Part III. Erdos-Bacon-Sabbath Numbers

But wait, it gets worse:  Erdos-Bacon-Sabbath Numbers

 By now you’ve noticed the habit of mathematicians to take a clever idea and run it into the ground, with all sorts of abominable extensions and dorkalicious variations.  And I’m no better (in fact far worse, as you shall see).  How can we wring even more dorkiness from this topic?  Well, it just so happens that the equivalent game in the popular music domain is the Black Sabbath number, which tells you how many musical collaborators connect your favorite lame band back to the Gods Of Metal, Black Sabbath.  The connection between two people can either be membership in the same band, collaboration, guest musician, or otherwise performed together at some point.  For example, Faith No More, one of my favorite bands, includes the drummer Mike Bordin, who played drums for Black Sabbath a few years back.  So Mike has a Sabbath Number of 1, and all the other folks in Faith No More have a Sabbath number of 2.  This includes Courtney Love, interestingly enough, who was a long-long-ago lead singer for Faith No More.  Kool Moe Dee, to randomly name another musician, has a Sabbath number of five, thanks to his collaboration with Chuck D of Public Enemy, whose Sabbath number is four according to the Sabbath Number website.

The Sabbath number game hasn’t seemed to catch on as well as Erdos and Bacon (in fact the host site doesn’t appear to be active anymore), but I’d like to propose here, for the first time, an extension to the Erdos-Bacon number system to include Sabbath1.  Can we merge the three seemingly disparate networks (nerds, movie stars, and musicians) into one giant web?  Yes, if we can find someone who has 1) published in a research journal, 2) absolutely rocks on the guitar (or, if we have to resort to this, the keytar), and 3) is unhideous enough to appear in a movie.

Connecting Bacon and Sabbath ought to be easy — lots of movie stars have launched music careers with varying degrees of success.  Kevin Bacon himself is one of the better examples — he has a Sabbath number of at most four, by my reckoning (see the Appendix).  More commonly, famous musicians wind up in movies fairly often.  Here are a couple examples of both, just to get the ball rolling:

  • Steven Seagal.   Imagine my surprise when I found myself toe-tapping along to a pleasant little bluesy adult-contempo song on the radio, and the musician turned out to be Steven Seagal.  Yes, that Steven Seagal.  The white guy with the squinty eyes (as if mimicking the epicanthic fold adds to the martial arts credibility), long ponytail, and Aikido moves in a series of lame action movies all of which have three-syllable titles (try it, it’s really true).  He’s got a couple of albums out as a singer / guitarist that are critically reviled ( called one of his guitar solos “laughable”).  But nobody’s including talent in the Erdos-Bacon-Sabbath number system, least of all me (see the toe-tapping admission above).  His “movie” career and “music” body of work gives him a Bacon number of 2 and a Sabbath number of 5, for a Bacon-Sabbath number of 7.
  • Sting.  Now that’s more like it.  No shame in discussing the hugely-talented Sting.  (Though I might pop in Seagal’s album before I voluntarily listen to a massively-overplayed Police album again…)   Sting’s Bacon number is 2, through mutual costar John Goodman, and his Sabbath number is also 2, thanks to collaborator B. J. Cole (who was in a band with former Sabbath member Glen Hughes).  As he should, he roundhouse kicks Seagal with a combined Bacon-Sabbath number of four.
  • Mos Def.  Rapper-turned-actor Mos Def costarred with Kevin Bacon in “The Woodsman”, giving him a coveted Bacon number of 1, and has a Sabbath number of 7, thanks to a link that includes George Clinton and Joe Satriani.  Mos Dorky.

And the list goes on, I’m sure — Keanu Reeves, Juliette Lewis, Mr. I’ll-hit-you-with-a-phone-odd-giants Russel Crowe, there are plenty of actors who have recording careers, as well as famous musicians who stumble their way onto the big screen.

Now, connecting Sabbath to Erdos might be a bit harder.  Who in the world could manage enough talent to 1) perform on an album, 2) appear in a movie, and 3) get published in a research journal?  And what’s more, has provable connections to Paul Erdos, Kevin Bacon, and Black Sabbath?  It is my firm belief that a person with a non-infinite Erods, Bacon, and Sabbath number is ipso facto the center of the universe.  The astonishing thing is, there are just a few multi-talented souls out there who have garnered a high enough profile in all three domains to be potential Erdos-Bacon-Sabbath number holders.  On the next page, I tell the fascinating stories for a few people shown to have Erdos-Bacon-Sabbath numbers.  Lots of folks have joined in the fun to expand the list of EBS numbers, and if you think you can add to it, let us know.  Maybe we’ll let you share in the Fields Prize money1.


1.   Since I appear to be the inventor of the Erdos-Bacon-Sabbath number, I hereby declare that I should win the Fields Medal as soon as everyone recognizes how cool this is.  So neener-neener-neener.


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