Growing up, I listened to Tom Lehrer. My school friend Patrick introduced his corny songs to me sometime around 1973. Little did I know back then, that I would one day live in Lehrer's proverbial backyard.
If you don't know Tom Lehrer, you are in for a treat. His texts are absolutely acerbic and many are highly political. The amazing - and disheartening - thing is that some of them are as relevant today as they were in the 1950s,' 60s and '70s.
Just as we after 1989 thought the world was moving toward a better place, here comes the old issues roaring back to scare the dickens out of people who too well remember the Cold War.
So here is Tom Lehrer's uplifting response to the threat from Pyongyang. The question has since 1945 been "Who's next?" to get "a device". But not even Tom Leher had imagined that one day, the answer would be North Korea.
Agreed, the current spiff with North Korea is not entirely the product of American politics. Gradually dismantling the EPA is, however, an entirely domestic decision that could lead to revisiting a time when the rivers literally caught fire from pollution. How is that for making America great again?
Tom Lehrer was so popular in Denmark that we used the text to "Pollution" in our English class for both translation and in order to get an idea about American slang. There is nothing like dishing up something totally non-PC to induce young English learners to do their homework.
Compared to the versions I have seen on Youtube, our text was a little different in one of the verses:
"The breakfast garbage you throw in the Bay,
They drink for lunch in San Jose."
That is as much a local reference as I ever saw one - for us living just south of San Francisco.
Lehrer taught mathematics at UC Santa Cruz when our neighbor studied there and he supposedly still lives in Santa Cruz part of the year. Unfortunately, he had retired when my kids recently roamed the campus. They are great fans, just like their parents.
Writing this post, I discovered that Tom Lehrer gave a concert in Copenhagen in 1967 that was recorded. If you like the video clips I have included in links above, there is a full concert to enjoy. Alas, many of the other songs, on race relations for example, are also much too relevant 50+ years after they first came out.
Happy New Year, Tom. You taught many of us much more than math. I regret that we didn't manage to put it to better use.
Happy New Year, Patrick, wherever you may be today.
And Happy New Year to the readers as well.