IT FEELS quaint now: a man with tidy hair and an elegant suit sits at a piano, his thick glasses sticking to his nose. He makes a few quips, and the audience titters politely. Then the man begins to sing. Flowers in his voice, he tells the story of a local drug dealer.
“He gives the kids free samples
Because he knows full well
That today’s young innocent faces
Will be tomorrow’s clientele.”
The audience guffaws. “The Old Dope Peddler” was one of Tom Lehrer’s most controversial songs, and Mr Lehrer was once one of the most cutting satirists in America. His sharp wit still resonates today.
Mr Lehrer did not mean to be a musician. He was a mathematician by training, but discovered a talent for parody while an undergraduate at Harvard. His first songs were just for friends, but Mr Lehrer was soon performing for larger crowds. By 1964, his songs appeared on American television, while Mr Lehrer…Continue reading
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