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NASA? Or Nashville?

It’s not rocket science. That’s what some people say about country music. But Marc Kuchner, country songwriter and NASA astrophysicist, has a different point of view.

“Deep down, songwriting and astronomy are similar; they are both about seeking the truth,” says Kuchner. “In astronomy, the answers are out there far away. When you are writing a song, the truth is hiding inside you.”

Kuchner’s songs certainly seem deep and cosmically significant; his song, “Fired”, sung from the point of view of a loving wife whose husband has just lost his job, is the perfect anodyne for these tough economic times. His song, “Curiosity”, about a failed romance between a boy and a girl of different races, resonates in a country that’s just elected its first black president.

Kuchner’s scientific work is a bit farther from everyday life. He says, “I work on understanding images of planetary systems around other stars.” Kuchner has a Ph.D. in astronomy from Caltech, and a reputation for scientific creativity as the inventor of “Carbon Planets”, hypothetical planets that can have thick layers of diamond.

What’s it like competing in these two fields, traditionally considered to be challenging tests of intellect and perserverance? Kuchner says, “Astrophysics is not easy. But I think songwriting is harder.” In any case, the odds of success in either field are similar. There are roughly 30 new jobs each year in the United States in the whole field of astronomy (including astrophysics). That’s about the same as the number of new hit songs each year.

Kuchner doesn’t have a number one yet, but two of his songs received airplay this year, and his song “Start Now” was chosen as the best demo of 2008 by Music Connection Magazine. You can hear Kuchner’s songs on the albums of rising country stars Taryn Cross, Chelesea Music, Brynn Marie, and many others.

But country music? How does such a rustic art form appeal to someone with such a highbrow and high tech bent? “I used to work in Mad Dog recording studios, where [Country legend] Dwight Yoakam was recording. It turns out Dwight was a big fan of film noir and Woody Allen; there really are no boundaries anymore!”


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