Earlier this month, Bad Religion founder Greg Graffin announced that he’s taking a break from touring after the band’s summer dates in Europe. But the reason is not to work on a new album. No, he’s going Ivy League, teaching a class on evolution at Cornell this fall.
The news might come as a surprise to fans of the legendary punk pioneers, but Greg (or Dr. Graffin) actually earned his degree from Cornell (the guy has a PhD in zoology), wrote a best-selling science book/memoir and even has an ancient bird fossil named after him. And as it turns out, Graffin isn’t the only rocker who gives credence to all those “Be cool, stay in school” PSA’s. Quite a few performers earned degrees in fields that might completely surprise you.
We knew Gregg Gillis, a.k.a. Girl Talk, was a smart fellow… not just any old schmuck can weave together seemingly unrelated musicians like Queen and Rihanna and make it sound both awesome and original. But we never would have had him pegged for a Bachelor’s degree-wielding biomedical engineer. Even more surprising? Gillis actually worked in biomedical engineering while he was building his career as Girl Talk. Lucky for us, he quit his day job to focus exclusively on music in 2007.
Milo Aukerman, frontman of SoCal punk band the Descendents, inspired the title of the group’s quintessential first album Milo Goes to College when he was studying biochemical engineering from UCSD. He eventually earned his PhD in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. There really must be something punks like about advanced degrees, because the Offspring have had two smartypants in their ranks. Frontman Dexter Holland has a Master’s degree in molecular biology—he left USC when the Offspring blew up while he was pursuing his doctorate. (Thank goodness, because while we don’t know much about molecular biology, we do know that we love “Pretty Fly for a White Guy.”) Former Offspring drummer James Lilja must not have been as certain about the band’s future as Holland was; he left in 1987 to pursue his own medical career…as a gynecologist. No, we’re not making this stuff up.
While these degrees may seem unrelated to the career paths of the musicians who wield them, plenty of artists have degrees that fit perfectly with their musical persona. Andrew Bird has a Bachelor’s in violin performance from Northwestern, which isn’t too surprising given his masterful fiddling. The lyrically gifted Ted Leo, of Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, earned a Bachelor’s degree in English from Notre Dame in 1993 and equally wordy Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo earned a Bachelor’s in English from Harvard in 2006. Cuomo isn’t the only Harvard alum; Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine graduated with honors in Political Science in 1982, and we can only assume that fueled Rage’s socially-conscious lyrics in later years.
So what can we take away from studying the careers of these multi-talented musicians? Besides the obvious—they’re way more intelligent than we’ll ever be—it all comes down to this: cut records, not class.