Gloucester’s Ken Lawrence, AKA “MC Hawking”, to Perform for Stephen Hawking

By Len Pal, Clamrespondent and Co-Host of MC Hawking’s Podcore Nerdcast

We here at Clammedia Towers have some pretty nerdy friends. (We’re drawn to others of our own kind.) And just as communities cheer on the success stories of local athletes, musicians, or businesspeople when they achieve national or global recognition, we must do the same for our local nerds.

Take Ken Lawrence, for example. On the exterior, one might not even notice what a gigantic nerd he is. (Sure, he’s a software engineer, but these days, who the hell isn’t?) Most folks from Gloucester just know him as a guitarist in the heavy metal band F-Bomb, which plays at bars on the North Shore about ten times a year. How nerdy can you be when you’re banging out guitar solos to songs by bands like AC/DC, Iron Maiden, and Tool?


Ken Lawrence performing with F-Bomb

But beneath that badass rocker façade lies a nerdy underbelly the likes of which have not been seen since Lewis, Gilbert, Poindexter, and the rest of the Lamdas went up against the Alpha Betas back in ’84. About sixteen years ago, Ken discovered that his computer at work had a text-to-speech program, and he noticed that when it read what he typed, it sounded a lot like Stephen Hawking. For fun, he keyed in some rhymes and made it rap.

That got a lot of laughs out of his co-workers. He could have just stopped there. Instead, he went home and wrote a few rap songs and put them on the Internet, purporting to be “lost tracks” uncovered from Stephen Hawking’s “largely unknown career as a gangsta rapper”. He created an MC Hawking website that included the songs, lyrics, some brilliantly photoshopped images of Professor Hawking alongside rap legends like Run DMC, NWA, and the Beastie Boys, and a fictional biography of Hawking’s path to rapping.

hawking 2

MC Hawking and Coolio Dropping Science

And people dug it. I mean, like, a lot. Think about it: who was using the Internet for more than e-mail in the late nineties? Mostly nerds. Hey, even the real Stephen Hawking heard it, and found it flattering, likening it to Spitting Image. And right around that time, a couple of other nerdy rappers were putting songs up there too. It became a whole thing. A rapper named MC Frontalot coined the term “nerdcore hip-hop”, and it stuck.

People wanted more MC Hawking tracks, and eventually Brash Records signed Ken to create a full-length album, A Brief History of Rhyme: MC Hawking’s Greatest Hits, released in 2004. It featured staple braggadocio rap tracks like The Mighty Stephen Hawking and E=MC Hawking, gang-style tracks like All My Shootings Be Drive-Bys, and most notably, the science tracks. UFT for the MC explains the concept of a unified field theory, and why it is so important. The Big Bizang describes the birth of our universe. And Entropy uses the melody of Naughty by Nature’s O.P.P. to explain the principles of entropy in such plain English that science teachers started using it in classrooms.

The album also included a few skits voiced by a voice actor named Dave B. Mitchell. You probably don’t recognize his name, but if you play a fair amount of video games, or watch the National Geographic channel, or for some reason you like the San Jose Sharks, you’ve probably heard Dave’s voice. Oh, and did I mention that the album cover art was done by Tony Moore, one of the creators of The Walking Dead?

hawking 3

Album Cover: A Brief History of Rhyme

Great stuff, right? You can listen to it on Youtube or buy it on iTunes (Warning: explicit lyrics and dope rhymes). “Wow, Len!” you’re probably saying. “You’re right! These songs are great. Ken must have gone on to become super rich and famous! And hey, have you lost weight?” Well, maybe a few pounds. It’s a struggle; I mostly work at a desk, and I really like brie, pasta, and Oreos. As for Ken, real life happened. Ken slacked off because like all of us, he has a job, other hobbies, and ten cats. Well, I don’t have ten cats, but Ken tells me that it’s totally normal to have ten, and that having ten cats doesn’t make him weird at all.

