May 30, 2005

Ex-Steely Dan Guitarist Now Defense Consultant
— Ace

Rock stars-- is there anything they can't do?

I was amused to learn that Iron Maiden's lead singer Bruce Dickinson (no, not that Bruce Dickinson) was now a commercial pilot, flying 737's.

But now Jeff "Skunk" Baxter of Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers is now a defense and counter-terrorism consultant:

His defense work began in the 1980s, when it occurred to him that much of the hardware and software being developed for military use, like data-compression algorithms and large-capacity storage devices, could also be used for recording music. Mr. Baxter’s next-door neighbor, a retired engineer who worked on the Pentagon’s Sidewinder missile program, bought him a subscription to an aviation magazine, and he was soon reading a range of military-related publications.

Mr. Baxter began wondering whether existing military systems could be adapted to meet future threats they weren’t designed to address, a heretical concept for most defense thinkers. In his spare time, he wrote a five-page paper on a primitive Tandy computer that proposed converting the military’s Aegis program, a ship-based antiplane system, into a rudimentary missile-defense system.

On a whim, he gave the paper to a friend from California, Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher. To Mr. Baxter’s surprise, the congressman took it seriously, and the idea proved to be prescient: Aegis missile-defense systems have done well in tests, and the Navy says it will equip at least one ship with the antimissile system by the end of the year.

“Skunk really blew my mind with that report,” Mr. Rohrabacher says. “He was talking over my head half the time, and the fact that he was a rock star who had basically learned it all on his own was mind-boggling.”

Note to self: Aid American war cause by 1) learning guitar, 2) joining several multiplatinum acts, 3) then thinking up cool shit involving computers and missiles.

The way I see it, #1 is the bitch of the bunch. But I've got basic music theory down from my days rockin' it old school on the bassoon in my marching band. I figure I can learn to wail on the guitar in just a couple of months.

And a few years after that I'll build a Terminator cyborg, but shaped like a Tyrannasaurus Rex.

Posted by: Ace at 07:39 PM | Comments (41)
Post contains 384 words, total size 3 kb.

1 ace, I know you don't like hearing that this stuff is old news, but I remember Baxter being a guest on "Politically Incorrect with Bill 'Ariana's Private Douchenozzle' Maher" (waaay back in the day when I occasionally watched it, before he became a complete ass, and when I was naive enough to think he might be a teensy-bit libertarian) as a defense analyst/rock'n'roll curiosity.

In fact, scroll down to the bottom at this here link, which shows Baxter as a guest back in 1996, when I was still in college, still smoking pot, and still found Maher's show interesting.

(I wonder if there's any correlation between any of those three factors.)

Posted by: Sean M. at May 30, 2005 10:46 PM (e0H8j)

2 Hey, wait a minute. I thought that rock stars were against the entire Military-Industrial Complex. You know, rage against the machine and whatnot.

Because, you know, any minute now President Bush is gonna put on a black robe, start throwing lightning bolts with his bare hands, and start building the Death Star with his apprentice Dark Rove. Annnnny minute now...

Posted by: Xoxotl at May 31, 2005 12:04 AM (MsV2z)

3 I resemble that bassoon crack.

Posted by: See-Dubya at May 31, 2005 12:41 AM (ghlAY)

4 Hey ace:

Didn't Hedy Lamar do the same thing?
Note to ace: 1) learn to act, sort of, 2) fake orgasm on big screen, 3) then think up cool shit involving an idea for a sophisticated anti-jamming device for use in radio-controlled torpedos in order to fuck with nazis.

The toughie will be #2.

Posted by: at May 31, 2005 12:57 AM (toB5y)

5 Bruce Dickinson, airline pilot... that is so fucking cool.
At a point in his career when most of his contemporaries are either in rehab for the dozenth-plus time, doing "reunion tours" of 30-seat bars, or on-call session work (under their pre-rock real name, and praying that noone recognizes them)... this guy is flying jetliners.

My hat's off to you, Bruce.

