Poetry Corner: Tom Lehrer
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 sing365.com:
The Wild West Is Where I Want To Be Lyrics
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-
'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 …