So the follow-up album sat on the back-burner for a really long time. A few years ago, Ken said “Hey, I got an idea for an MC Hawking podcast, and maybe that will motivate me to get going on more songs and stuff.” And so we did that, and maybe the effort level on new MC Hawking tracks went from about 5% to about 15%. But then one night when we were about to record an episode of the podcast, Ken said “Check out this e-mail I just got…”

It was from Deborah, Stephen Hawking’s personal assistant. She was writing because this year’s Starmus Festival in Spain’s Canary Islands was going to honor Stephen. The festival’s founder, Garik Israelian, hoped that MC Hawking could come to the festival to perform for the professor.

Um, what?

That’s right, they want MC Hawking to perform live on stage for the real Stephen Hawking (along with all of the other attendees and delegates, including eleven Nobel laureates, a handful of famous musicians and composers, and a whole bunch of scientists and astronauts. They’re nerds, but will they get it? We hope so. But how the heck do you perform an MC Hawking track live? They know the voice comes out of a computer, right?

The festival was hoping Ken would write a new song, and figure out a way to make it work on stage. They also hoped he’d allow a guest on the track, and spent a lot of time trying to get RZA from the Wu, but there were communication issues, and so Ken reached out to MC Lars, a nerdcore rapper most known for rapping about literature. (I wrote about him for the Clam a while back.)

The finished product is a track called Fear of a Black Hole. Inspired by Stephen Hawking’s recent discovery that energy isn’t destroyed in a black hole, but instead is simply changed, the track applies that as a metaphor for dealing with adversity or depression: “No matter how low you go, energy can never be destroyed.” To make the song work for a live performance, it includes verses using the regular “MC Hawking” voice (as well as a verse by MC Lars), and Ken’s and MC Lars’ voices on the chorus. Ken will also perform the guitar solo live.

And so on Sunday, Ken will be arriving in Tenerife. (And me too, because I weaseled my way into the trip.) On Wednesday, he’ll perform.

It’s been a long time coming, so go on: Cheer for your local nerd hero.


Sure, let’s send a bunch of pale nerds to a subtropical island.

Beauport Hotel Opens Doors to Birdseye, Frozen Food Pioneer


[The Beauport Hotel, open for business]

GLOUCESTER— On Saturday evening, visitors to Gloucester’s brand new Beauport Hotel found themselves gawking at more than just glorious views of the city’s outer harbor.

Propped up on a chic striped chair in the hotel’s lobby was none other than Clarence F. Birdseye, the 70-year-old founder of General Seafood Corporation.

Originally occupying the hotel’s 2-acre footprint on Pavilion Beach, the General Seafood factory processed locally-caught fish using a flash-freezing technique pioneered by Birdseye himself. The factory iced its final fillets in 2003 but stood neglected—a monument to Gloucester’s declining fishing industry—until August 2014, when a wrecking ball made way for the Beauport.


[Birdseye’s old stomping grounds, Pavilion Beach]

Allison Hartwell, a hotel guest from Peoria, Illinois, spotted Birdseye as she and her husband passed through the lobby on their way to the elevator.

“At first I thought he was just another stinking rich old guy,” she said. “You know, sneaking a nap after a long day on the water.”

“Rich and stinking, turns out,” said her husband, Ron.

Birdseye, whose company was eventually sold for $22 million to Post Cereals, suffered a heart attack and died in October 1956.

Clarence Birdseye

[Clarence Birdseye, prior to fatal heart attack]

Per instructions in his will, Birdseye’s remains were sent to the Gloucester factory, where he was treated to the same flash-freezing that had preserved so many a cod.

Birdseye’s technique, designed to cause less damage to frozen tissue than slow-freezing methods, was eventually applied to fruits and vegetables as well, revolutionizing the business of convenience food.

“I’m in auto sales,” said Ron Hartwell. “So I don’t know much about tissue damage at the cellular level. But this guy looked a little worse for wear.”

