News Advance

Chicago-based musician Joe Goodkin considers himself something of a modern-day bard.

“I just see myself as another mouthpiece in a long line,” he says. “I guess I’m a little bit more of an outsider than a Homeric bard because epic storytelling does not have the place in our culture, the weight it did back then. They were the rock stars of their time, many of them.”

In the days of old, bards like Greek poet Homer traveled the land sharing stories in song, says Randolph College classics professor Amy Cohen.

“They were long poems that were composed by really experienced singers on the spot with traditional stories,” she says. “They could expand and contract the way the story went depending on how well their audience was responding.”

Goodkin and his acoustic guitar will take Randolph College audiences back to the days of traveling bards and their sung stories on March 15 with a musical performance of 24 original songs inspired by Homer’s “The Odyssey.”

“What interests me the most about it is at its core, it’s a story about identity,” Goodkin says of the Greek bard’s epic poem. “It says something about humanity that 3,000 years ago, they were already really concerned about what it meant to be who you are or were. That’s probably the central element of modern humanity, as well.”

Goodkin became a self-described “accidental classics major” at the University of Wisconsin-Madison when he took ancient Greek on a whim and connected with the language.

A couple years after he graduated in 1999, Goodkin came up with the idea to write an interpretation of Homer’s “The Odyssey,” combining it with his love of music.

“It was just this story I kept coming back to, that I kept seeing in other stories,” he says. “I could see its influence on literature and movies and music, and all sorts of stuff.”

He held his first performance — a reading in his parents’ living room for a select group of friends — in 2002. More than 15 years later, Goodkin has performed his tale more than 200 times, for students and audiences in 31 states.

He hopes to eventually perform it in all 50.

“When you think about modern adaptations of ‘The Odyssey,’ we tend to think about monsters and special effects,” says Allison Sterrett-Krause, a 2003 Randolph-Macon Women's College alumna and assistant professor of classics at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, where Goodkin performed in October.

“That's not how Joe approaches ‘The Odyssey’ at all.”

Instead, his adaptation delves into the emotions of the characters in the famous epic, making them relatable to audiences on a modern level, he says.

“What I hope my students get to see is something of the experience of the Homeric epics as might have been true originally,” says Cohen, who teaches “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” to students every year. “I want my students to experience some of what it’s like to see these stories and not read them as words on a page, but experience them as song.”

Like those storytellers, Goodkin says he feels each performance of his “Odyssey” is different from the next because of the relationship among the space, the audience and the performer.

“There's even built into the oral tradition, this idea that you’re telling that story on that day at that time, in that place. I embrace that fully,” he says. “That’s what makes it incredibly moving to me. You’re in the room with that audience for however long and then it’s done. It’s not something that can be captured by ones and zeros.”

For Goodkin, being a 21st-century bard means finding his own place where the threads of theater, music and education intertwine.

And despite what he says many believe, Goodkin thinks there’s still a place in our culture for his kind of art.

“We think that a lot of the ways we preserve stories are safer now than the oral traditions. … Hard drives get erased and literature gets destroyed,” he says. “There’s, again, something really poignant to the idea that we may think of oral tradition as less reliable, but … the only reliable way of getting a story through history is by telling it to another human, who tells it to another human. Humans will always be there to pass stories on.”

The Wesleyan Argus

This past Wednesday, musical artist Joe Goodkin performed his rendition of “The Odyssey” in Downey House. The 30-minute original musical composition consisted of vocals and solo acoustic guitar. This was Goodkin’s 199th performance after having traveled to high schools and universities across the nation.

Based on Homer’s epic of the same name, “The Odyssey” is comprised of 24 original songs sung consecutively, each with lyrics based and inspired by stories of Odysseus’ exploits. The performance is part lecture, part musical performance, and part interactive discussion. 

Goodkin grew up playing music in Chicago, where he is currently based as a musician. Music was always central to his interests. 

