Into the Great Wide Open

The title of this post refers to two things in my home office right now. First, I am currently listening to a song by this name by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. I’m currently on a massive Tom Petty kick in my own listening so playing one of their songs as I get ready for work in the morning is about usual at present. At the same time, the song feels appropriate – probably why I just hit the button to have it play for the third time in a row just now – as I’m currently jumping into a new type of writing for me that is a bit out of my wheelhouse. There is something comforting to me about thinking of this as diving into a wide open possibility, though I have no clue why that is comforting.

This type of thinking is something I’ve written about here before and something that comes up implicitly in my fictional writing – soundtracking life itself. As I’ve noted in interviews, prefaces, and at conferences whenever I’m asked about ideas that lead to this or that research or fiction publication, most of my ideas come from and / or develop alongside music I’m listening to at a given time. At the same time, I often narrate my own life, if only for myself whether or not I share such thoughts with others, in relation to songs because music makes more “sense” intuitively to me than most other languages (i.e., emotions, math, talking, etc.). As such, I thought I would say a few words about the current song rotating on repeat on the stereo as it pertains to the mixture of anxiety and excitement I’m feeling at present.

According to Petty, the song is about getting more and more into a music career, and the ups and downs in between. On some level, the former performer in me can relate to this idea as I know friends who are even more invested in music careers formerly or throughout their lives to date can. At the same time, it feels fitting for the many times we try something new for whatever reason. In this case, I’m currently working on my first scholarly attempts at music-related writing beyond this blog. I only plan for that to include one article, but at the same time, who knows where it might lead over time. Since my research tends to be in fields without much connection explicitly to music and society fields, it is an interesting experience of immersion into literature built from work I have done for fun alongside other research projects, working on this blog, teaching courses on the subject, and with the lucky help of a colleague who primarily focuses in the area.

At the same time, there is a comfort in the endeavor so far that I did not expect. Maybe I should have, but that’s a question for another time. While I am only now taking a stab at writing about music for a scholarly project / outlet, in some ways, I’ve been writing about music my whole life. My novels are organized around music and themes related to this or that feeling evoked in this or that musical domain – whether or not readers ever catch this part of the process for me. People have noted – especially in my adoration of alliteration and different wording choices than the average – that even my academic writing style sometimes holds a lyrical quality. The earliest writing I recall doing in my journals – alongside things about my own life specifically – involved attempts to take apart songs and videos and albums. In graduate school, more than one person who saw the way I organize fieldnotes observed that it seemed like I was using some kind of scale or rhythmic pattern in the organizations (which I’m still unaware of doing consciously, but I admit is likely correct and drawn from musical scales and lyrical structures best I can tell). And my first writing jobs, however little they paid, involved writing about musical acts, products, and experiences in indie magazines. In some ways, I guess it would have been reasonable to think – though I don’t recall doing so – that at some point music itself, so prevalent in so many parts of my life, would become a subject of analysis in some piece of my scholarly work. There is a comfort in this as I work through data and thoughts that have sat on the sidelines of my collected data sets for a while without use thus far.

I don’t know if I have a take home here other than yet again wondering about the various ways we may soundtrack our lives, and wondering about how widespread such efforts are not only among those of us with admitted love affairs with music, but even among those who may do this type of interpretive effort unconsciously when a particular source of sound brings forth a given memory or feeling from a given time. I’m not sure, but I feel like it would be an interesting area of consideration for each of us and maybe a source of self-reflection if we thought about it from time to time.

J.E. Sumerau

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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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4 Responses to Into the Great Wide Open

  1. Excellent piece, J. I hope you’ll write more about your current music writing project and ho it develops on the blog.

    I am curious what your filednotes look like. Any chance for a picture.

    When writing I find myself putting a song on repeat and have it run over and over again up to the point that it is really just in the background. I guess I can only really write priduct Very once this switch f I’m soundtrack to background is complete. As the music comes to the fore the writing gets slower and I need a break.

  2. jk542013 says:

    J: You have made some great observations on music and writing. When I reread the section in my baby boomer book on five songs about women, I can sense, no feel, how each vignette supports–in perhaps subtle ways–a different rhythm, motion, volume, and energy. I believe these feelings reflect back on the fact that the songs involved in each vignette were in my consciousness while I was writing. So, there are or can be multiple sound tracks. By the way, Cigarettes & Wine is very cool… gives us ol’ timers a glimpse into a whole new world.

    Joe

  3. Joe and J,

    Chris Conner’s review of Cigarettes & Wine has just been published in Symbolic Interaction.

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/wol1/doi/10.1002/symb.328/full

    Very best
    Dirk

  4. Joseph says:

    Tom Petty is a legend 🙂 I was distraught to hear of his passing last year. I’ve been a fan of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers ever since my adolescence. We’ve lost a lot of amazing artists in 2017.

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