Dec 142011

A maths professor entertains:

I spent my formative years wandering about on beaches rearranging the stones and shells into pleasing shapes, going through life moving things about to look nice, enjoying learning how to use words for their sounds rather than their meanings, wearing stupid clothes just to annoy people. One of my best friends grew half a beard on the left-hand side of his face just because we couldn’t think of anyone else who had done so recently. The music I loved (and love) most acts on feeling and emotion, to be funny or sad. There is no requirement for it to make sense lyrically or musically, as long as it sounds more like a painting than a maths exercise. By the time I left school I had such a profound loathing for the English educational system and the regular beatings involved that I had no desire to go to University. If I had I would not have opted for the sciences.

Mrs Happiness, on the other hand, has a degree in Theoretical Physics, and we met while she was studying for an MBA, which seemed to be trying to apply mathematical logic to the science of shopping. She doesn’t like music much, taking particular exception to most of the music I like, (and especially – as I have mentioned on previous occasions – Frank Sidebottom), although she has been known to listen to Queen for pleasure, claims to have listened to Yes on occasion, and prior to meeting me the only gig she had been to was a vast outdoor thing to look at someone who might have been Jean-Michel Jarre in the far, far distance. I have often wondered whether astronomer Brian May’s playing speaks to her very logical mind, enabling her to recognise something going on his playing which I’m missing – because goodness knows I’ve never been able to work out where Queen were coming from. John Deacon has a BSc in electronics, Roger Taylor a BSc Honours in biology. Freddie did art, but for the sake of this argument may be considered the exception that proves the rule.

One of my oldest and dearest and artiest friends married a lady who went on to get a PhD in Psychology, and one of the things she and Mrs H particularly enjoy talking about, especially when we are in earshot, is their pathological disdain for Trout Mask Replica. Or any music that either of their husbands enjoy.

Google doesn’t seem to want to yield which subjects Thomas Dolby studied, and Eno may look the part but is educationally as arty as they come. Mira Aroyo of Ladytron has a PhD in Genetics, but otherwise musical scientists seem fairly thin on the ground.

Does anyone know of any other musicians with actual science qualifications who might provide a bridge across this familial divide? And would scientific debate be more interesting in the long run if the Higgs-Boson particle is proved not to exist?


  22 Responses to “Oh Lord, Won’t You Buy Me a Large Hadron Collider”

  1. tonyola

    Elvin Bishop had a full scholarship to the University of Chicago. He majored in physics for a few years but apparently didn’t graduate – music took hold of his soul.

    You can count me, too, I suppose. Despite a fairly long (if somewhat spotty) musical career, I’m a long-experienced, State-registered environmental engineer with a degree in civil engineering.

  2. The singer from Offspring has Bachelor’s degree in Biology and a Master’s degree in Molecular Biology and was a PhD candidate at the University of Southern California before he gave it up to focus on the band. However, I advise against pointing this out to your wife because the band bites it and I would hate for you to have to start listening to that stuff in the car just because he and your wife have a shared love of the sciences. On the other hand, you owe her big time for that Frank Sidebottom stuff…

  3. hrrundivbakshi

    Jeff “Skunk” Baxter of the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan is a self-taught world expert on “star wars”and other anti-ballistic missile technologies. No fooling — he was actually a consultant to the Bush White House on the subject.

    From the “truth is much stranger than fiction” section of Wikipedia:

    In the mid-1980s, Baxter’s interest in music recording technology led him to wonder about hardware and software that was originally developed for military use, i.e. data-compression algorithms and large-capacity storage devices. As it happened, his next-door neighbor was a retired engineer who had worked on the Sidewinder missile program. This neighbor bought Baxter a subscription to Aviation Week magazine, provoking his interest in additional military-oriented publications and missile defense systems in particular. He became self-taught in this area, and at one point he wrote a five-page paper that proposed converting the ship-based anti-aircraft Aegis missile into a rudimentary missile defense system. He gave the paper to California Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher, and his career as a defense consultant began.

  4. hrrundivbakshi

    Thomas “Tommy T” Gobena, bass player for gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello, is a former systems analyst for global satellite fleet operator Intelsat.

  5. tonyola

    Milo Aukerman of the Descendents (long-running LA punk band) is a research biochemist. In fact, one of their earliest albums was called Milo Goes to College.