“I was in bands going back to fifth grade; my high school band almost was signed by a record label, and my music roots go back to playing guitar at age eight,” he said.

In college, Goodkin was introduced to Ancient Greek and Classics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and later earned a Bachelors’ Degree as an Ancient Greek and Classics major.

“It was a chance decision to take Ancient Greek in college,” Goodkin said. “I was taking mythology and archaeology, and I got a sense for how complimentary and multidisciplinary Classics is. It struck a chord with me….It’s like looking back in time and seeing what it’s like to be human [during a certain time].”

The conception of “The Odyssey” came as a combination of his two major passions. 

“I had the notion that I wanted to combine the two and figure out where the intersection was,” Goodkin said. “And I thought, well, ‘The Odyssey’ was originally told by bards, that’s sort of musical, so that’s where I started. I guess I sort of got lucky that I picked a great story to tell. I finished it and then I performed in high schools mostly, then five years ago I started playing in colleges and universities.”

The performance in Downey House was held in room 113, a small auditorium where the audience was close to Goodkin. He was playing an acoustic guitar while the audience was able to read his lyrics up on a projector. However, this intimate and isolated experience is not what each of his performances is always like.

“Because it was in such a closed room, we were really in the element with him,” Hannah Xu ’20 said. “We were so engaged, we could see everything in action, up close, which made for a very dynamic experience.”

For Goodkin, consistency is something he prizes.

“In my head, [the performance] hasn’t changed at all,” Goodkin said. “I’m playing the same chords, singing the same words. But I listen to a recording I did five years ago, and it sounds completely different. It’s really opened my eyes to how you improvise within a form, and the range you have even when you think it’s not changing. And more importantly, how the space and the audience change what you’re producing.”

Goodkin also linked this changing form to the wider style of recounting stories orally.

“My performance in a room like this, isolated, it was way different than [performing] outside,” Goodkin said. “There’s a lot of symmetry from the way in which we think the oral tradition worked. [In] acknowledging that each story is told by a bard in a particular time and place they’re in that day, there’s a lot of flexibility to tell the story in totally different ways. That’s the way I think about it when I’m performing.”

Goodkin’s decision to dedicate so much of his time to the original version of “The Odyssey” is grounded in a deep connection and study of the work. 

“It was the piece that I’ve read in the most contexts,” Goodkin said. “I started to read it when I took Ancient Greek, and it was one of the most moving things ever. There was this emotional hook for me, but I had also studied it in more of a literature and translation scenario, and comparative literature context. I felt that I could find the emotional and intellectual center of the story pretty easily.”

It was through his initial interest in “The Odyssey” that he developed his own take on this.

“I had a take on it, I knew what I could see in the characters, and I just started writing, and suddenly I was knee deep in it,” Goodkin said. “It still surprises me, after 199 performances, that I can find new things in the story. It was either instinct or luck that I found the things that I could connect to the best. And I think that’s a lesson for art in general. Sometimes you just make decisions and who knows why? But you do something right.”

As for the future, Goodkin does not foresee himself moving onto other projects yet.

“I made a promise to myself to only do this this way until it stopped fulfilling me emotionally, intellectually, and career-wise,” Goodkin said. “And when I made that commitment, I haven’t run out of stuff, I think I’m getting better. I’m constantly surprised by every performance and what the audience gives me every performance…it’s amazing.”

The Flat Hat - William and Mary

Students and faculty at the College of William and Mary journeyed 3,000 years back to a time when skillful bards sang tales of heroes on mythical quests, the powerful gods who gave them aid and the nefarious villains who stood in their way — all from the comfort of Andrews Hall this past Wednesday. 

As their first lecture of the semester, the College’s classical studies, English and music departments chose to co-sponsor a 30-minute original musical performance of Homer’s “The Odyssey” by self-proclaimed modern bard Joe Goodkin. Goodkin, who possesses bachelor’s degrees in classics and ancient Greek from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, tapped into his years of experience with writing and recording original music to create 24 distinct songs relating the struggles and triumphs of “The Odyssey”’s most prominent characters. 

