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Tom Lehrer; the reluctant performer

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tom lehrer
Timeline;  1968 

As a still-wet-behind-the-ears new recruit for my first job in the (then) Territory of Papua and New Guinea (TPNG)  I’d been sent as far away from modern civilisation as the long pointer-stick held by The Boss Man could reach on his expansive wall map at Headquarters in Konedobu, Port Moresby.

Miliom, in the West Sepik District.
There was only one other expatriate, a teacher from New Zealand. In the absence of electricity, television or roads to the outside world our weekend entertainment was provided by regular earthquakes, the occasional bottle of South Pacific Lager, a superb Grundig short-wave radio and a brand spanking new state-of-the-art Akai reel-to-reel tape deck.  We had only three music tapes to play on it;  Eartha Kitt, Roger Miller and Tom Lehrer.

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Back to 2014;

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From the very first day I started blogging six years ago I acknowledged the part Tom Lehrer had played in the way I came to view the world.  You can blame him (at least partially) for the way I turned out.
The 20th century’s finest satirical lyricist said;  “Life is like a sewer. What you get out of it depends upon what you put into it” and as an enduring tribute to the man, this has remained my online signature ever since.

Lehrer opened my youthful eyes with his wit and humour to some of the ugly realities of our time which were being conveniently hidden behind smokescreens of political rhetoric and middle-class indifference.

Born in Manhattan in 1928, Lehrer went to Harvard at age fifteen and graduated at eighteen.  Academic life always came first. Music second.
His career included teaching mathematics, geometry and political science at Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California until he was well into his seventies, in addition to a brief period when he was drafted into the army where he worked in the cryptographic branch of the Defense Department.
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He was a reluctant part-time entertainer, retiring at age 31.  He performed only 119 concerts, 33 of which were in Australia and New Zealand.  His repertoire included pieces with some exquisite use of language.  “I pride myself on being literate to the point of  pretentiousness” said Tom Lehrer, the accidental celebrity who briefly shared the stage with some big acts of his time such as Johnny Mathis, Odetta and The Kingston Trio.

My appreciation of Tom Lehrer goes far beyond his music.  I admire the intellect, perspicacity and extraordinary social conscience that he possessed as a young man in his mid twenties when he wrote most of the songs. Many of the messages contained within them remain relevant today, sixty years later.

Most of all I admire the courage it took to shine a light on so many of the contentious issues of his time such as warfare, drugs, pornography (he was in favour of it), censorship, racism, and pollution.  Mendacious politicians and a few pious clergy must surely have considered Lehrer to be an irritating termite chomping away at the foundations of their comfortable castles of conservatism.

Tom Lehrer paved the way for Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger and all the other folk and rock activists who were to follow in his footsteps a decade later.

Mr Lehrer is now 85 years old and I have chosen the following soundtrack which typically treats 1950’s Government propaganda with the contempt it deserved .
Here is his musical deliberation on nuclear testing in the American desert.

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It was a very good year

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(I have taken the liberty of improving and personalising the lyrics of this old Frank Sinatra song.)

When I was seventeen
It was a very good year.
It was a very good year for small town girls
With personal toys
And hot country boys
Whose minds were unclean
When I was seventeen.

When I was twenty one
It was an lucrative year.
It was an lucrative year for my solvency.
Seven bank robberies,
With consummate ease,
Then went on the run
When I was twenty one.

When I was thirty five
It was a polarizing year.
It was a polarizing year for psychotic me.
With the shock therapies,
Thousand volt remedies,
I was fryin’ alive
When I was thirty five.

When I was fifty four
It was a penitential year.
It was a penitential year when lovers and wives
Fed my bare pink arse
To bull-ants in the grass
Then showed me the door
When I was fifty four.

When I was seventy two
It was a transitional year.
It was a transitional year with Doctor Hackett.
He chopped off some bits
And added silicone tits.
So I felt perky and new
When I was seventy two.

And now I’m ninety eight
It is a very good year.
It is a very good year for GOF  O.B.E.    **
Who fixed up this song
When it was rote rong.
I’m the Poet Laureate,
Now that I’m ninety eight.

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** Order of the British Empire.

Elevation to Knighthood must surely be imminent.

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The hills are alive……..dah de dum

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(A moonbeam of loveliness for our world darkened by cynicism.)

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My Favourite Things.

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Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.
Sauce on a meat pie, and jocks snugly fittens.
Millions in banknotes all tied up with strings.
These are a few of my favourite things.

New cars, and bare feet on sandy beach walkin’
Bikinis on beach girls set my eyes a-gawkin’
Peroxide in ears, and fried chicken wings.
These are a few of my favourite things.

Rum mixed with coke, and the Simpsons, and full moons.
Rhythmically farting in church to the hymn tunes.
Pulling the wings off march flies every Spring,
These are a few of my favourite thing. (s)

Stabbing the car tyres of noisy transgressors,
Burning the wigs of the barristers and lawyers.
Travelin’ Australia making alien crop rings.
These are a few of my favourite things.

