Soundtracking Existence

After dreaming of doing so for most of my life, two weeks ago I released my first novel – Cigarettes & Wine, for purchasing information please visit  The novel is a sociological narrative built on over two decades of observations and interviews (formal and informal) with LGBTQIAP people in the southern United States as well as the past decade of sociological and interactionist research I have done concerning these populations.  Written in the form of a personal narrative from the perspective of a bisexual, non-binary teenager growing up in the Bible Belt in the 1990’s, the novel traces the lives of an interrelated group of mostly LGBTQIAP characters while highlighting the ways relationships, meanings, and both negative and positive experiences shape the people we become over time.  Not surprisingly, the release of this book – and the actualization of a lifelong dream in the process – has dominated my thoughts of late.

In the process of thinking about, answering questions about, and promoting the book’s release, I kept coming back to the ways I used musical references to capture feelings and times in the book, and the ways music – as well as other elements of arts and popular cultures – invoke specific times and places in our minds.  In the case of the book, for example, I was intentionally invoking aspects of 1990’s, and did so by pulling songs, artists, and events in that decade that allowed me to set the time without having to spell out the time and context within the narrative in a more direct fashion.  In a similar case, a commenter on the previous post about teaching with music noted the ways one can use music to invoke or set the tone for a class focused on a specific decade, and an earlier comment on another post long ago noted the ways childhood can be invoked for readers and listeners when certain instruments, sounds, smells, and forms of art are used to set a tone in writing or in person.  For whatever reason, this also got me thinking about colleagues – and myself too on occasion – who often used music as a background sound when students did in class writing assignments and / or at the opening of classes (whether or not such sounds were discussed in the class).  It hit me that I still associate a specific subject with 80’s pop songs because the class I took on the subject in college always started with such music playing in the background and we knew it was class time when the professor cut off the music even though we never discussed the music in relation to the class material or during the class.

As I’ve noted in other posts related to other topics, these types of thoughts circle around what I have casually referred to as the processes wherein we soundtrack our lives, cultures, settings, and experiences whether we realize it or not.  In my case, for example, there are two albums – no matter when or where or how I hear them – that always remind me of my life partner because they were newly released albums that became favorites of mine when we met.  There are similarly albums and songs and even more broader sounds I associate – often without realizing it at first – with other people, places, and events in my life that carry symbolic weight for me.  I often wonder what systematic studies of the soundtracks of people’s personal, collective, cultural, and national existence and experience might tell us about said people, cultures, and nations.  As such, I simply wanted to raise that question today because while I have yet to find the time to study it, I really would love to see what people might come up with in such studies.

About Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction - Blog

The Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction (SSSI) is an international professional organization of scholars interested in the study of a wide range of social issues with an emphasis on identity, everyday practice, and language.
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2 Responses to Soundtracking Existence

  1. Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction - Blog says:

    Hi J, excellent piece that raises lots of questions. Maybe have a look at Gretchen Larsen and colleagues research on music consumption.

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