“It took about 3 months to write 85 percent of it, and I like to joke that it took 8 years to write the last 15 percent,” Goodkin said. “It wasn’t until about 50 performances in that it settled into what it is today.” 

The folk opera was certainly not the classical studies department’s typical lecture. Aiming to kick off the semester in a fun and invigorating way, the department jumped at Goodkin’s offer to share the work he has performed over 200 times in 30 states. His performance at the College was the first in the state of Virginia. 

Before beginning the musical aspect of the performance, Goodkin gave a short preamble about the historical precedent of mythology told through song. In the days of the Ancient Greeks, epics as great as that of Odysseus would have been related in a manner similar to Goodkin’s guitar-accompanied performance — that is, memorized and sung by a lyre-playing bard. To illustrate this point, Goodkin referred to a projected image of a scene straight out of “The Odyssey” itself. The black-figure pottery painting depicted a bard singing the ballad of the Trojan War to an overcome Odysseus, who had played a crucial role in that conflict. 

“He’s so moved by hearing the songs sung about him and his fellow soldiers, that he’s weeping, and he’s covering up his face to try to hide the fact that he’s weeping,” Goodkin said of Odysseus. “I love this scene because it shows us how powerful these songs were back when they were first performed.” 

Each of Goodkin’s unique songs took on a decidedly bluesy tone as he assumed the identities of figures like Odysseus, Athena, Penelope and Telemachus. In taking this personal approach to the characters, Goodkin aimed to make the story more accessible to a modern audience. 

“’The Odyssey’ is an exciting and beautiful poem to read, but sometimes the translations of it use antiquated terms, and sometimes, if you’re not familiar with the context, it can be difficult to follow the story,” said classical studies professor Jessica Paga. “By condensing the principal parts of the poem into 30 minutes, Mr. Goodkin has already made the poem more approachable and understandable.” 

Professors were excited about the fact that, in addition to the making the story more accessible, Goodkin’s use of both the Classics and music provides an excellent exhibition of the goal of the College’s COLL curriculum — to broaden minds across multiple academic disciplines. 

“I really enjoyed it; I have read “The Odyssey” several times but have always wondered about the oral traditions associated with it,” Grace Burns ’20 said. “It was fascinating to see how he brought it to life through music, and showed yet another brilliant aspect of the poem.” 

Whether an audience member had read “The Odyssey” a thousand times or had never before heard its tale, Goodkin said he hoped each person left the performance with a new understanding of how ancient texts connect to the world of today. 

“It’s a little geeky, it’s a little romantic, but I like to feel connected to a tradition that’s 3,000 years old,” said Goodkin. “As I’m singing and we’re talking about these characters, we do have a through-line all the way back, and it really is the same thing they were doing, in some sense, back then.” 

 

Northfield News

What began as a challenge has turned into much more.

Beginning as a self-described “intellectual challenge” nearly 15 years ago, singer/songwriter and Classics major from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Joe Goodkin decided to merge both of his interests into one project—aptly named “Joe’s Odyssey.”

The project is a solid 30-minute song cycle (24 songs total) that adapts Homer’s classic work “The Odyssey.”

“I was really taken by the story of ‘The Odyssey’ when I studied it in college,” Goodkin recalled. “And the whole oral tradition aspect in general. So I went after it.”

Goodkin performed the piece regularly for roughly five years in the mid-2000s, but set it aside until 2010. Since then, he noted, it has come together both in performance and as a bigger part of his career.

“It took a long time to get good at it, and just as long for me to embrace it for its strength both creatively and as a business person rather than to be intimidated by its idiosyncrasies,” Goodkin said.