So when the dog bites, and the bees sting your face,
Then Earth rends consuming you in fiery embrace,
It’s no use remembering your favourite things…..
‘Cos we’re going to Hell and the doom that it brings.

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Copyright GOF 2014
Now all I have to do is sit back and wait for the royalties to roll in.

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Concert review; The Searchers 50th Anniversary

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The Searchers

Regular Bucket readers will recall that I can be a very difficult bastard to please when it comes to live music concerts.
Previous to the last one, I had walked out of three consecutive events before intermission.

At my age I have no tolerance to wasting my time being bored, putting up with sub-standard entertainment, or allowing my eardrums to be blasted involuntarily half-way down my Eustachian tubes.

So it was with more than a little trepidation that forever-tolerant Mrs GOF accompanied me to the very affordable Searchers 50th Anniversary Tour concert at the Cairns Civic Centre last Thursday night.

Daughter Inga’s only comment over the phone beforehand was “Wow, now ain’t that theatre just gonna be chockablock full of old farts.”

Indeed it WAS full of old farts. Packed to the rafters with old farts.

Following the cessation of hostilities in World War 2, Australians took to the task of procreation like ducks to water. The now worn-out little ducklings, the products of those post-1945 ‘deliberations’, were mightily entertained last week by The Searchers good old-fashioned rock and roll.
Inga too would have loved it.

The Searchers, a group from the U.K., surfed that unprecedented global wave of pop-music fame along with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones back in the 1960’s.

Today their music is unchanged. Thumping drum beats, catchy toe-tapping rhythms and pleasing vocal harmonies, all completely free of modern electronic whizz-bangery.

The two-hour program included most of their big hits along with some Orbison, Dylan and Status Quo covers and many amusing anecdotes from 50 years on the road. They also never missed an opportunity to poke fun at how ancient all of us baby-boomers are today.

The penultimate song on the program, the rousing English anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone” certainly brought a lump to my throat.
I suspect that none of us in the auditorium felt we were alone at that moment knowing that we were all being nostalgically united by this rare and delightful opportunity to remember and relive the musical magic of the 1960’s.

After all, as teenagers, we witnessed the greatest musical revolution the world has ever seen.

The Searchers rock.  Still.

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Lady GaGa revisited

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I have written several hundred stories for The Bucket over the years. Some have been vitriolic opinionated rants and many more simply overflowed with effervescing cascades of  frogshit, so it astonishes me that I have only ever received one unwarranted, and as it turns out, poorly conceived critical comment.

Way back when young Lady GaGa was beginning to create ripples on the International pond of popular music I chose in a spirit of encouragement and goodwill to wish her a successful and reality-grounded future.

My motive in doing so was not of a pecuniary nature. To my knowledge she has not as yet opened an “I Love my Cuddly GOF” bank account into which she appreciatively and electronically syphons 1% of her annual earnings, although I have no in-principle opposition to that possibility.

We can also discount any thought that I might have had the old-mans-wishful-thinking-desperate-end-of-life-hots for Miss Double Ga.
GaGa is younger than my daughter and is therefore automatically excluded from my field of feminine appreciation under
Section 724 of Inga’s Code of Acceptable Paternal Behaviour.

Her music also does not send me into enduring spasms of orgasmic delight, and it is unlikely that any of her compositions will ever compete with the genius of Lennon and McCartney, Robbie Williams, Elton John or even Eminem.

No, I simply chose, in a rare moment of Goffly generosity to acknowledge and commend Lady GaGa’s original brand of theatricality and entertainment.
The world needs to celebrate those like her who choose to be different.

My critic, who purported to have an in-depth knowledge of the music industry wrote the following about Lady GaGa in 2009;

“Next year she’ll be struggling to maintain her place in the press by doing porn.”

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So much for expert opinion.

The Forbes List of the world’s most powerful women in 2011 placed Lady GaGa at #7 on a list where Oprah Winfrey was #3.
She has won Grammy Awards, and topped Billboard’s Pop and Dance Artist list.
Her personal income during the last 12 months is estimated to be in the order of $62 million.

I continue to wish her well as I do anyone who has shown the courage to expand the boundaries of their chosen legal and legitimate profession.

All young people, whether they be Lady GaGa or the kid next door, walk a difficult road attempting to find a niche for themselves in this world, and they are not aided on that journey of discovery by members of older generations who choose to habitually bombard them with envious, malicious, cynical and ill-considered deprecation.

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I hereby declare this Spleen #79 to be well and truly vented.

Plugging a hole of regret

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The greatest musical disappointment of my life is that John Denver turned up his toes before I had an opportunity to attend one of his concerts.

Last Monday Captain Chris, my distinguished friend of 35 years,
and I, his scruffy little mate from the bush, attended a daytime concert performed by one of the world’s most accomplished John Denver tribute artists, Trevor Knight.

