Tom Lehrer

On this date in 1928, satiric songwriter Tom Lehrer was born. The precocious student earned a degree in math from Harvard at 18 and a Master's the following year. Lehrer recorded "The Songs of Tom Lehrer" in 1953, followed by "An Evening (Wasted) With Tom Lehrer." He performed on stage reluctantly, finally bowing out altogether. After writing for NBC's "That Was The Week That Was" (1964), Lehrer cut his third and most political album, "That Was The Year That Was." A musical revue of his work, "Tomfoolery," later opened in London. Lehrer has taught at MIT, Harvard and Wellesley, and currently teaches at the University of California-Santa Cruz. One of his most famous quips: "Political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize." His claim to fame in the freethought community is the perennial favorite, "Vatican Rag" (words below). Lehrer has said: "I firmly believe all religion is bullshit, but I don't think I would have gone and written a song expressing that, unless I could figure out a way to make it funny." (Telephone interview with Jeremy Mazner, Nov. 21, 1995).

“First you get down on your knees,
Fiddle with your rosaries,
Bow your head with great respect,
And genuflect, genuflect, genuflect!

Do whatever steps you want, if
You have cleared them with the Pontiff.
Everybody say his own
Kyrie eleison,
Doin' the Vatican Rag.

Get in line in that processional,
Step into that small confessional,
There, the guy who's got religion'll
Tell you if your sin's original.
If it is, try playin' it safer,
Drink the wine and chew the wafer,
Two, four, six, eight,
Time to transubstantiate!

So get down upon your knees,
Fiddle with your rosaries,
Bow your head with great respect,
And genuflect, genuflect, genuflect!

Make a cross on your abdomen,
When in Rome do like a Roman,
Ave Maria,
Gee it's good to see ya,
Gettin' ecstatic an'
Sorta dramatic an'
Doin' the Vatican Rag!”

—-Tom Lehrer, "Vatican Rag" (Among the recordings available of this song is one in the "Friendly Neighborhood Atheist" CD by Dan Barker)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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