Outside of his work on the project, Goodkin performs under the moniker Paper Arrows, crafting upbeat alternative rock. With Paper Arrow’s he has had what he calls “licensing victories,” including in-store play through Old Navy, and three songs featured in episodes of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”

Touring with a full band version of Paper Arrows is almost financially impossible, Goodkin confessed, which is why he’s been focusing primarily on “Joe’s Odyssey.”

Goodkin said that performing “The Odyssey” has been more of a challenge than the actual songwriting.

“It’s the physical nature of performing for 30 minutes straight, and the challenge of keeping an audience engaged with just a guitar and my voice,” he said.

On what he hopes people experience when listening to his “Odyssey,” Goodkin said that he hopes people who are unfamiliar with the tale, or are turned off by history, can find a way to connect with the story and the particulars of its creation.

“I’d love to provide an experience that is different from how we take in music and culture now,” Goodkin concluded, noting that he would perform “The Odyssey” without any amplification if possible. “I love the idea of sound hitting eardrums directly with no intermediary but the air.”

Goodkin will be performing “The Odyssey” at both Carleton and St. Olaf—with both events organized by the classics departments at each campus.

Alex Knodell, assistant professor of classical languages at Carleton, said it’s a good opportunity for both classics students and for people who are just interested in history and literature.

“It’s a particularly interesting example of how people are still engaging with ancient works in ways that are totally modern and making them relevant,” Knodell said.

Knodell’s counterpart at St. Olaf, Christopher Brunelle, echoed those sentiments, and said there are many students on campus who will appreciate a well-known work in a modern setting.

“I’ve heard from colleagues at several institutions that Goodkin puts on an engaging and beautiful show,” Brunelle said. “With an individual interpretation of ‘The Odyssey’ that draws in both students of Homer’s text and people who have never read him.”

“Best of all, Homer may have been dead for millennia, but Joe takes questions after the show,” Brunelled joked. “I’m looking forward to hearing a Homeric composer talk about his craft.”

Manitou Messenger

On Friday, Feb. 27, Joe Goodkin performed his original musical version of The Odyssey. Goodkin has been performing his version of The Odyssey since 2003 for high school and college students all across the country. The Odyssey was comprised of 24 short songs and lasted only a half an hour, followed by a brief question and answer session. Song titles such as “Enough” and “So Close” described Odysseus’s trials, challenges and his return home. Goodkin’s lyrics, combined with his voice, deepen the connection between the story and the listener. Although this particular version of The Odyssey was short and may have left out some parts from Homer’s original, the audience did not leave the building unsatisfied. The performance stands well on its own and both enriches and entertains.

When Goodkin began to tell the story of Odysseus’s epic journey back to his home and to his love, Penelope, 10 years after the end of Trojan War, the audience fell silent. Goodkin’s music was enrapturing in a way that made it easy to forget about everything except the music. His guitar and his voice blended harmoniously as the story progressed and the listener really began to feel for Odysseus.

Goodkin admits to portraying Odysseus in a more vulnerable light in his version than he is portrayed in Homer’s original. Goodkin commented that one of the things that makes Odysseus vulnerable is his ability to believe the lies he tells himself. For those unfamiliar with the original story of The Odyssey, Odysseus claims to have been trapped on the island Ogygia and imprisoned by the beautiful nymph Calypso. This is just one of the so-called lies; the reader questions whether or not Odysseus was really trapped or if he had willingly stayed. Details like this are easy to miss in Goodkin’s shortened version. However, Goodkin’s rendition is a fine and well-done piece of art, nonetheless.

The performance took place in front of an audience of about 50 people in the Fosness Room of Christiansen Hall of Music. The audience was a blend of students and faculty with a passion for the classics, students of the Great Conversation program and those who simply love music. The music and the performance were well received.

During the question-and-answer session following the performance, Goodkin received questions about his methodology, inspiration and process of creating a musical version of The Odyssey. Goodkin’s responses revolved around the fact that he combined his two loves in life: the classics and music. Goodkin holds a bachelor’s degree in Classics from the University of Wisconsin– Madison. His knowledge and expertise on the subject was evident in the details of his songs.

