8 May 2020

#AGURocks: Songs About Scientists

Posted by Shane Hanlon

#AGURocks is a series of posts by musicians who create science-inspired music and explain their process and inspiration while also showcasing their pieces. Learn more about contributing. The views and lyrics expressed in this post and song do not reflect those of Sharing Science and AGU. This week, Shane M Hanlon.

I started writing this post about my history with music and science. It ended up being 1000 words in the end. I figured it would be bad form to break my own word limit rule so if you’re interested in reading about how a kid from rural PA went from a band nerd, to an emo kid, to a scientist who tells stories and writes songs about the lives of scientists, you can find that post buried here. Skipping ahead to the present…

I honestly don’t know what sparked the idea but one day I was playing guitar and thought, “I want to write songs about something interesting…I’m a scientist…so how about writing songs about scientists?” And that’s how Darwin & Curie was born – my “stage name”. *

Charles Darwin is the reason I’m a scientist. It might not be a unique story, but it’s true. I remember hearing about the voyage of the HMS Beagle in high school and being changed forever. And while I have no scientific connection to Marie Curie, I just remember learning about her in school and then later after reading a handful of nerdy books on radioactivity and just thinking…this woman was a badass.

Over the years my musical stylings have shifted from emo to Americana/bluegrass and back to something in the middle (generic singer/songwriter?). I’ve also really been interested in simple progressions – a few chords building to a big end. That’s what happened with Curie, my first song.

Time for a confession: I learned most of what I know about Marie Curie through Wikipedia. And I’m fine with that because it’s a great repository for scientific information (and I verified the sources). She had one heck of a life.

I gotta be honest – I’m surprised that this is actually the first song that I sat down to record. Part of it was that I wrote the words a while ago, over music that just didn’t work (and the vocals were way out of my range. I’m a fine singer – not great, not terrible, but I do know my limits). And part of it was that I figured it would be really easy to record. It’s three chords with two different progressions over a few minutes. Easy, right?

Wrong.

I’m well-versed in Audacity and pretty knowledgeable of Adobe Audition but, while those programs are well-suited for something like creating a podcast, they’re not great with music. I have a Mac so I figured I’d learn Garageband. It’s…fine.

[ngg src=”galleries” ids=”8″ display=”basic_thumbnail”]When I recorded this piece, I first did the guitar part, like 1000 times. I’m using a Focusrite iTrack Solo which allows me to plug a mic and guitar directly into my computer, which is great. I recorded two separate tracks with my guitar, a beat up Takamine, with a direct line and a mic’d line with a Shure directional mic meant for live vocals. I then recorded my vocals using a Blue Yeti USB microphone. My recording space is in an echoey loft and I recorded vocals in a closet. Needless to say I’ll probably rerecord this someday…but hey, I’m learning.

So anyways, I hope y’all like it. Or at the very least learn from my first shot at recording. Either way, here’s Curie.

Shane M Hanlon is Program Manager of AGU’s Sharing Science Program. He also writes nerdy science songs as Darwin & CurieFind him @EcologyOfShane.

*Noting that I need a stage for a stage name.

 

Lyrics

Well she was born in Warsaw, was fifth in line to the throne

Had uprising fortunes, were lost before she was grown

Self-educated she was, toiled away w/ her kin

Then she set, off to Paris, for science so far from home

 

Sent w/out provisions, wasted away all the night.

Magnets & steel were her passion, through attraction, and the light

Enter Pierre drawn together, like the poles but not forever

Please say yes, oh it’s no, OK let’s get on w/ life

 

She made her lab in a box, to study decay and time

Polonium first, for Poland, then radium her demise

A first for Nobel she was , a second for good measure

X rays, gamma,  the great war, useless medals dyin’ for

 

Heartache, denial, Paris, Krakow

Supposition in radiation

Atoms, they matter, the pidder, the padder

Never to hear them grown

 

Knowledge, success, half credit, at best

Eternal glory, she is worthy

Textbooks should tell of the heartache befell

Of just being a women then