Doctors of Rock: 10 Musicians with PhDs
“We don’t need no education” sang Pink Floyd, famously. Regardless of where you live – New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, South Carolina, Wyoming – you’ve probably heard that famous line. Apparently though, not all their fellow musicians agreed. Defying the stereotypes of the stupid rocker, brainless pop star and dumb punk, these ten musicians took their formal education as far as it would go.
1. Greg Graffin
Lead singer and songwriter of the influential punk band Bad Religion, Graffin got his PhD in zoology from Cornell and regularly teaches courses in geology at UCLA. Graffin has co-authored two books on science and religion, Is Belief in God Good, Bad or Irrelevant: A Professor and a Punk Rocker Discuss Science, Religion, Naturalism and Christianity (2006) and more recently Anarchy Evolution: Faith, Science and Bad Religion in a World Without God (2010). Maybe God is dead, but not punk!
2. Brian May
The legendary Queen guitarist and composer earned a PhD in astrophysics from Imperial College London. May began working on his PhD over 30 years prior to completing it in 2007, but got sidetracked when Queen hit the big-time. Apparently its never too late to finish what you started.
3. Brian Briggs
Singer and co-founder of the British folk-pop band Stornoway, Briggs has a PhD in zoology from the University of Oxford, writing his dissertation on duck behavior. Briggs found time to craft songs in his head while driving back and forth between Oxford and the various ponds where he did his research. Who knew what ornithologists did with their down time?
4. Brian Cox
While finishing up his PhD in physics at the University of Manchester, Cox was the keyboardist for the popular 90’s Irish pop rock/synthpop and dance band D:Ream. Now a professor at the University of Manchester, Cox made it into People Magazine’s Sexiest Men Alive issue in 2009. D:Reamy.
5. Sterling Morrison
Co-founder and guitarist for the seminal experimental rock band Velvet Underground, Morrison completed a PhD in medieval studies at the University of Texas at Austin after the band split up in 1971. Morrison worked his way through graduate school piloting tugboats, eventually earning his captain’s license. That’s Dr. Captain Morrison to you.
6. Milo Aukerman
Lead singer of the popular Los Angeles area punk band the Descendents, Aukerman earned his PhD in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Unashamed of his academic bent and general nerdiness, Aukerman and the Descendents titled their first full-length album Milo Goes to College(1982). Aukerman has yet to figure out how to juggle touring and science, but has contemplated building a research lab in the back of his tour bus.
7. Mira Aroyo
The Bulgarian born Aroyo is a keyboardist, singer and songwriter for the electropop/New Wave band Ladytron, and also a research scientist with a PhD in molecular genetics from Oxford University. Besides speaking several languages, it is rumored Aroyo can play a mean accordion. Sorry guys, she’s married.
8. Dan Snaith
Snaith, who goes under the stage names Caribou and Manitoba, is a Canadian born electronica/psychedelic pop composer and musician with a PhD in mathematics from Imperial College London. Snaith’s father is a mathematics professor at the University of Sheffield and his sister is studying mathematics at the University of Bristol. Insert nerdy math joke here.
9. David Grubbs
Probably best known for his work with the experimental rock group Gastr del Sol, Grubbs was also a founding member of Squirrel Bait and Bastro, and a contributing member of the The Red Krayola and The Wingdale Community Singers. Somewhere in the midst of all that Grubbs found the time to complete a PhD in English at the University of Chicago. The hands-down winner of “the guy who played in the most bands with the wierdest names” contest, Grubbs is also an assistant professor of Radio and Sound Art at Brooklyn College, CUNY.
10. Karl Precoda
Legendary guitar player for the original alternative rock band The Dream Syndicate, Precoda earned a PhD in English from the University of Virginia. Now an award winning professor of Theater and Cinema at Virginia Tech, Precoda continues to play guitar and recently helped produce the “multimedia musical extrav-o-rama” Persephone. Rad.
11. Robert Leonard
Leonard was the founding member of the 50’s nostalgia band Sha Na Na, responsible for spawning the 50′s music and culture revival that gave us Grease and Happy Days. Leonard went on to earn a PhD in linguistics from Columbia and currently teaches linguistics at Hofstra University. So, professor, what does Sha Na Na mean, anyway?