Recently, a friend linked me to an article that claimed that, in his upcoming autobiography, Keith Richards will reveal that, were he not a rock 'n' roll legend, he would be a librarian. This only serves to confirm something I have long suspected: Rock stars are secret nerds.
My theory is as follows: Whereas most of us nerds cope with being shoved in our lockers by planning our revenge (what else could possibly explain the sadism behind Windows Vista?), the rock star has discovered that such tortures can be avoided by doing something perceivably cooler. Being in a band hides their nerdish qualities, but if you look closely enough, you can still see them.
A brief note before I present my evidence: Just because someone may sing about being an outsider, "Loser," or "Creep" doesn't necessarily make them a nerd. There are dozens of other fringe groups besides nerds, and, furthermore, this wonderful little thing called the poetic "I" means that, though someone may be speaking in the first person, what they're saying isn't personal. Also, a clarification: nerd cred (or "credibility") means that something someone's done has gained them a considerable following among nerds. So having nerd cred doesn't exactly equate being a nerd, but it can often be a sign that a nerd lies within.
Anyway, on to the evidence.
Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. These 70s rock gods were into what bassist John Paul Jones dubbed "fairy shit." Both were fascinated by British folklore, though Page's interests tended to be a bit darker. Furthermore, many of their songs ("Misty Mountain Hop," "The Battle of Evermore," etc.) make reference to ultimate nerd text The Lord of the Rings. They are most explicit in the lines from "Ramble On," "'Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fair/But Gollum and the Evil One crept up and slipped away with her." Also, check out their fantasy sequences in The Song Remains the Same.
Brian Eno. The synthesizer follows closely behind the clarinet and the tuba as the nerd instrument to end all nerd instruments. The different sounds a synthesizer makes are different programs, so it's basically a musical computer. Now synths have been in use by rock bands since the 1960s, but in the 70s Eno really pushed how this instrument could be used. When artists have him produce their albums, they don't say they're calling in the geek squad. But they should.
Related to this is what I like to call the Rule of Synth. Basically, any creative or unusual use of synthesizers is a strong indication of an inner nerd. Thus, most 70s/80s New Wave, New Romantics, and German bands are more than likely nerds. Case in point: Devo.
Rivers Cuomo. Put his highly successful gig with Weezer on hiatus to go finish his bachelor's degree. From Harvard.
Sting. Imagine you're a British youth of the late 70s. You turn on Top of the Pops or something one day, and--OMG! That's Mr. Sumner! Yep, before making it big with The Police, Sting was a teacher of--if memory serves me right--something nerdy like history or English.
Iggy Pop. The godfather of punk had an essay on Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire published in an academic journal. Even if his naked torso was smeared with peanut butter while he wrote it, that's still pretty nerdy.
David Bowie. Even discounting the serious nerd cred of Labyrinth, there's still the numerous sci-fi references, collaborations with Eno (see above), and the major innovations in the way we use the internet he made in the 1990s. (Some consider him one of the first bloggers.) Ziggy may have played guitar, but I bet he also wore a pocket protector.
Buddy Holly, Elvis Costello, and others who wear nerd glasses. As John Lennon proved, wearing glasses does not necessarily make one look like a nerd, so, even if thick frames are in style, if they wear glasses and still look like nerds, chances are they probably are. Elton John is particularly guilty of this because, no matter how many sequins he put on his specs, they still made him look like a total dork.
Bob Dylan. Again, nerd cred for the way literary critics have gravitated toward his lyrics. But in his autobiography, he admits to doing research for his songs. Also, have you heard his Christmas album? He sings polka. Polka!
That's about all I can think of for now. If there are other rock stars you suspect of being nerds, I'd appreciate your evidence.