Birdseye’s defrosted remains had been dressed in smart linen trousers and a ‘Viva!’ tee-shirt from the Beauport’s gift shop. Yet, according to Allison Hartwell and other guests, these efforts were insufficient.

“His color was off,” she said. “It screamed ‘meat locker,’ rather than a sun-kissed Gloucester afternoon.”

“Plus, there was the puddle at his feet,” her husband added. Called “leakage” in food industry parlance, this liquid can be indicative of improper storage.

“I’m not sure if the hotel was going for a kitschy Weekend at Bernie’s vibe or what,” said Hartwell. “But to me the guy was creepy.”


[Same deal, minus the mob subplot]

Asked to comment on their half-thawed guest of honor, hotel general manager David Conti explained: “Look, the idea was part of our commitment to honor Gloucester’s traditions.”

“We already wanted to display old-timey photos of Mr. Birdseye and the factory, plus a microscope he owned,” Conti said. “So when we discovered his cadaver had been sold along with the property, it seemed like a logical extension.”

The hotel’s other nods to local history include the name of its restaurant, 1606, the year Samuel de Champlain sailed into the harbor and named the area “Le Beau Port.”

Still, Conti admitted that the staging of Birdseye’s corpse had not been well received. “Good idea,” he said. “But poor execution.”

“If it had been up to me,” Conti continued, “we’d have dressed him in period attire—say, the double-breasted suit and Trilby cap of Birdseye’s heyday.”

Speaking under condition of anonymity, another Beauport employee elaborated on the hotel’s motivations: “Let’s just say the investors have been pretty desperate to get locals onboard.”

The anonymous source seemed to be referring to the contentious debate surrounding the sale and development of the waterfront parcel in Gloucester’s Fort Square neighborhood. In 2013, many residents fiercely protested the City Council’s decision to approve the hotel.

Despite the boost to the local economy, including nearly 200 full and part-time jobs, objections persist.

“Trampling on our history is what it is,” said Leo Palmieri, who owns a home adjacent to the hotel and obtained his first job at the General Seafood factory in 1951. “I remember Mr. Birdseye,” Palmieri continued. “Hard as nails and bald as a badger’s ass.”

Having learned that Birdseye was on-site, the former employee stopped by the Beauport lobby on Saturday evening. “Looked like he needed a drink,” Palmieri said.

Palmieri explained that he’d tried to shuffle Birdseye up to the hotel’s rooftop bar, named Bird’s Eye Lounge in honor of the frozen food tycoon.

“We were turned away,” Palmieri said. “Overnight guests only.”

Conti, the Beauport’s manager, admitted that the hotel had enforced the policy, notwithstanding Birdseye’s status as the bar’s namesake. “Really, it was more of a health code thing,” he said.

Reflecting on the tensions between Gloucester’s past, present, and future, Palmieri offered this final assessment: “Mark my words. The fishing industry will be back and better than ever.”  He raised his eyes to the outer harbor, empty aside from the merry bobbing of a few pleasure boats.  “Just like ol’ Birdseye.”


[Serving Corpse Revivers, but not to actual corpses]

No Snark Sunday: I’m a Bad Parent Too By Len Pal, Clamrespondent and Co-Host of MC Hawking’s Podcore Nerdcast

I’m a Bad Parent Too

So this one time when Tiffany was little, her mom and I took her to the playroom in the downstairs section of the North Shore Mall in Peabody, MA. Her mom and I were talking (or maybe bickering a little) and we looked away for maybe a second. (That’s what it felt like, anyway.)

“Where’s Tiff?” one of us said.

“She was just right over there.”

(Okay, but she wasn’t right over there anymore.)

