Queen's Brian May Rocks an Astrophysics Rhapsody
Brian May, of the legendary British glam rock band Queen, is obsessed with stars. Not the kind that accompany his band on the Hollywood Walk of Fame — but the much larger, more naturally beautiful kind.
Best known as Queen's lead guitar player, May wrote "We Will Rock You," sang the bass parts on "Bohemian Rhapsody" and played that guitar solo on "We Are the Champions" — all hits people are still dancing to today. That success begins to seem very small, however, when you contextualize it in the history of the universe — something May is prone to do lately.
Just as his band was starting to make some noise 35 years ago, May was studying astrophysics. Though he put off his studies to live the life of a rock god, he maintained his interest in the mysteries of the universe. Just last year, he completed a dissertation on interplanetary dust, earning a doctorate from Imperial College in London.
Since then, he's co-authored a book with a title that could pass for a Queen song: Bang! The Complete History of the Universe.
On a recent afternoon, Madeleine Brand joined May at the Griffith Observatory, high above Hollywood, for a ceremony in his honor. In a long black coat, white sneakers and an electric Hawaiian shirt, his hair a kinky black mass, he managed to perfectly embody both rock 'n' roller and mad scientist — not the most natural of bedfellows.
"I think music is about our internal life. It's part of the way people touch each other," he says. "That's very precious to me. And astronomy is, in a sense, the very opposite thing. Instead of looking inwards, you are looking out, to things beyond our grasp."
May enjoys dividing his time between the observatory and the recording studio these days, he says. But regardless of whether he's inspecting stars or working on his new album, he likes being called "Dr. May."
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