Around age 70, "A Conversation with Tom Lehrer",

> This winter I'm just going to do a math course. I'm doing a three-unit, as opposed to five-unit course on infinity, which I've never done before. I'm planning to study like crazy. It's for non-math majors. I'm trying to bring in the fact that infinity is when things get complicated. In calculus, algebra, probability, geometry, everything, so I'm trying to learn things like how perspective drawing uses infinity. So that'll take me three months. They won't appreciate it, but I will. I'll have fun with it. I've been teaching a course for non-mathematicians for years, and a lot of the stuff has already been covered there.

1997 math lecture performance (13m), including "That's Mathematics" for kids,

Artie Shaw was another guy who walked away from fame, and he was a lot bigger than Tom Lehrer:

Gerry Rafferty (probably more commercially successful than Lehrer, at least) also didn't like the business or performing aspects of music.

Bill Murray said (paraphrasing), "I always say to someone who wants to be rich and famous, 'try being rich first, and see if that doesn't get you 90% of what you want.' Being famous is a 24-hour-a-day job."

I took Nature of Math from Lehrer in the 90s. He said on the first day of class that the class was for non-STEM majors and if any of us were science majors he’d find us and kick us out.

I was a science major and I said to myself “Adam, I don’t care what Tom Lehrer says, there’s no way you you’re not taking a math class from Tom Lehrer.”

He was bluffing. I stayed and loved every minute of it.

I can't imagine many things worse than being famous. I guess if you are the kind of super-rich where you can completely avoid interacting with the rest of society that it would be fine, but not being able to just walk down the street or go to the pub without someone stopping you must get tedious.

The kind of quiet fame that Lehrer managed, known to a smallish segment of the population, for being really good at something, and then going off and living a normal life sounds pretty great to me.

As much as I love the maths based songs, my favourites are still Oedipus Rex and The Vatican Rag.

Tom Lehrer and Flanders & Swann were the musical background to my childhood. If you enjoy Lehrer you might enjoy F&L too.

While they don't have the science/maths background that makes Lehrer an obvious win for the HN crowd, F&Ls songs were razor sharp satires of the time. One or two have not aged so well, but most are great, although knowing a bit of British history helps. Like Lehrer they wrote songs about the insanity of war, nuclear weapons, and prejudice (A Song of Patriotic Prejudice is an awkward listen because of the terms used, but a great representation of English exceptionalism in the post colonial era).

What a fantastic quote..

>You had to admire these folk singers,” he says on the live LP. “It takes courage to get up in a coffee house or a student auditorium and come out in favour of the things everyone else is against, like peace and justice and brotherhood, and so on.”

It's pretty much my reaction to every protest or social concern story in the media.

I still have some Tom Lehrer songs in my playlist. They sound like they're a product of their time but are still relevant today.

I am also amused that I learned "new math" in elementary school, but I think it's actually different from the "new math" in his song of that name. I didn't hate it, honestly. "Now the book wants you to do it in base 8." This is actually relevant to my day to day work. (Though in base 8, I have to say that I only ever use bitmasks. chmod 755 foobar)

I've made a simple archive of the work Lehrer released to the public domain:

The text on his website suggests it won't be around for long. The archive is a git repo, you can help out by hosting it somewhere.

I saw "Tomfoolery," a Lehrer revue, in 1980 or 1981 in SF. The actor singing "The Elements" had a periodic table and a pointer. He identified every element in time and at tempo without missing a one. Impressive.
“I Got It from Agnes” is the funniest song ever written and I will refuse to socialize with anyone who thinks otherwise after hearing it. What a brilliant mind.
Tom Lehrer is one of my musical heroes, and I listen to his songs regularly to this day. My hat's off to you, Mr. Lehrer.

Having known a couple of very famous people and seeing what that brought to them, I'd prefer obscurity. I don't know if that's related to his decision-making, of course.

“Life is like a sewer - what you get out of it depends on what you put into it.”

Truer words have never been sung.

