Jack O’Brien, Class of 2007
When I got to Southwestern I had no idea what I wanted to study. I jumped from poli-sci to pre-med but couldn’t seem to muster any passion for the fields, spending an increasing amount of time writing and playing music in rock bands instead of studying. I was taking courses in the Spanish department, and during my sophomore year, when I learned that as a Spanish major I could study abroad in Madrid for an entire year and still graduate on time, I knew another visit to the registrar was in order. I filled my schedule with courses in Peninsular and Latin American literature and cultural identity. These, along with a creative composition course with the late Dra. Riquelme, roused my passion for creative storytelling – for conveying illustrations of hope and struggle that energize the mind, the heart, and – when put to music – the body as well.
Around this time, Southwestern senior and political science major Curtis Roush sent out a campus-wide email looking to put together an experimental music collective, and I jumped at the opportunity. Along with Thomas Choate (‘05) we formed The Bright Light Social Hour, playing our first shows at The Cove, The Korouva Milk Bar and campus parties (never thinking this band would still be together nine years later!). I wrote many lyrics for the band in Spanish, and to this day one of my preferred methods is to write a story in Spanish, translate it to English and piece together lyrics from the always-interesting linguistic take the translation presents.
The band took a hiatus while I spent my junior year in Madrid, furthering my studies in creative writing, Peninsular literature and translation strategy. As per Dra. Riquelme’s recommendation, I took Flamenco guitar lessons and delved deep into the the local music scene. After a happenstance meeting, I was hired to translate lyrics for Spanish pop star Veronica Romeo for the English release of her hit record Seratonina. These experiences bolstered my appreciation for the inestimable power of language and music as means of human connection and expression.
As graduation approached, I applied to a Master’s program in Linguistics from UT Austin’s Spanish & Portuguese department and to my surprise was admitted with a teaching scholarship. My studies focused on Second Language Acquisition, and though the curriculum was a big departure from my studies at SU, I was well-equipped to handle heavy workloads in areas of research and critical analysis, as well as teaching undergraduate Spanish courses. After graduating, I dedicated myself wholly to the band in an attempt to escape the intense academic lifestyle. In expecting this would be a departure from rigorous academic labor, I could not have been more wrong. Both the management and creative areas proved to be around-the-clock endeavors with high demand for imagination, intellectual scrutiny, thorough research, repetitive practice and efficient teamwork, all of it always under deadlines. Even today live performances and recording sessions often feel like exams or presentations – demanding shows of mastery under high pressure (though maybe just a bit more fun).
To date the band has seen progress I could never have anticipated while at Southwestern. We tour heavily across The United States, Canada and Mexico, have fostered the growth of a dynamic business and have built a studio for the recording of our second album, produced and engineered entirely by the musicians ourselves. A few years ago I thought executing all this without the help of a record label or big-time management would be impossible, but when I think about the rich environment of creativity, independence and discipline from which the band was born, it’s no surprise at all.