Posted by: DaveP. at May 31, 2005 01:20 AM (Myxg0)

6 I wondered where we got the expression "skunkworks".

Posted by: Dave in Texas at May 31, 2005 03:40 AM (IRgZ2)

7 The German word for bassoon is "faggott". In high school you blew the faggott. I'm sure this explains a lot of things.

Posted by: Chris at May 31, 2005 03:48 AM (9DUU6)

8 "And a few years after that I'll build a Terminator cyborg, but shaped like a Tyrannasaurus Rex."

Boy, this is really going to harsh your gig. I'm afraid you're about 10 years too late on that last bit too. I saw this thing at an air show a fe years back. It picks up cars and shit, scorches them wiht it's nose flame, and then rips them in half with it's mouth and claws. When the show is over it transforms into a semi-trailer.

Posted by: Scot at May 31, 2005 03:58 AM (GDOa/)

9 Dickinson did some of his training in Santa Monica, where he ran into some pilot friends of mine. By all accounts, he was a cool dude.

I was a huge Iron Maiden fan in the late-80's and early 90's. I must say, his performances in the 90's were pretty messy. He appeared totally hammered to me. It appears he's really got it together now.

Good on ya, mate!

Posted by: W.C. Varones at May 31, 2005 03:59 AM (C8hPs)


The bassoon?

Posted by: SWLiP at May 31, 2005 04:15 AM (WfQGW)

11 The bassoon in a marching band?

Posted by: Master of None at May 31, 2005 04:27 AM (2c7xL)

12 I call BS, Ace. I played the bassoon in my school orchestra, but had to switch to clarinet during marching season. There's no way you can do a pivot turn on wet astroturf when you're holding a 5' long wooden tube across your body. You'd lose your balance and knock over the people on either side of you.

Posted by: dillene at May 31, 2005 04:37 AM (tac0Z)

13 While I was a big Maiden fan about ten years ago, I never got into Dickinson's solo stuff. Apparently, though, he has a new album that came out last week, so he hasn't given up on the rock star stuff entirely.

Posted by: Jason at May 31, 2005 04:37 AM (Y2Bw/)

14 This flight goes on and on and on and on forever...

Posted by: Joe R. the Unabrewer at May 31, 2005 04:40 AM (K4GP1)

15 Yeah, but the really weird thing is that his co-pilot is Geddy Lee.

Anyway, the rock & roll missile thing is so pedestrian. Did I ever tell you guys about the time I built an anti-gravity spaceship with only an Apple IIc and a 9-volt battery? (Oh, wait, that was the plot of Explorers. Sorry.)

Posted by: Phinn at May 31, 2005 04:56 AM (DiZv6)

16 Hey Ace,

Another example of the limitless expertise of rock stars; Philip Taylor Kramer of Iron Butterfly fame was a physicist working on some high level top secret goodies when he mysteriously died.

Posted by: US Soldier at May 31, 2005 05:19 AM (VicCS)

17 As long as we're throwing out oddball careers for ex-rock stars: Gary Numan, the guy who performed "Cars" and did the whole eye-liner, pancake makeup and fingerless black-lace gloves routine, is now a professional stunt pilot.

And yes, I call BS on the marching-bassoonist premise as well. I speak as a former clarinettist who wasn't quite cool enough for the bassoon.

Posted by: utron at May 31, 2005 05:26 AM (CgIkY)

18 Tom Clancy wrote about converting the Aegis to anti-missile technology in the Bear and the Dragon in 2000, I believe. Maybe it was the Sum of All Fears.

I guess Baxter was the one that thought of it first.

Posted by: Bill from INDC at May 31, 2005 05:51 AM (yZMsp)

19 There are some bright and educated people in music, but the notion that they're a bunch of Renaissance men has not been my experience. Too many are flakes from the wrong side of the tracks - like the Ramones. Like 'em or not (and I don't) they were a bunch of glue-sniffing street urchins from Queens some of whom wound up on methadone "after the party."

Posted by: 72 DRUNKEN VIRGINS at May 31, 2005 05:54 AM (dhRpo)

20 They're all just people like everybody else.
Some of them were policemen, teachers, baseball players...some fields attract a spectrum of humanity.

