Living in the Rock n Roll Mystery: Reading Context, Self, and Others as Clues

Living in the Rock n Roll Mystery: Reading Context, Self, and Others as Clues

Living in the Rock n Roll Mystery: Reading Context, Self, and Others as Clues

Living in the Rock n Roll Mystery: Reading Context, Self, and Others as Clues


Mystery, rather than "problem," provides the context that the cultural ethnographer best uses to approach the experience of both the living and the writing of culture. In this work, H. L. Goodall, Jr., continues his discussion of the cultural ethnographer as detective through an investigation of what he calls the "rock n roll mystery."

Using Bakhtin's notion of "Carnival," Goodall positions rock n roll as an important aspect of the American cultural experience using its lyrics and rhythm as a force of resistance to the dominant bureaucratic order. He argues that interpretive ethnography, where sentences use rhythms and emotions along with words to construct a work, parallels rock n roll in its creation of multiple voices struggling for creative and interpretive presence and space in the text. As there is no privileged text in the social life of rock n roll, there is no privileged voice in the writing of interpretive ethnography. It is, instead, a reading and writing method within the field of communication and the field of cultural studies that challenges the "existing wisdom."

Goodall invites the reader to join him in the role of the detective who confronts, enters, and then participates in the mysteries of living. Through the use of his interpretive method, Goodall is able to move under the skin of experience to disclose the relationship among self, other(s), and context, an understanding only achieved by "going beneath the often cosmetic surfaces of cultural traffic to where symbols mingle with the driven stuff of life." Because the "stuff of life" is laid out on the pages of this book, Goodall's text is as compelling as a good novel and in some ways more intimate.


Mystery begins in a feeling, something deep, poetic, and sweet. You get caught up in it. You get caught up in it fast. Little raptures of being alive ripple down the back of your neck, trickle like ice crystals doing an unknown, familiar dance across the constant heat of your spine. This is what it is like, this is where it begins. Mystery is like a seductive voice deep into the way cool and hot of the music that you suddenly discover is singing to you, directly to you, only to you, breaking you away from what you thought you were, which until that very moment you thought was the whole and substance of your life. Mystery changes all of that because mystery changes you. Mystery defines you in the casting of its spell, in something as simple as the enchantment of a voice, a voice inviting you to dance, a dance that promises something you will always remember or, maybe, that you will never forget.

These are the senses of the power and pull of mystery, the whisper of its voice and the sensuous lull of its prose rhythms, the surround for the private investigations that constitute the public music of this book. Mystery is used here in both straight and delinquent senses, to denote both a way of expressing and a way of experiencing what I will call the rock n roll of social life. Why I call the form of social life I examine rock n roll (and even spell it this way) is part of the reading, part of the rhetorics of motive, part of the assemblage of semiotic clues, that join you and me, reader, in working out the terms of this mystery.

Working out the terms of a mystery properly begins with various appreciations of what the term means because mystery, as a term, deserves some recognition beyond the experience of its poetry. Within the prose world of the meanings of words, this means acknowledging the presence of other voices that are heard in this discursive definitional space. I am tempted to say--following Bernard McGrane's (1989) defi-

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