Friday, June 13, 2014

Music To Write By: Tom Lehrer's "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park"

Why Listen? For black humor, brilliant satire, and an example of how brains and belly laughs can go together.

How many truly funny genre writers can you name right off the bat? I can think of Terry Pratchett and Jim C. Hines and ... uh, Neil Gaiman when he's writing with Terry Pratchett. Oh, wait, let's not forget Norm Sherman, the cephalopod-loving, Lovecraft-memorializing balladeer of the bizarre. Still, that's a pretty short list. Why don't more authors try to elicit chuckles from their readers? Are they afraid that tickling the old funny bone will make them appear less intelligent? Well, if that's their fear, they need to pay more attention to Harvard mathematician and comedian Tom Lehrer.

It's not enough to call Lehrer either a parodist or a satirist. Armed with a piano and prodigious wit, he blends both, skewering Christmas commercialism, education reform, artsy progressivism, and (somewhat scandalously) BDSM. But my favorite Lehrer tune has to be "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park," an outrageous ditty that pokes fun at seasonal celebration songs -- think Nat King Cole's "Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer" -- with grim humor:
Spring is here, spring is here!
Life is skittles and life is beer.
I think the loveliest time of the year is the spring.
I do. Don't you? 'Course you do.
But there's one thing that makes spring complete for me
And makes ev'ry Sunday a treat for me.

All the world seems in tune
On a spring afternoon
When we're poisoning pigeons in the park.
Not only will the killer melody keep the song circulating in your head, you'll probably find yourself marveling that Lehrer managed to find an unforced rhyme for strychnine. Brains and belly laughs can go hand-in-hand.


Simon Kewin said...

Heh, yes, it's a good song. I always thought it was by someone else, though. Not sure why.

Loren Eaton said...

Have you listened to the rest of his stuff, Simon? Lehrer's educational songs are both amazing and hilarious. No mean feat.