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I feel shitty, oh so shitty,
I feel shitty and gritty and pained…

(with apologies to Lerner and Loewe)

It was the first time I’d been to this particular pub, to see off a departing colleague, and a nice place it was too. It even had the Erdinger wheat beer I like a bit, the company was great, but the smokers were out in full force. This must be what they call “smoking craic”, eh? I got out of there at about 2am and woke up at 11am with the kind of hangover only I seem to get. Nearly everyone there drank much more than I did, and do this far more often than I do, but they obviously don’t feel like this, or else they’d be as wary of pubs as I am. This is why I don’t go more often, and don’t drink much while there.

On top of coffee and ibuprofen, I have recently found a sure remedy for a hangover: a healthy dose of Tom Lehrer. Tom started writing and performing while a student at Harvard, and recorded and released the albums Songs by Tom Lehrer and More Songs by Tom Lehrer, which gathered a cult following in the 50’s. Since then he worked as a college maths teacher, being occasionally tempted back to stage or studio, on one occasion writing songs for the topical TV series That Was The Week That Was.

I was introduced to his songs in around 1980, when they were compiled into the Tomfoolery revue which even reached as far as South Africa then. I didn’t think about in any more until one of my work colleagues lent me Songs and More Songs by Tom Lehrer, a recent CD compilation.

About the songs… imagine misanthropic parodies of music hall styles with heavy doses of black humour and schadenfreude. He had a theory about folk music, saying “the reason most folk songs are so atrocious is that they were written by ‘the people'”, and went on to show how Clementine might have turned out if written by Cole Porter, Mozart, the “cool jazz school”, or Gilbert and Sullivan. “One can always count on Gilbert and Sullivan for a rousing finale, full of words and music and signifying… nothing.”

The song I remembered most from Tomfoolery was Poisoning Pigeons in the Park:

So, if Sunday you’re free, why don’t you come with me,
And we’ll poison the pigeons in the park;
And maybe we’ll do in a squirrel or two,
While we’re poisoning pigeons in the park;
We’ll murder them all, admit laughter and merriment;
Except for the few we take home to experiment..!

Another cult favourite is We Will All Go Together When We Go:

No more ashes, no more sackcloth;
And an armband made of black cloth
Will someday never more adorn a sleeve;
For if the Bomb that drops on you
Gets your friends and neighbours too,
There’ll be nobody left behind to grieve.

Tomfoolery even included some of Lehrer’s more controversial material, such as I Wanna Go Back To Dixie:

I wanna go back to Dixie, I wanna be a Dixie Pixie,
And eat cornpone till it’s coming out of my ears;
I wanna talk with southern gentlemen, and put my white sheet on again,
I ain’t seen one good lynchin’ in years…

Then there’s I Got It From Agnes, which Lehrer himself was a bit wary of performing – after all, who else was writing cute ditties about VD in the 50’s? It still made it into Tomfoolery, though I don’t remember it – it must have been beneath my 12-year-old radar:

Max got it from Edith,
Who gets it every Spring;
She got it from her daddy,
Who just gives her everything.
She then gave it Daniel,
Whose spaniel has it now,
Our dentist even got it
And we’re still… wondering how.

Ah, but I got it from Agnes, or maybe it was Sue?
Or Milly or Billy or Jilly or Willy, it doesn’t matter who.
It might have been at the pub or at the club or in the loo,
And if you will be my friend, then I might –
Mind you, I said might
Give it to you!

Written by brian t

March 29, 2003 at 12:45 pm

Posted in humour, music, work

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