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September 24th, 2009
09:59 AM ET

Guitar hero: Scientists are real rock stars

Joe Perry, lead guitarist of Aerosmith, is joining a star-studded lineup including Will.i.am, Sheryl Crow, Josh Groban, and Seal for a good cause. The group of musicians is calling themselves Rock Stars of Science.

They're heading to Capitol Hill today to raise awareness for critical, life-saving medical research.

Perry spoke to John Roberts and Kiran Chetry on CNN’s “American Morning” Thursday. Below is an edited transcript of the interview.

Kiran Chetry: We know you're in Washington. Today's the day of the big concert kickoff. What are you guys hoping to see happen with all of your efforts and all of your star power combined?

Joe Perry: Well, I think the whole thing is to show that there's a lot of glamor behind the career of being a scientist. And we clearly need scientists. A lot of studies have shown that America is falling behind in turning out scientists. There are a number of countries that are like far surpassing us in that and we need scientists and we need them now. I mean, they're the ones that are leading the charge in medicine and everything from global warming to having enough food on the planet, everything. And it's just a very important, very important cause.

John Roberts: Rock Stars of Science has got a number of goals, including building a broader base of support for research as a national priority, supporting more young scientists, improving techniques for early diagnosis and not accepting the words "no cure" when it comes to a disease. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you almost had a career – not almost had a career as a scientist but that's one of the things you were originally thinking about as a young boy?

Perry: Yeah. Well, very often in interviews, people ask me, “Well, what would you have done if you weren't a rock star or didn't become a musician?” And as long as I can remember, I've wanted to be a marine biologist. And as soon as I could get in the water, I had a connection with the ocean and with being in the water. I felt like I belonged there. I was totally fascinated by marine life and I really wanted to become actually one of Jacques Cousteau's helpers. I would have done anything to do it.

But because I never did well in school back then, they didn't have the understanding of the different ways of teaching people. I just didn't do well in school. And obviously, the way to get to be a scientist, you've got to do some time in college. And, you know, I was tested and all my tests came back above average and all they could say was, “Well, you've got to work harder. You’ve got to study harder.” And it just – it was very disheartening. And now there are a lot more avenues of ways for people to follow their dreams. And in this case, obviously, I'm here to advocate the need for more scientists.

Chetry: I'm sure there are millions of fans out there that are glad that you picked up the guitar and didn't follow Jacques Cousteau. But you bring up a good point. And that is about encouraging kids to try to do this and to understand that there is a lot of pride to be had in being able to help in careers that don't seem as glamorous as being a rock star. If there are kids sitting there and saying, “If I had a choice of being Joe Perry or being a scientist at NIH, I'm going to pick Joe Perry.” What do you say to them?

Perry: Well, just for an example today, we're going to have a closed session and a speech and kind of a presentation and then we're going to play and we're going to play with a few of the actual top scientists. One of them's a harmonica player and a keyboard player and another one of them's a guitar player and we're going to jam. That's where the meeting ground is. What they've found is the creativity that an artist has, and in my case being a musician, and the creativity that goes on with being a scientist, the same parts of the brain light up.

So there's a lot of the same kind of excitement and imagination that people can get out being scientists. And there is a lot of glamor in being a scientist. One of the doctors that we're going to be playing with today is a Pulitzer Prize winner and there's a lot going on there. I mean, they have their own set of glamor and parties and all that. And it's really something that's really fascinating.

Roberts: The last time that we saw Aerosmith was on the road at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally back in August. Steven Tyler fell off the stage. What's the deal? Have you talked to him yet and what's happening with Aerosmith?

Perry: Well, right now we're kind of taking a step back. Over the last three years, we've had – things have kind of fallen out of our usual routine and after his second accident and having to cancel the tour, we decided to – as the time went by, we decided to pull back and just kind of take a vacation or a hiatus, so to speak. And we're not really sure when we'll start, so I've been concentrating on my new solo record. It will be out October 6th and we're starting to do gigs and I'm going to bring the Joe Perry Project out on the road. And we'll be starting touring – actually, our first gig was last weekend and we'll probably tour right up until when Aerosmith starts working again.


Filed under: Entertainment • Science
soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. joe dipietro

    Joe, your right rock on

    Joe in sunny miami

    October 28, 2009 at 8:29 am |
  2. D. A. Reuter

    There are two rock musicians who are scientist: Sir Brian May, PhD (Queen), astrophysicist and current Chancellor of Liverpool's John Moores University and Dr. Brian Cox Brian Cox, (keyboardist for D:Ream) CERN physicist. CNN when are you going have a special that profile these two rocking scientist who happen to be or been rock stars.

    September 24, 2009 at 3:16 pm |
  3. Joanne

    it would be wonderful if one of the scientists would invite Joe into their lab and have him learn do run a protein gel or do the procedure to make a cell glow. If this were filmed and people could see the surprise on Joe's face as he actually was able to conduct just one scientific technique and get a feel for how scientists do their job, it might make a huge impact on the public perception of science.

    And if Joe wants to come by my lab here at the University of Illinois, I'd be happy to set him down with chemicals and cells and talk him through how to do something pretty spectacular!
    Kindly, Joanne http://www.joannelovesscience.com

    September 24, 2009 at 12:05 pm |