29. Genuflect genuflect

Posted on 12/02/2017

 29. Genuflect genuflect


This is the chorus of ‘Vatican Rag’ by Tom Lehrer. He is now coming up to 90 years old and in his youth wrote the witty songs for which he is mainly remembered. His  songs are mostly black humour. The Vatican Rag runs:

‘First you get down on your knees/fiddle with your rosaries

bow your hear with great respect/and genuflect genuflect’

I once knew a girl who thought that the words were dirty (confusing the Latin for kneeling with genitals) and sang the song with great enthusiasm as a result.

Lehrer’s lyrics are usually funny enough without misunderstanding them. From ‘Be Prepared‘:

‘Be prepared, thats the Boy Scout’s solemn creed/B prepared! and be clear in word and deed

dont solicit for your sister, thats not nice/unless you get a good percentage of her price’

Cynical but amusing. Also not at all in spirit of gender equality and other things learnt since the 1960’s. His ‘I hold your hand in mine‘ is based on him holding the severed hand of his girlfriend, whom he has murdered, and says:

‘I’m sorry now I killed you/for our love was something fine/

and till they come to get me/I’ll hold your hand in  mine’

His best known song is probably ‘poisoning pigeons in the park‘:

‘but its not against any religion/to want to dispose of a pigeon/….

all the world seems in tune on a sunny afternoon/when were poisoning -pigeons in the park

every Sunday you’ll see my sweetheart and me/as we poison the pigeons in the park’

Rather less black musical comedy was provided in the middle of the last century by Victor Borge. A danish classical musician whose songs are not so easily available as Lehrer’s.  Most of his ‘songs’ are not translated, but here is ‘inflationary punctuation’.

He says that there is inflation in his native Denmark. But not in language, so he proposes to add ‘one’ to every suitable word. The result can be illustrated thus:

‘Twice upon a time, there lived in Sunny Califivenia a young man named Bob. He was a third liuelevenant in the US Air Fiveses. Bob had been fond of Anna, his one and half sister, er since she saw the light of day, for the second time. kAnd all ther of them were proud of the fact that two of his fivefathers had been amongh the cenineders of the US Contitrheetion.’

It sound a bit laboured when written out, but funnier when Borge says it. His ‘Phonetic punctuation’ is a winner, again when he does it live, as can be seen on YouTube.

At the same sort of time (mid 20th Century) as the above two, there was a vogue for monologues. One of them was Bob Newhart’s ‘The driving instructor’.


This visualises an utterly witless Mrs Webb. In the sketch she has had one lesson but the tutor jumped out of the car:

‘I see you were backing out of your drive at 75mph when he jumped?

‘alright, lets get up a bit more speed and gradually ease into second…Well I did nt want to cover reverse this early but seeing as you’ve shifted into it…Of course youre nervous’

‘[having backed off someone’s lawn] just  back out, Mrs Webb; oh now we’ve hit someone Mrs Webb. Remember you were going to watch the rear view mirror;

the flashing light on the car you hit blinded you;

yes Officer she was just telling me about it’

And so they both go off to the police station.

Back to one of Lehrer’s later, social studies. This is ‘We’ll all go together when we go’ about nuclear war:


‘for if the bomb that drops on you/gets your friends and neighbours too/

there will nobody left behind to grieve/we’ll all go together when we go’

Luckily mutual deterrence has so far seen to it that this outcome has been avoided. So we still have funerals. Thats something to be grateful for then.



Leave a Reply

Be the First to Comment!