Elliot Schneider couldn't think straight.

The San Lorenzo resident's extensive chemotherapy, part of his treatment for breast cancer, had left him feeling so discombobulated he knew he had to leave his longtime post as a philosophy and history teacher at San Lorenzo High School.

"I got 'chemo brain,'" Schneider says of the condition formally known as post-chemotherapy cognitive impairment. "I couldn't teach. I wasn't going to be mediocre, so I retired."

When one door closes, however, another opens. In Schneider's case, it led to a career he dabbled in once before: rock 'n' roll.

Before he embarked on a 15-year teaching stint at San Lorenzo High in 1990, Schneider was a singer-songwriter-musician who fronted bands in New York and San Francisco. And with teaching no longer possible, Schneider decided to give music another shot and started writing songs again.

And a funny thing happened: The "chemo brain" fog lifted and his thinking improved. Now, at an age when many are thinking about retirement, the 65-year-old looks to be a full-time rocker.

"I love singing," says the self-professed former hippie. "It's like making love to the universe."

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Schneider just released his second album, "If Looks Could Kill, I'd Wear Mirror Sunglasses." You could call it the long-overdue follow-up to his 1986 debut, "Surreal Survivor." The record has received good reviews and Schneider says it has gotten airplay on more than 100 college radio stations and in, of all places, Scotland. (Welcome to the Internet age!)

He is also lining up live shows again, having performed in San Francisco in the fall at Cafe du Nord and on Friday at the Hotel Utah.

Schneider originally set off on quite a different course.

The New York native, whose mother died from breast cancer when he was just 2 years old, showed talent in a wide range of artistic pursuits from a young age. And that might have worked against him.

He was a novelist who had a shot at a book contract, a playwright who came close to having one of his works mounted onstage, and a singer who reportedly came within a hair of landing a contract with the mighty Elektra Records.

Schneider says he had an uncanny -- and, some would say, unfathomable -- knack for sabotaging himself during the most critical points in his music/arts career.

"I blew myself up in many ways, in many fields," he says. "Maybe I didn't want to compromise. Maybe I was afraid of success."

Bay Area club scene

In 1982, he moved to San Francisco and found some success in the local club scene -- with the bands Elliot Schneider and the Pitts and, later, Elliot Schneider and the Banned. Near decade's end, however, he concluded he wasn't going to make it big in rock and gave it up.

"I couldn't even listen to music for a few years. It was just too painful," he says. "So I threw myself into research."

He enrolled at San Francisco State and earned a teaching credential. In 1990, he was hired at San Lorenzo High.

"I got my first 'straight' job at 43 when I became a teacher," Schneider says. "Nobody even thought I could get up in the morning, because I kept vampire hours (as a musician)."

Yet, the teaching gig turned out to be a perfect fit.

"I loved kids, because most of them haven't given up on life yet," Schneider says.

He says he brought some of the theatrics of a rock 'n' roll performer into the classroom. "My philosophy course was kind of a cross between Socrates and Groucho Marx."

Not surprisingly, Schneider quickly became one of the more popular teachers on campus.

"Students used to fight to get in his class," says Carmen Castro, who met Schneider as a mother who had three children in his classes. The relationship has evolved considerably -- Castro and Schneider are engaged to be married, and she plays keyboards in the singer's band.

Things changed suddenly for Schneider in 2005 when he noticed a lump in his chest. What doctors found was that the disease that had taken his mother was now in him. About 1 percent of breast cancer patients are men, according to the American Cancer Society, and Schneider was one of them.

On to music

Schneider eventually treated the cancer through a combination of surgery and chemotherapy, and he rewired his life in the process.

"If not for that (cancer), I probably wouldn't have a music career and I'd still be teaching," Schneider says.

He found immense joy in songwriting, something that seems to come easily to him.

"He can write a song every night if he wanted to," Castro says.

With a new batch of tunes in hand, as well as some revived nuggets from his past catalog, Schneider went searching for collaborators and found out that some musicians still remembered him from his local club dates in the 1980s. Enter the Elliot Schneider Band.

"Elliot Schneider is a great, eclectic pop songwriter -- amazing lyrics and melodies that lure in the listener to his world," says Schneider's drummer, Phil Sollar, who describes the bandleader as "Elvis Costello meets Graham Parker via Mick Jagger."

Schneider's album was recently named one of the top CDs of 2012 by one radio station. Schneider likes to point out that the list was given "in no particular order."

"So," he says, "I guess, we were all tied for first."

Follow Jim Harrington at Twitter.com/jimthecritic, Facebook.com/jim.bayareanews and http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/concerts.

Elliot Schneider

Age: 65
Residence: San Lorenzo
Occupation: Recently retired from teaching; currently fronting a rock band
Quote: "I love singing. It's like making love to the universe."