Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Poetry Corner: Tom Lehrer

One more echo from the class reunion

I grew up in an extremely odd place. In many ways, it was like a military base, since just about everybody there came from someplace else, and to a certain extent, it was metaphorically distant from the surrounding communities. Many areas are not open to the public, and even away from the lab, what was formerly military-base-style housing is readily visible in many parts of the town.

But then, there were other ways in which it was not so much like a military base. For one thing, the place has, I have been told, the highest per capita ratio of PhDs of any community in the world. For a while, there was a Nobel physics laureate living across the street from me. The high school's football and basketball teams were perpetually struggling, but our chess team, soccer team, and band always brought home the trophies. The graduating class prior to mine had 11 National Merit finalists, which seems impressive until one learns that my own graduating class had 36.

I am talking, of course, about Los Alamos.

Once upon a time, the satirist/songwriter Tom Lehrer worked at Los Alamos. As he had previously done at Harvard, he ended up writing a song about the place, in the style of a classic cowboy ballad: "The Wild West is Where I Want to Be." This song is soon to be given new life, as the Los Alamos barbershop group, of which my dad is a member, is preparing a barbershop version of it – Lehrer himself has given permission to create the new arrangement and might – just maybe – show up at the performance of the premiere.

Here is Lehrer's own introduction to the piece, and its lyrics, courtesy of

The Wild West Is Where I Want To Be Lyrics
Tom Lehrer

Now if I may indulge in a bit of personal history, a few years ago I worked for a while at the Los Alamos scientific laboratory in New Mexico. I had a job there as a spy. No, I guess you know that the staff out there at that time was composed almost exclusively of spies... of one persuasion or another. And, while I was out there, I came to realize how much the Wild West had changed since the good old days of Wyatt Earp and Home on the Range, and here then is a modern cowboy ballad commemorating that delightful metamorphosis called The Wild West Is Where I Wanna Be.

Along the trail you'll find me lopin'
Where the spaces are wide open,
In the land of the old A.E.C. (yea-hah!)
Where the scenery's attractive,
And the air is radioactive,
Oh, the wild west is where I wanna be.

Mid the sagebrush and the cactus,
I'll watch the fellas practice
Droppin' bombs through the clean desert breeze.
I'll have on my sombrero,
And of course I'll wear a pair o'
Levis over my lead B.V.D.'s.

Ah will leave the city's rush,
Leave the fancy and the plush,
Leave the snow and leave the slush
And the crowds.
Ah will seek the desert's hush,
Where the scenery is lush,
How I long to see the mush-
room clouds.

'Mid the yuccas and the thistles
I'll watch the guided missiles,
While the old F.B.I. watches me. (yea-hah!)
Yes, I'll soon make my appearance
(Soon as I can get my clearance),
'Cause the wild west is where I wanna be.

Now I need to get back to grading those papers …

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Anonymous Mike Grothus said...

My wife and I are also originally from Los Alamos, and last year, she used a portion of the Tom Lehrer song at my Dad's memorial service. Your post brought bask some memories from that day... Thanks.

Mon Jul 19, 01:58:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Pat said...

Carol Anne has been reconnecting with many of her LAHS class of '80 classmates on Facebook and at their recent reunion. She went to Barranca Elementary and Cumbres before LAHS. We were married in Los Alamos in '83 and also lived on the hill from '85 to '92 so I remember when the Black Hole was still a grocery store.

Mon Jul 19, 05:53:00 PM MDT  
Blogger my2fish said...

my uncle lives out there (Los Alamos), and I think he might have worked in the lab as well. strange, small world.

Mon Jul 19, 07:40:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Carol Anne said...

Mike, thanks for stopping by. I remember your dad, and all of the measures he used to take to try to keep his apricot tree from blooming too early in the spring. I don't know whether he ever found anything that worked!

my2fish, if your uncle lives in Los Alamos, it's almost certain that he works/worked either for the lab or for a contractor at the lab. There's not much else going on in the town.

Mon Jul 19, 10:35:00 PM MDT  

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