CRAVEN’S NOTES: They blinded us with science |

CRAVEN’S NOTES: They blinded us with science

Craven Lovelace
Staff Photo |

As much as you may hate Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz for having invented calculus, you have to admit he had a point when he said, “Music is the pleasure the human soul experiences from counting without being aware that it is counting.”

There is a big connection between math and music — and, in fact, between science and music. If you doubt this, consider the number of scientist rock stars. Back in 1984, when the cult film “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension” was released, we laughed at the notion of a fellow who was simultaneously a celebrated scientific guru and rock n’ roller.

But nowadays, the ranks of such virtuosos have exploded, and it’s frankly astonishing how many great rockers are also wizards of research. And that’s not counting the many “dabblers,” like the Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten, who studied marine biology during the 1990s, or Boston’s Tom Scholz, who earned a master’s degree in mechanical engineering before he got hooked on the feeling of being a reclusive rock star.

Perhaps the most famous rock n’ roll scientist is Brian May, the justly celebrated guitarist of Queen. May is also a doctor of astrophysics, making him the only man who is simultaneously an expert on “Fat Bottomed Girls” and the “Bottom Up Model for Galaxy Formation.” May was studying for his Ph.D. in the field during the 1970s, just as his band skyrocketed into the stratosphere of rock n’ roll fame. Some three decades later, he finished his Ph.D. thesis, and has since co-authored a book called “Bang! – The Complete History of the Universe.” For the past five years, May was the Chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University, before retiring earlier this year. Another rock star professor is Greg Graffin, the lead singer of the legendary punk band, Bad Religion. Graffin has degrees in anthropology and geology, and a Ph.D. in zoology.

He teaches at UCLA and Cornell University, and has authored books on evolution as well as songs like “Struck a Nerve” and “American Jesus.” Bad Religion’s guitarist, Brett Gurewitz, has actually worked with two rock star/scientists, since his record label, Epitaph, released best-selling albums by the Offspring, whose lead singer, Dexter Holland, doubles as a molecular biologist.

During the early 1990s, an Irish boy band called D:Ream had several hits in the U.K., including “Things Can Only Get Better,” which went all the way to #1 on the British charts in 1994. Shortly after the band broke up three years later, their keyboard player, Brian Cox, finished his Ph.D. in physics and now works with the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland. There are many others, too, like jazz singer Diane Nalini, who holds a Ph.D. in materials science and is an assistant professor of physics at the University of Guelph in Canada, and Dan Snaith, who records wild, genre-bending music under the moniker of Caribou, while laying claim to a Ph.D. in mathematics. Sometimes rock n’ roll IS rocket science.

Craven Lovelace is the producer of the Notes Blog & Podcast at and also writes about popular culture at the Cravenomena blog at You can also find him on Facebook.

Notes is made possible by Tina Harbin of Real Estate West, the premier resource for all real estate information and services on the Western Slope.

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