Superb.

Absobloodylutely marvellous.

He WAS John Denver. Well, to me he was.
He also accompanied himself on a grand piano to sing Lennon and McCartney songs.

“Morning Melodies” is an initiative of the Cairns City Council to present affordable ($16) musical entertainment for old folk.

Captain Chris and I are both entry-level old farts.  Looking around us at the venue I had not realised that people could get to be that old and still be alive let alone having the time of their lives laughing, singing, clapping and enjoying a musical day out.

There were however some very good reasons why the concert ran for an uninterrupted one and a half hours.

It took an hour for staff and carers to resolve all the wheelchair rage and seniority disputes which broke out in the foyer beforehand, and clean out the pockets of thrifty old souls like GOF who had salted away kilograms of sugar sachets, paper serviettes, cake, sausage rolls and biscuits from the complimentary tea and coffee table.

Then and only then could everyone be wheeled and shepherded slowly, ever so slowly, into the auditorium.
Any intermission would necessarily have needed to be two hours in duration to provide sufficient time to geriatrically destock then restock the concert hall.

Captain Chris and I were seated against a side wall of the theatre at the end of a long row of chairs occupied by athletically-challenged but nevertheless mostly cheerful senior citizens.
The exception was one fossilised old fart, who, when Chris and I mistakenly plonked ourselves down in the wrong seats beside him grunted and spat venom at us before making a move for what I can only assume was a stiletto knife secreted underneath his back brace.

I suspect that once upon he time he might have had Italian blood coursing through his arteries until most of them had hardened and clogged up from a lifetime’s excess of cheese-topped spaghetti-eating leaving open only a couple of veins which fuelled sufficient pulmonary power for his grouchy hatred of a couple of temporarily lost Adonises sitting in the wrong seats beside him.

(Audible note to self;  “That was a very long sentence GOF. You are hyperventilating. Here, settle down and breathe into this brown paper bag for a while.”

Wheeeeeeze…………………ahh
Wheeeeeeze…………………ahh
Wheeeeeeze…………………ahh

OK, that’s better….let’s move on.)

We quickly moved past him into our correct seats.

At the conclusion of the concert it became obvious that it was going to take several days for all the old dears in our row to finish sharing the finer details of their various medical ailments and eventually get their rickety torsos vertical and moving towards the exit.
We had not brought along survival rations to sustain us for that long.

Additionally, Mr Fossilini still had one hand hidden beneath his coat and one evil eye focussed on us, so in an exuberant display of youthfulness Captain Chris and I vaulted over the back of our chairs into an aisle and bolted out of the building before he had time to summons backup from the local Calabrian Mafia goons on his mobile phone.

If, in ten years time Captain Chris and I are attending a similar concert and I notice two fashionable young sixtyish whippersnappers even thinking about performing a similar manouvre to bypass the orderly and leisurely exit queue I swear that I am going to belt the living daylights out of them with my Zimmer frame.

Oh, and did I mention that the formal entertainment was also fantastic?
It went a little bit like this;

Distant Minds performing Pink Floyd

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I enjoy watching music videos on television, and occasionally taking time out to reflect on how they have evolved over the past thirty years with changing technology.

The very first video I ever saw was brunette-turned-blonde Deborah Harry in the early eighties miming and sexily sauntering her way along the street behind a truck-mounted camera.  The vision was apparently more memorable than the song, the title of which I have long forgotten.

Few men of my generation will forget Robert Palmer’s “Simply Irresistible” with his entourage of identically dressed chicks disinterestedly shuffling and wiggling their minor assets, Salt n Pepa with “Push it” vigorously pushing and heaving all of their much more substantial assets in ways I had never previously thought possible,  Billy Joel pumping out “We didn’t start the Fire” to a mesmerising backdrop of historical newsreel footage, or Cher, dressed in almost nothing, nasally “Turning back time” whilst straddling an enormous gun barrel on a U.S. navy vessel.  I, for one, will admit to never paying much attention to the lyrics.

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Computer technology has changed forever the way music videos are created.

Mike is an occasional commenter on this blog and friend of mine in real life.  He is a gifted computer programmer and technician, musician, and photographer, who is very generous when it comes to sharing his knowledge with those of us who know little about these subjects.

For many months now, Mike has been spending his spare time, often late into the night, compiling the following video clip to post on Youtube.

Distant Minds is not your ordinary band.

You see, Mike fronts the band whose other members come from the United States, Costa Rica, Mexico and Brazil.

They discovered their common interest on an internet forum and none of them has ever met any other band member in person.

They all share a love of Pink Floyd music so each one sent Mike a video of themselves playing their particular instrument’s part of the song “Comfortably Numb”.

I have no idea how he managed to electronically stitch everything together to produce such a seamless and professional video clip, but the final product is a credit to him and the other members of Distant Minds.

I wish them well.

This  is a short trailer showing snippets of the original contributions from band members, and the following is the completed project.