By Richard Lee
Finding songs to illustrate our weekly Media Studies Across Disciplines papers often takes me on long journeys through recordings, YouTube videos and memories I have accrued from following rock’n’roll since four guys from Great Britain captured the nation’s attention on a Sunday evening in 1964.
The search for a song to illustrate Xiao-Ning Zhang’s Bring Out the Scientist Within paper was much shorter. From the day I learned Zhang’s paper would be part of the Media Studies Across Disciplines series, I knew exactly what my choice would be – Thomas Dolby’s 1982 hit single She Blinded Me with Science.
After all, how many rock’n’roll songs were written about science?
But sometimes the obvious choices are not the best. In her paper, Zhang’s explores the difference in the way scientists and the general public view science. To answer skeptics, she explains how scientists work in an unbiased and systematic manner. Her paper is a serious and important piece of writing.
By contrast, Dolby’s song is a comedic tale about a madman on the couch of a doctor at a home for deranged scientists, while a seductive secretary distracts them:
There she goes again
She’s tidied up and I can’t find anything
All my tubes and wires
And careful notes
And antiquated notions
Given the stark differences in subject matter, why select Dolby’s song to illustrate Zhang’s paper?
The answer is simple if one looks beyond the lyrics and learns how the song was composed.
Dolby wrote the song when music videos were coming into vogue. Years later, he told Songfacts that he wanted to make a video in the mode of silent movies, where music served as a soundtrack to a story. He developed the idea for video, and then wrote a song to accompany it.
In other words, Dolby took a systematic approach to songwriting. Granted, it was a different type of systematic approach than the one Zhang described for science. Nevertheless, it was systematic, so it should come as no surprise that Dolby eventually founded a Silicon Valley sound technology company and often speaks at technology conferences.
It seems he wasn’t actually blinded by science; instead he embraced it.
Richard Lee, executive director of the Jandoli Institute, is a former music journalist who often writes about the intersection of music and current events. Click here to read Rich’s soundtrack selections for our other Media Studies Across Disciplines research essays.