Not sure you can say that about a great many occupations.

Posted by: lauraw at May 31, 2005 06:05 AM (MGgj5)

21 Currently, Barry, "The Fish" Melton is serving as Public Defender for Yolo County, CA. He's been a lawyer since 1982.

Still plays with "The Dinosaurs".

Posted by: Mr.Kurtz at May 31, 2005 06:27 AM (Fo7ej)

22 Some of them were policemen, teachers, baseball players...some fields attract a spectrum of humanity.

Perhaps, but I would add that I can't think of too many Nobel Laureates in the music business and too many flakes.

Posted by: 72V at May 31, 2005 06:35 AM (dhRpo)

23 I need to say that there are a lot more kids today who have studied and are currently studying music in pop music than there used to be.

Posted by: 72 Hanging Gardens of Babylon at May 31, 2005 06:47 AM (dhRpo)

24 The Nobel Laureate/Flake ratio is low in the vast majority of fields.

Posted by: lauraw at May 31, 2005 06:48 AM (MGgj5)

25 I always figured you were in the band in high school.

I assumed you were more of a Glockenspiel guy tho.

Posted by: Gromulin at May 31, 2005 07:16 AM (x0jT7)

26 About this bassoon thing, what if Ace had most of it stuck up his ass? Ya ever think of that?

Posted by: compos mentis at May 31, 2005 07:20 AM (uCHTx)

27 Did you know that Blackie Lawless of W.A.S.P. is currently Prime Minister of Bolivia, where he recently crushed an attempted coup d'etat by Generalissimo Billy Squire?

Did you know that David Coverdale is a wilderness guide for baby seal hunters in the Yukon?

Did you know that Poison's tour plane crashed into the South Pacific, and that sole survivor C.C. DeVille is now a shaman for a tribe of cannibals?

Did you know that Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony won the 2001 Nobel Prize for Medicine, and is the also the third largest Kentucky Fried Chicken franchisee in China?

Posted by: iowahawk at May 31, 2005 07:47 AM (xKAPd)

28 The Nobel Laureate/Flake ratio is low in the vast majority of fields.

Yeah, but I was simply making the point that mentions of rock stars who pursued other eminent careers are the notable exceptions that prove the rule.

Posted by: 72 policemen, teachers, and baseball players at May 31, 2005 07:48 AM (dhRpo)

29 iowahawk

How is the dog? Haven't seen him appear out of my pipe since I quit smoking. I hope he is well and as wise as he always was.

Posted by: 72 HALLUCINATIONS at May 31, 2005 07:57 AM (dhRpo)

30 El Diablo? He's got the mange again.

Posted by: iowahawk at May 31, 2005 07:59 AM (xKAPd)

31 "Tom Clancy wrote about converting the Aegis to anti-missile technology in the Bear and the Dragon in 2000, I believe. Maybe it was the Sum of All Fears."

Bill ,
I think it was in Red Storm Rising.

Posted by: Burnitup at May 31, 2005 08:15 AM (IA1FL)

32 It was The Bear and the Dragon. Genius dude Al Gregory out of The Cardinal of the Kremlin updates the tracking software on the Standard Missile to turn an Aegis cruiser into an ad hoc anti-ballistic-missile platform. Tense moments ensue when the ChiComs launch an ICBM at Washington.

Posted by: David Gillies at May 31, 2005 08:46 AM (L4GhX)

33 I would finally say, 72 Raisins, that any field with a low entry requirement will be lopsided with what you may consider 'the wrong side of the tracks' types. As long as people are willing to give any guy who can bang out three chords a million dollars, well...

But completely OT, I would nominate welding as the field which like musicianship, requires some skill yet seems to be populated with a lot of burnouts and lowlifes.

Posted by: lauraw at May 31, 2005 09:08 AM (MGgj5)

34 lauraw

I'd nominate auto mechanics too.


