valentine’s day song. (Well, other than “Bugs” Moran gang’s Valentine’s day exprience.)

  3. Dave Bath said

    Yeah, perhaps I should have included Pigeons, but “spring afternoon” and all that

    And on the romantic mood, I also should have included "I’ll hold your hand in mine" – the last verse is a killer. My first copy of that was a rare 10-inch vinyl 33 (not 12 inch 33, not 7 inch 45). (Not quite the beatles’ “I wanna hold your hand”) The “newspaper clippings” on the cover were what a reporter would have done given the stories.

    And there’s
    * "I got it from Agnes"
    * "When you are old and gray" ..ility ..ility ..ility, ..ility
    * "The Masochism Tango" (I ache for the touch of your lips dear, but much more for the touch of your whips dear) or the versions using clips from Farscape or Man From Uncle

    I /really/ should add these to the list

  4. arthurvandelay said

    “Vatican Rag” is an absolute classic. I’ll check out the others—thankyou!

  5. Dave Bath said

    Arthur… Yep. Vatican Rag (or as I’d mispronounce intentionally Vatican Toe-Rag) was a favorite of a family of good friends who were (progressive) Papists.

    I’m wondering how most younger folk heard their first Lehrer… my guess it was probably a maths or science teacher playing “New Math” or “Elements” respectively in class for most.

    Strangely, my dad was a maths/science teacher, in late 20’s when Lehrer hit the scene, but didn’t come across Lehrer until I played it for him as an adult. Cracked him up, of course.

    And for the non-science non-maths types, here is a snippet from Lobachevsky/Plagiarize

    (Spoken) I am never forget the day I meet the great Lobachevsky. In one word he told me the the secret of success in Mathematics: Plagiarize!
    (Sung) Plagiarize,
    Let no-one else’s work evade your eyes,
    Remember why the good lord made your eyes,
    So do shade your eyes,
    Plagiarize, Plagiarize, Plagiarize
    (Spoken) Only always be sure to call it… research

    And for Senator Conroy…. Smut

  6. […] to Stimulus Inquiryzombinol on Parliamentary dog gets a stern chatDave Bath on Valentine: 4th July, Al Capone, and more Tom Lehrerarthurvandelay on Valentine: 4th July, Al Capone, and more Tom LehrerDave Bath on Valentine: […]

  7. […] Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-07-09 For relief from the continuing series of posts on use and rights of Public Service Information in Victoria, it’s time to ask readers about their favorite Uncyclopedia article, in the same vein as the question about your favorite xkcd, and a post that morphed into a thread on your favorite Tom Lehrer. […]

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