  6. machinery

    How about Boston’s Tom Scholz who invented the Rockman — he has a masters in engineering, I believe. If, of course, you count engineering a science.

  7. I believe the late, great Dave Blood, bassist for Dead Milkmen, had an advanced degree in some form of mathematics that was over my head. Well, just about all forms of mathematics are over my head.

  8. hrrundivbakshi

    He invented the final generation of Polaroid instant cameras. You know, the cool ones!

  9. 2000 Man

    My dad loved Tom Lehrer, and Poisoning Pigeons in the Park in particular cracked him up. Thanks for reminding me of that one! All I had was Skunk Baxter and the dude from Queen, too. Mick Collins from The Dirtbombs is a UNIX guy from way back. I think that’s how he actually pays his rent and The Dirtbombs are what he does for comic book and record money.

    My wife generally hates what I listen to, too. But I don’t listen to Frank Sidebottom or Terry Jacks, so I think I’m still pretty much on her good side.

  10. While we’re in the neighborhood, the singer in Bad Religion has a paleontology Ph.D and the singer for The Descendents has the same in biochem.

    Also, the Alvin brother who teaches math.

  11. Not sure of his academic bona fides (or even his name…there’s a surprise out of me), but there was an Iron Butterfly member (Kramer?) that was mixed up in some sort of DoD activities and disappeared under mysterious circumstances, no?


  12. ladymisskirroyale

    A good friend of mine, who was (and I guess still is) the bass player of Swirlies went on to get his PhD in Ornithology. He also used to do some/most of the cover art/lettering and there were always photos of birds (usually ostriches) included. You can see ostrich eggs on this cover:

  13. jeangray

    Interesting story:

    Thanx for the heads-up, RaoulG.

  14. ladymisskirroyale

    Frank Black’s past is a bit murky. Wikipedia says he majored in Anthropology, but I had heard some weird info that he had studied medicine in Puerto Rico. Anyone else know much about him?

  15. ladymisskirroyale

    “One of my oldest and dearest and artiest friends married a lady who went on to get a PhD in Psychology, and one of the things she and Mrs H particularly enjoy talking about, especially when we are in earshot, is their pathological disdain for Trout Mask Replica. Or any music that either of their husbands enjoy.”

    This could, to some degree, be the Royale household. Although I would substitute Godspeed You! Black Emperor for Captain Beefheart. This continues to be a bitter divide in our home. (Mr. Royale just chimed in, “Are you writing how excited you are that they are playing 5 nights at the Filmore?” No, I am not.) Despite our science/art differences, we like pretty similar music. Now to convince him to join me at the sing along “Sound of Music.”

  16. Wow, that’s a weird story to have on my mind as I get ready to go to sleep. The fact that a Jackson and OJ were also involved makes it even creepier.

  17. I had no idea Oran “Juice” Jones was involved! Would certainly put some “fly” into the Iron Butterfly.

    As for a Jackson being in the mix, well, that sort of goes without saying

    aloha and Mele Kalikimaka

  18. You had to guess that one of these days, the hijinks would catch up to ol’ Cosmo Kramer!

    Oh, wait…well, maybe there’s a Phillip Andy Kaufman Cosmo Kramer…lotta shaky Namen up fer grabs here…

    aloha and Mele Kalikimaka

  19. Perhaps he’s registered as Dr Black Francis?

    aloha and Mele Kalikimaka

  20. alexmagic

    I knew I saw the Unsolved Mysteries feature on Kramer when it originally aired, but in recent years, couldn’t remember if I actually saw that or if it was some weird fake thing that I made up, which seemed equally likely.

    Specifically, I couldn’t remember which Jackson it was, and I believe that when I tried recounting the story over the years, I may have mixed up the facts so that my version had Marlon Jackson and the guy from Iron Butterfly getting killed by Russians in the desert or something.

  21. Happiness Stan

    I believe that I might have seen GY!BE once, but am not entirely sure, they are another missing link in my listening experience. Given the choice between discovering them and going to a sing along Sound of Music I would definitely opt for the latter – purely because our daughter would enjoy it, obviously! (I’m watching my back, too many references to my unguarded Terry Jacks moment for my liking…)

  22. jeangray

    Dude! “The Sound of Music” is the greatest film musical bar none. No need to watch yer back on that one.

    Now, as for Mr. Sidebottom. Ugh. Speaking as a true ‘Merican, that’s got to be something only an Englishman could understand, right???

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