Monday, May 26, 2008

Brian May—Old News But Good News

I’ve been meaning to do this post for quite a while . . .

I’ve been playing guitar for a long time, but I’ve never been a guitar-hero kind of guy. I like a lot of players and a lot of different styles. So, I think Steve Vai and Joe Satriani are cool and I like a lot of the music they write and play, but I don’t go all ga-ga over them.

About the only two guitar players from the pop world that really stand out to me are Alex Lifeson and Brian May.

Of the two, I think I like Brian May a little more.

Of the two, only one of them also is an astrophysicist!

So today’s post is about Brian May of the group Queen, who is also an astrophysicist.


Before Freddie Mercury bit the big one—so to speak, sorry Freddie!—I saw Queen perform live and they did a great show.

What I remember most, however, about the show was looking around the audience and saying to my friend Jim, “Wow! Out of all the concerts I’ve ever been to, this Queen audience has the most amazingly beautiful women I’ve ever seen!”

Jim just laughed and said, “Yeah, and just think, one or two of those beautiful women are actually real women!”


One of my favorite Brian May songs is “Now I’m Here.” It contains these lyrics:

    A thin moon beam in the smoke-screen sky
    Where the beams of your love light chase
    Don’t move don’t speak don’t feel no pain
    With the rain running down my face

    Your matches still light up the sky
    And many a tear lives on in my eye

    Down in the city just Hoople and me
    Don’t I love him so . . .
    Don’t I love him so . . .

    Whatever comes of you and me
    I’d love to leave my memories with you

    Now I’m here
    Think I’ll stay around, around, around . . .

    Down in the city just you and me . . .

I’ve always assumed the line “Down in the city just Hoople and me” referred to Ian Hunter, of Mott the Hoople. I’m not gay and I have no idea whether Brian May is gay or straight or what, but I always thought it was very cool of a pop musician to do a verse in a song that seems to be expressing his love for a guy .  .  . (Of course, these are glitter/glam bands I’m talking about . . .)


The meat of today’s post (so to speak, sorry), however, is that at 59 years old [!] Brian May went back to school, finished up research for his thesis on the rotational dynamics of dust clouds within the solar system [!] and got a doctorate in astrophysics. [!]

That’s pretty damn cool!

Okay. Here’s the story from the Times Online:

Rock star back at university again after 33 gap years

by Simon de Bruxelles, July 12, 2007

Brian May, the multimillionaire guitarist who founded the rock group Queen, has finally completed the PhD in astrophysics that he abandoned more than 30 years ago.

The 59-year-old composer of hits such as Fat Bottomed Girls and We Will Rock You turned his back on the stars for international fame with Freddie Mercury and his band. His thesis on interplanetary dust clouds lay gathering dust of its own in the attic of his home in Surrey.

May’s interest in the subject was rekindled last year when he co-authored a children’s science book with the astronomer Sir Patrick Moore. He discovered that remarkably little research had been done in the intervening 33 years.

He dug out his old handwritten notes and spent nine months conducting further research at Imperial College, London, where he had studied before Queen hit the big time.

May revealed his achievement when he received an honorary doctorate at Exeter University this week. He told students: “For the last nine months I’ve done nothing except slave over my PhD, which is now written up, thank God. But there are times when you really want to give up. There are times when you go, ‘Why on earth did I take this on?’ ”

After the ceremony he said: “I worked on my thesis at Imperial from 1971 to 1974 when I had to give it up because Queen became a full-time thing. I kept all my notes and I was able to find them in my loft and start working on them again.”

Using a giant telescope in the Canary Islands, May was able to show for the first time that dust clouds in the solar system are moving in the same direction as the planets. He will receive his PhD next May, provided that his thesis is approved by assessors.

Abigail Smith, a spokeswoman for Imperial College, said: “People are aware he is here and there is a feeling it is pretty cool that he has come back to finish his PhD, even if he has not been hugely visible.”

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