I grew up listening to him.

He seems to be personally, very happy.

That’s something that I find inspirational.

This video essay about Bo Burnam was very interesting, and gave me a lot more context to his recent movie Inside. I enjoyed the movie a lot, but it had a lot more depth in the messaging than I even initially thought. I wasn't aware of a lot of his work prior, but he has been pretty consistent with his messaging throughout most of his career underlying the veil of humor.

He once said very clearly and seriously, "if you can live your life without an audience, do it."

I'm sure Tom experienced lots of the unfavorable aspects of the attention (and perhaps scrutiny) he garnered.

Although, as the article notes, he did glancingly dip his toe back in a couple of times but my impression was that he was just ready close that chapter. Even requests from close friends fell on deaf ears.
If you are very rich, fame seems to be a big liability. You can't even spend your wealth properly without nosey people following you around and make a big deal out of everything.
Lehrer has often expressed that he didn't enjoy the lifestyle that came with fame
I can’t pretend to know the man’s mind but I always got the vibe he didn’t really feel at home in the cultural landscape of the late 60s and onwards

Personally I think his contributions would be welcome in any era, and either way “this is the year that was” is a certified banger

The article is nice and interesting but doesn't answer the question of why did Tom Lehrer stop.

It's possible he thought he didn't have anything more to say. But I doubt that's the whole reason he stopped making songs and performing.

He lived through a time when the US defeated Nazi Germany, and then... hired prominent Nazis to work for them. This is what the Wernher von Braun song is about.

My take is, he thinks humanity as a whole doesn't deserve him — which may very well be the case.

Fun fact: Lehrer is the German word for teacher.
I didn't know he had released sheet music and lyrics into the public domain. That's amazing.

evil Dark Enlightenment mathematician Eric Weinstein posted a photo on Twitter of himself and Tom Lehrer, with a blurb about how arranging the photo with his son was a great highlight of his life. I can't find it anymore, he must have taken it down.

edit: found a copy:

He posts a lot about Tom Lehrer!

Here's Tyler Cohen claiming Tom Lehrer would have been a part of the "Intellectual Dark Web"

"So Long, Mom (A Song for World War III)" by Tom Lehrer is one of my favorites.
"Don't be nervous, don't be flustered, don't be scared... be prepared!"

There's a recording of "Tomfoolery" performance on iTunes!

Have you met the public? Fame is an acquired taste and more likely the lesser of evils.
All of those songs are worth a listen. True gold!

Tom Lehrer DAT Recordings - - Dec 2023 (2 comments)

That's Mathematics – Tom Lehrer Songs - - Nov 2023 (1 comment)

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Looking for Tom Lehrer, Comedy's Mysterious Genius - - Dec 2022 (1 comment)

Tom Lehrer has released all of his songs into the public domain - - Dec 2022 (130 comments)

Tom Lehrer – We Will All Go Together When We Go - - March 2022 (2 comments)

Tom Lehrer – So Long, Mom (A Song for World War III, 1967) - - Feb 2022 (1 comment)

Tom Lehrer on Kurt Weill's Broadway Music (1999) - - July 2021 (1 comment)

Tom Lehrer Puts His Music into the Public Domain - - Oct 2020 (1 comment)

Tom Lehrer releases song lyrics to public domain - - Oct 2020 (132 comments)

Tom Lehrer's Mathematical Songs (1951) - - Aug 2020 (44 comments)

Tom Lehrer’s memorable “Revue” session - - Sept 2018 (6 comments)

Tom Lehrer at 90: a life of scientific satire - - April 2018 (83 comments)

Looking for Tom Lehrer, Comedy's Mysterious Genius - - Dec 2015 (3 comments)

Tom Lehrer - - Dec 2015 (32 comments)

Tom Lehrer's last (math) class (2001) - - Nov 2010 (1 comment)

Holy crap, Tom Lehrer is still alive!?
TL;DR: He didn't answer the question.

Still a fun read though.