This week’s Song of the Week is “Vlad the Astrophysicist” by Peter Mulvey, a song about the finer things in life: friendship, beer, and existential astrophysical curiosity.
About Peter Mulvey:
I first heard of Peter Mulvey, and this song of course, most likely through some arbitrary link on the internet. Peter Mulvey is an artist from Milwaukee who got his start in 1991 playing shows in the subways of Boston – like any good folk musician. A theatre student, he originally started to make some quick cash so he could entertain his visiting brother but ended up keeping at it, serenading the tunnels of Boston and releasing two records in 1992 and 1993 which began a career which continues to this day.
About “Vlad the Astrophysicist”:
While I’ve never actually listened to the record this song is from, and my only reference to this song is via the attached live performance on YouTube, this song has held up for me as something I like to revisit every once in a while when I start thinking about our place in the universe. I’m not going to bother looking up the definition of “song” but it’s accurate to say this is a conversation put to music. It’s a conversation between two friends who, while they are from different countries, cultures, and professions, they are brought together by their mutual respect for the other’s occupation, and of course, beer. In this tune, Peter is writing a letter to his infant niece from an airplane detailing his current whereabouts, and telling her a story about an astrophysicist named Vlad who he’s known for years. The story takes place in the summer earlier in the year, and Peter and Vlad are sitting behind a motel in West Virginia drinking beer together. Whether it was the beer or the curiosity that got the better of Peter, we’ll never know, but he decides to ask Vlad a huge astrophysical question: Whether or not there are any other intelligent civilizations out there, and if so, why they haven’t contacted us? Vlad answers the question elegantly and uses an analogy which could bring even the most egotistical down to earth – I won’t spoil it for you, give it a listen.
In the end there are a lot of reasons to love this song. Whether you like it for the astrophysical aspect, or the fact that it’s a song about two friends drinking beer and chatting with each other, it’s ultimately a song about the human condition. A singer, writing a letter to an infant, while on an international flight, about a conversation had while drinking with his foreign astrophysicist buddy in remote West Virginia. What’s not to love about that?