In this episode, host Shelly Lesher is joined by Ellia Bisker and Jeff Morris of the musical duo Charming Disaster. Their most recent album, Our Lady of Radium, is about Marie Curie and the element she discovered. They did their homework and science shows up in these songs.
As the episode begins, Ellia and Jeff share about how they met and the events which led to forming Charming Disaster. They knew they wanted to tell stories in their music from each of their perspectives exploring various tropes. Together, they enjoy reconfiguring the palette of poetic and mythical sources. They became interested in radioactivity and Marie Curie. As it was a time when mysticism was a common practice, Marie and Pierre Curie regularly attended séances performed by a psychic medium named Eusapia Palladino.
The album largely came together during a two-week residency in northern Michigan. Ellia and Jeff share their songwriting process. The first week was spent reading the huge stack of books they brought along with them to learn more about their subject, making notes along the way. Then, they went through their notes to determine certain patterns in Marie’s life events to determine their song ideas. The guts of the album were finished during these two weeks.
Then, Shelly shares her favorite songs from the album. She even learned something new in the songs about Marie’s long-running affair scandal. There was much misogyny at work here, and Marie’s entire career was being threatened by major news networks.
X-ray diagnostics was a new technology at the time, so it was only available in fancy hospitals and not at the fronts during WWI. Soldiers who were shot could only hope a surgeon could dig around and find the bullet without having to amputate. Marie was very mechanically minded and knew how to fix things with her hands. She outfitted a truck to have an X-ray on it and drove it to the front. Marie trained, corresponded, mentored, and hired women, even on the X-ray truck. This saved tons of soldiers' lives.
The question left unanswered on their new album is whether the outcome was ultimately positive or negative. It’s a hard question to answer because there are many negative aspects, like Hiroshima and cancerous concrete, and many positive aspects too, like X Rays and cancer treatments. Not to mention, Marie’s discovery has brought us all a better understanding of how the universe works.
The first song on the album, Bad Luck Hard Rock is the pre-story to what the album is about. The song Forces of Nature describes the relationship between Marie and Pierre. Listed as Ellia and Jeff share how all of the songs are woven together to create one cohesive story told in the album. Ellia’s favorite song is Precision, which is a quiet one all about doing the work. Our Lady of Radium will be released on March 4th and you can find pre-orders of Charming Disaster’s bandcamp.
Preorder Our Lady of Radium here.
Production costs for this episode were provided through National Science Foundation Grant PHY-2011267.