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On April 9, 2021, as Tom Lehrer celebrated (or whatever he did with it) his 93rd birthday, Malcolm Kogut and I elevatored up to the second floor – the music room – of Caffè Lena, legendary coffeehouse in Saratoga Springs, NY. The caffè recently had begun welcoming an audience as the Coronavirus pandemic eased (as we optimistically thought at the time), and we prepared to inflict upon them the words and music of one of the world’s greatest musical satirists. Although that’s not a good term to use for Lehrer. He’s one of the world’s greatest songwriters, insofar as he melded lyrics and music into polished gems of art songs that just happen to deliver a witty payload. This is because he not only knows how to write a musical miniature but also the rarefied skill of crafting lyrics to those tunes. Comic verse works only when it rhymes correctly, and Lehrer’s rhymes are the best.
He recently put a huge selection of his songs into the public domain, including numbers that don’t appear on any of his recordings. We included a few of those, although I should confess that the patter in “Love Song of the Physical Anthropologist” is of my own devising. We also threw in some songs by others that give some context to Lehrer’s style. The audience was ready for us, numbed, no doubt, by those months of sequestration. And Lehrer saw this pandemic coming, as told in the final song on the program. It was a successful enough concert that I decided to offer this audio recording of it, and it wouldn’t have been nearly as successful without the accommodating spirit of Caffè Lena, a unique platform for beauty and creativity. We’re proud to have offered at least some creativity.
– Byron Nilsson