As he answered questions and responded to comments, Goodkin’s passion and love for the work he does shone through. His enthusiasm for both music and the classics, particularly for The Odyssey, was infectious and was felt throughout the room.

Goodkin’s performance was especially unique because it included a PowerPoint with the lyrics of each song. This contributed to both the performance and the reaction of the audience. With lyrics on the screen, each audience member was able to sing along. Goodkin had previously said that this performance was for the audience, and he was true to his word.

Goodkin took the extra steps to ensure the audience was satisfied with his performance. In this way, the show was not merely an audience passively observing a performer, but instead it was a fun, interactive exchange, with the performer and the audience participating equally. Both the performer and the audience were able to take something away from the experience.

Goodkin said that he had previously played around with the idea of creating a similar performance surrounding another Homer epic, The Iliad. However, he is reluctant to do so because he feels that The Iliad’s musical style would not match his. He imagines The Iliad to have a more rock feel to it, while his style leans to the folk side of things. He does, however, hope to continue performing The Odyssey for as long as people continue to request it – so it looks like The Odyssey is going to be around for a while.

The Daily Mississippean

Joe Goodkin will perform his contemporary portrayal of “The Odyssey” by Homer at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in the Bryant Hall Gallery.

Goodkin deconstructs the famous Greek epic detailing Odysseus’ journey home after the fall of Troy and, according to his webpage, presents it in a short thirty-minute time block consisting of twenty-four short songs.

“The Department of Classics is excited to have a chance to share with the Oxford and the university community this contemporary response to one of the building blocks of Greek identity and one of the most fundamental pieces of the western literary tradition, Homer’s epic poem, ‘The Odyssey,’” said Molly Pasco-Pranger, associate professor and chair of classics. “The performance runs just 30 minutes, so we’ll have time for discussion afterwards. And we encourage the audience to ask questions.”

This original work by Goodkin has won the 2003, 2004 and 2012 American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers Award and has been performed in over a hundred different locations across the United States over the past eleven years.

When asked what originally inspired him to write a musical version of “The Odyssey,” Goodkin said that in college he was both a classics major and a musician, and he wanted to find a way to bring the two seemingly distinct fields together.

Goodkin said he “got lucky” when working with “The Odyssey” because it was and still is one of the cornerstones of modern Western literature and is a work he greatly appreciates.

Goodkin said he hopes to be able to bring “The Odyssey” to light for those unfamiliar with the work and to also present it in a new fashion to those to whom it is already familiar.

This musical redemption of the Greek epic is not the only art piece Goodkin has created. Working along with other artists, Goodkin has recorded love songs under the name Paper Arrows since 2008.

The musician’s self-proclaimed “more conventional” work currently has five releases.

Goodkin admitted his attempts to perform other stories in the same fashion as his take on “The Odyssey” were not as interesting to him, so he focuses his energy primarily on what has worked. He said one day he may move on to another work, but for now, he likes his current project and will continue with it until he feels he has reached an end.

Goodkin described himself as a “process and practice person.” He said he does his best to be patient and works hard to achieve his goals. Because of his “resilience against failure,” he is now a full time musician. He said he believes that this is the result of him taking the time to make sure it was the path he wanted, and obviously, it is a unique path to say the least.

By following his own path, he said he feels less prone to burnout because he does what he enjoys and stands against the setbacks that life may throw at him.

Goodkin’s musical inspiration comes from a variety of sources. From the great Greek epic poet Homer to Jimmy Hendrix to playwrights, film-makers and other artists, Goodkin said he draws from a near unlimited source of learning and applies it to his own artwork.

Outside his life as a musician, Goodkin said he enjoys traveling and is a “very amateur” triathlete.

It is a truly acoustic work without the aid of amplification; Goodkin said he believes this will create a unique atmosphere few people are exposed to in today’s world. He hopes everyone who comes to see the performance enjoys it.