Perhaps the dog that used to appear out of my pipe wasn't the same one. He told me his name was Gideon, and he was very wise. Wise enough to know that: "if you lay down with dogs, you wake up with fleas."

Posted by: 72 FLYING MONKEYS at May 31, 2005 09:32 AM (dhRpo)

35 "May" is right. I was going to write about Hedy Lamarr. Who had the gumption in her early 20's, Bohemian days to suggest and star in a movie that was as scandalous porno to society then as the Pam Anderson tapes are to us now. When told scientists were trying to stabilize crystal oscillations - she said to her industrialist husband - no, it's a good thing - and presented the drawings and calcs to back herself up - it was famously applied in WWII torpedos, but variable frequency communications systems and use of multiplexing that the "naked babe" of "Ectasy" 1st recognized is now in most modern electronics and computer systems.

Actors are creative. Some make big contributions in other fields. Jimmy Stewart became a Major General in the AF Reserve not because he did "It's a Wonderful Life", but because he was a logistic genius. Some actors proved adept politicians. Others became brilliant businessmen - like Gene Autry and Merv Griffin.

Posted by: Cedarford at May 31, 2005 09:50 AM (6krEN)

36 "Did you know that David Coverdale is a wilderness guide for baby seal hunters in the Yukon?"

Seals are ocean creatures, found in and around Newfoundland and Alaska. The Yukon is almost totally landlocked, with just a little finger of land on the incredibly cold Beaufort Sea. Besides, it's Daryl Hall who became a seal hunting guide off the Grand Banks.

Posted by: holdfast at May 31, 2005 09:53 AM (I2n7v)

37 All I'm going to add is that I sure as hell wish I'D been the guy who played the guitar solos on "Bodhisattva" and "My Old School." Those are two enamel-strippingly hot leads: spiky and delicate at the same time. Baxter may never have fit in with Becker and Fagen's lefty nihilist hipster ethos, but he sure made some quality contributions to rock history during his tenure with Steely Dan.

Posted by: Jeff B. at May 31, 2005 04:34 PM (037AZ)

38 Does anybody have the liner notes from Boston's debut album? Everything I've seen on the Web indicates that Tom Scholz was an engineer at Polaroid before starting the band, but I recall reading something in the liner notes that said he was "[doing] all kinds of secret work for the Navy that he still can't talk about."

Of course, I smoked a lot of weed back then, so I may just have misread "was an engineer at Polaroid."

Posted by: Chris of Dangerous Logic at May 31, 2005 04:51 PM (LdCPy)

39 RE: Clancy and Bear & The Dragon-- very funny book. The Aegis system he describes as being so revolutionary in that book was already several years old. . . and by 1999 (before the book was published), the Navy had already gone in a very different direction than he wrote.

Oh well. . . Tom *used* to be smart, back when we were all stupid.

BTW, here's my question of the day-- can this whole thing work in reverse? Can I stop being a defense consultant to become an Ex-Steely Dan Guitarist? At least that way, I'd get to reminisce about all the groupies I had back in the day.

Trust me-- there are no defense consultant groupies. None. Nada. Zip-o.

Dave at Garfield Ridge

Posted by: Dave at Garfield Ridge at May 31, 2005 07:09 PM (mrpxK)

40 Tom Scholz had an MS in mechanical engineering from MIT, but he should have taken a course in contract law. After Boston, he started Scholz R&D, which produced the Rockman personal guitar amp, among other things.

James Young, the tall blonde guitarist for Styx, has a mechanical engineering degree.

Hey groupie wannabes - I have a degree in mechanical engineering and I play guitar. Now's your chance to get in on the ground floor...

Posted by: J Bowen at June 05, 2005 08:22 PM (s0RgD)

41 Learning guitar is fun if you go about it in the right way. I went through 4 teachers in 6 months before one showed me the light. Start with the blues. Listen to Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson. Go from there. You can learn a lot about rhythm, song-writing, and get your hands coordinated and strengthened. And it's not overwhelming.


The Darn News

Posted by: Andrew Johnson at June 16, 2005 01:38 PM (FjhPB)

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