We searched the whole playroom quickly and she wasn’t there. I ran out and spotted her wandering onto the escalator about fifty meters away. I ran — this was before I smoked, so I could run fifty meters without collapsing, especially with all that panic-fueled adrenaline — and I caught up to her right before the top of the escalator. Panic turned into crazy relief that a close call was over; my little girl was safe. I felt pretty good about myself; I had saved the day. #BigDamnHero

This past weekend at the Cincinnati Zoo, a three-year-old boy somehow managed to get into the enclosure of a 450-pound gorilla named Harambe. The gorilla grabbed the boy and started dragging him around the enclosure. (You may have seen the video; it was pretty scary.) The zoo’s response team eventually determined that the only way to ensure the boy’s safety would be to kill Harambe. The boy was recovered with minor injuries, but Harambe wasn’t as lucky.

The internet loves this kind of tragedy, because everyone knows how it could have been prevented. We blame the mother, because if mom kept better watch of her kid, Harambe would be alive. We blame the zoo, because if they had better enclosures, Harambe would be alive. We blame the response team, because if they had used tranquilizers instead of bullets*, Harambe would be alive. We blame the very concept of zoos, because if we didn’t put animals behind bars, Harambe would be alive. We blame the kid’s dad, who wasn’t even with them at the zoo, because somehow if he didn’t have a criminal record, Harambe would be alive.

What happened to Harembe sucks. What that kid went through sucks. What the parents are going through sucks. And what the zoo is going through sucks. Nobody walked away with a smile on their face.

But I digress…

Look, people. It’s easy to blame the parent, but I’m betting that she and I aren’t the only two parents in the world that looked away for a second or two. (Really I’m betting nearly every parent has at one time or another, whether their kid did something dangerous in that time or not.) But we learn from our mistakes, and we keep loving our kids and try to keep them safe, despite how crafty the little buggers are.

So if that mom is a bad parent, I suppose I am, as well.

Len Pal – #ImABadParentToo

* Experts have agreed that using tranquilizers would have likely resulted in the child’s death. They’re not instantaneous like they are in the movies, and would probably have enraged the gorilla for a short time before he went unconscious – long enough for him to do serious harm.

Where the hell is our Clam?

“Hey, who turned out the lights? Anyone here? Knock knock…”

So, you may be wondering where Your Faithful Clam has gone. Truth is, we’re all pretty much still here but Real Life has gotten in the way of our trademark mix of snark, righteous indignation, and beautiful uses of pop culture references. So for the moment, they’ve left me – junior editor and Actual Elected Official Josh – with the keys.

Where are they right now? Well, Jim is in the middle of a massive client project that his small marketing company is managing. I saw him once, furtively wandering into a pho joint in Beverly (because Gloucester needs a good Vietnamese restaurant too, amirite). He looked haunted, as if he was on the verge of being a mammoth success and earning enough cheddar on this job to buy a brand new Subaru with ALL THE THINGS. He’s also kinda burned out from the damned Democratic primaries and is joining me on Team Cthulhu now.

KT moved (twice) and took on a new full-time job in the insurance biz. She now lives close enough to Official Clam Dirndl Wearer and Beer Goddess Brooke Welty that they’re quickly going from good friends to “it’s really maybe a little creepy at this point”. She’s working through post-divorce life and has an awesome boyfriend. She’s sick of the primaries too.

As for the rest of the Clamtributors? Adam headed off to Greenland in the hopes of experiencing an actual winter before climate change turns New England into Morocco. Len went to work for me in real life and had his creativity stifled. Anna is moving up to one of the identical cake decorating war shows, seeing what spunk and attitude can do to make a MB sheet cake spectacular. Jeremy was unable to be elected President in Massachusetts and has resumed warping the minds of America’s youth. And Steven has begun a retail business to see if every product can be sold with a 17% markup. Because we really like that arbitrary number here at The Clam, and it works so well for taxes.

Me? I’m just busy trying to keep the lights on here for the moment. We do have some terrific content coming up in the coming weeks, just not as fast as we’d all like to. Greatness takes time, y’all.