Happy Inventors Day! 5 Musical Inventors to Celebrate

Categories: Weird Holidays

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Images courtesy of U.S. Patent Office
On this day in 1983, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed February 11 to be National Inventor's Day, and commanded the observation of same by all of us less awesome citizens. The day was chosen because it was the birthday of Thomas Edison, who held more than a thousand different patents, including presumably one for a method of accelerating douchebaggery to light-speed.

Nothing puts credibility in your name like having a patent, which is why I'm still seething over my rejection letter regarding my toilet-paper cannon. Other, more successful musicians, have actually secured the illustrious title of inventor, though, and today we salute them and their ingenuity.

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5. George Antheil
You've probably heard the story about how actress Hedy Lamarr, famous for being one of the first mainstream stars to appear fully nude in a movie, was also a talented math genius who pioneered the concept of frequency-hopping. The system allowed the U.S. military to make radio-guided torpedoes harder to jam by the enemy, and led directly to the wi-fi that could well be making it possible for you to read this.

What people forget is that Lamar was only half of the inventor team. Her friend and neighbor, avant-garde composer George Antheil, was the other half. He came up with the idea in order to synchronize multiple player-piano rolls in his infamously bizarre Ballet Mecanique, and he and Lamarr refined it as an electronic communication tool.

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4. Bill Wyman
What would the Rolling Stones be without bassist Bill Wyman? I honestly don't know because I'm not a big Stones fan, but he gets name-dropped in my favorite Smithereens tune, so that's good enough for me.

One of the reasons that Wyman got hired in the Stones was that he impressed Mick Jagger by bringing an amplifier he had built himself to the audition. Wyman is a competent tinkerer, and his main hobby outside of music is archaeology. He invented his own custom metal detector in order to pursue it.


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3. Eddie Van Halen
Eddie Van Halen is a revolutionary guitarist, easily one of the most influential of all time. His work is directly responsible for hundreds, probably thousands of musicians taking up the instrument. He has a guitar enshrined in the Smithsonian. That's how good he is.

And whenever Van Halen wants to take his art to the next level and the equipment isn't around to make it happen, he just flat out invents it. He holds not one, not two, but three patents for guitar modifications.


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2. Harry Connick Jr.
Harry Connick Jr. has more No. 1 albums than any other jazz artist in chart history, and is one of the top-selling artists of all time. He's also a highly successful actor, and married to a Victoria Secret model because apparently being a successful, good-looking musician wasn't already improbable enough luck.

Add inventor to that list. Connick developed a touch-screen system that allows him to digitally edit and transmit parts of orchestral scores to band members. The system allows conductors to bypass printing individual parts for revised scores, and works with a light-pen, mouse, keyboard, or musical keyboard controller.

1. Michael Jackson
The late Michael Jackson made some of the greatest music videos ever. "Thriller" gets all the accolades, but for my money "Smooth Criminal" is ten times the work. The costumes and choreography are sharper, and the song itself is far superior.

One of the most memorable scenes in the video is when Jackson and his dancers do an impossible lean way beyond the center of gravity. This was accomplished with wires in the video, but was such a jaw-dropping moment that Jackson wanted to be able to do it live. Wires were too obvious, so he invented a combination shoe/floor peg that he could instantly engage onstage and perform the move wire-free.


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