The typical rock musician is often seen as someone who dropped out of school, and with no degree of any kind, rebelling and upsetting the adult world. Many fall into this cliché. But some of our heroes have a solid education with undergraduate degrees and even PhDs. Here are some interesting examples.
1. Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine
Tom Morello holds a BA in political science from Harvard University. Unsurprisingly, he was the lead guitarist of one of the most politically active bands of all time, Rage Against the Machine. Morello sees music as an instrument that can be used for moral and political progress. Being politically active is a tradition in Tom’s family. His mother founded the Parents For Rock and Rap organization, which works against censorship; His father was a Kenyan freedom fighter and his country’s first ambassador to the United Nations. Studying political science and building a Harvard backyard slum to protest apartheid was Tom’s way of continuing the family tradition.
2. Dexter Holland of The Offspring
In 2017, Dexter Holland graduated from the University of Southern California with a PhD in molecular biology. Apparently his passion for numbers is as great as for music. For him, mathematics is “(…) just as exciting as punk rock”. And so the singer and guitarist of the punk band The Offspring has always pursued both disciplines at the same time, although his career with his band, whose debut album has already sold more than six million copies, left him little time for math. Dexter Holland, a bawling punk rock icon and a PhD in molecular biology. Go figure.
3. Gene Simmons of KISS
It’s hard to imagine Gene Simmons teaching a group of New York students in a classroom. But that’s exactly what KISS’s demonic bassist, long-tongued and stained with fake blood did after earning his teaching credentials at Sullivan County Community College and Richmond College. However, he quit his teaching job just after just six months. He says he quit because he discovered the real reason why he became a teacher: he wanted to be on stage and have people’s attention. “(…) I had to stop because the stage was too small. Forty people weren’t enough. I wanted 40,000 ”.
4. Rivers Cuomo of Weezer
Weezer frontman, Rivers Cuomo, decided after a tour in 2005 to return to university and get his degree in English. He had already started going to Harvard ten years before, but by then he hadn’t completed his studies. Cuomo says they were on tour promoting the first album and was just bored. He wanted to take a break, read and study, meet people and have relationships. He visited Harvard campus and the decision was made. “So I filled out the application and they let me in.” In 2006, he graduated from the prestigious Phil Beta Kappa Academic Honors Society.
5. Sterling Morrison of Velvet Underground
Velvet Underground guitarist Sterling Morrison began his English studies at City College in New York, but didn’t finish until 1970, when the band visited Max’s Kansas City for a summer concert. A year later he studied at the University of Texas in Austin, where he earned his doctorate in medieval literature in 1986. While studying at Syracuse University, he met his next bandmate Lou Reed, with whom he began recording his first tapes, unaware that it would become the basis for the most influential album of the ’60s: The Velvet Underground and Nico. The Velvet Underground were inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.
6. Brian May of Queen
Brian May is not only the legendary guitarist of Queen, but he is also a PhD student in astrophysics. Before becoming a rock ‘n’ roll icon, he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Physics from Imperial College, London, in 1968. True, he was offered a position at the Jodrell Bank Observatory. But he refused and stayed in London to continue working on his PhD and to play with his former band Smile. When Queen formed in 1970, his career was well known for being on a fantastic path. His knowledge of physics was partly responsible for Queen’s extraordinary sound. After all, he played his customised guitar and designed the special delay effects they used. In 2007, May earned her his PhD in astrophysics finishing the work began in 1971.
7. Jim Morrison of The Doors
Jim Morrison developed his style and artistic personality during his studies. After taking a series of courses at Florida State University, Morrison packed up and moved to the West Coast to study film at UCLA. He particularly liked film classes because film was a new discipline at the time, so there was no established authority to tell him what to do. During his film studies he took courses on artists such as Antonin Artaud. As a young poet, Jim was deeply impressed by surrealist theater. Morrison graduated in 1965. He then remained in contact with former keyboardist Ray Manzarek. That same summer he founded the Doors, and the rest is history.
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