In book 10 of the Odyssey, Odysseus relates how he and most of his soldiers nearly made it home to Ithaka very soon after they sailed from Troy.
After brief stops among the Cicones and the Lotus Eaters and a fateful incursion into Polyphemus’ cave, they get to the kingdom of King Aeolus. Here, King Aeolus gives Odysseus a bag that holds all the winds and they resume their journey.
After sailing for a little over a week with Odysseus at the helm, they are so close to Ithaka that they can see the fires on the shore, when Odysseus falls asleep. With their leader out of it, his crew’s curiosity gets the best of them and they open the bag of wind, suspecting that Odysseus is hoarding some sort of treasure for himself. The winds explode out of the bag, driving Odysseus and his ships all the way back to King Aeolus.
What could have been a homecoming journey of less than a month for Odysseus and his 700 men spirals out of control and the result is a ten year delay and Odysseus returning home alone, all his men dead.
So as I’ve been creeping closer to playing the Odyssey in all 50 states, I’ve had this sequence of events very much in my mind. I’m at the point where my goal is so close that I can nearly see the fires on its shores. So I’m trying to stay awake and vigilant, knowing that even a small misstep could delay my arrival at my accomplishment manifold.
After a great show at University of Oregon to notch state 48, I flew from Eugene to Salt Lake City on a Wednesday afternoon. I’ve been through Salt Lake City several times: once driving in 2018 on my Record of Life/Loss/Love tour and once this summer to drive up to Rexburg, Idaho, for a performance at BYU-Idaho (state 47). In fact, it was that show that wound up finally unlocking a show in Utah. My contact at BYUI sent a generous email endorsement to the Classics folks at BYU and it resulted in me being able to book Utah, state 49.
I drove the hour from Salt Lake City to Provo and settled in for the night. On Thursday morning, I gave an informal talk about the Blues of Achilles to a smaller group of Classics majors and then had some time to explore Provo on foot: it was a beautiful cold but sunny fall day and my running route took me along a river with a view of the mountains.
In the afternoon I was back on campus and set up in a larger lecture hall. A robust group of students and professors filled the room. The acoustics were excellent and I didn’t need to use a microphone. I realized the show was number 365. My voice felt great and I wandered through the 40 or so minutes of music with the control of a year’s worth of performances spread over 20.
Familiar and welcome rituals followed the chiming harmonics of song 24: a discussion with the audience and a dinner with the faculty to talk more Homer.
The next day, I rose early to manage the last minute details of the release of my new (non-Homer inspired) album, Consolations and Desolations. I drove the 8 hours west through the Great Salt Desert which inspired the title song of the album, all the way to Reno to add on a weekend visit of an old friend and his family.
It was an amazing coincidence that my Odyssey brought me back to this part of the country on the most meaningful day possible, album release day. Of course no one in Homer’s world would believes it was a coincidence (and neither do I).
Consolations and Desolations is an examination of how we judge what brings our lives value, what consoles us and what desolates us. For many years, I saw my Odyssey as more of a Desolation but I know now that it is and always has been a Consolation. Even for the first five years of sporadic performances and insecurity. Even for the near five year hiatus during which I didn’t perform it at all. Even for the next half decade of growing confidence and deliberate if inconsistent university/college infrastructure building.
And especially for the last five plus years, including Covid, of pursuing the accomplishment of performances in all 50 states, expanding my little modern bard/epic niche with the Blues of Achilles, and understand the gift my career has been and is.
On the first chorus of Consolations and Desolations, the character sings: “All my life I’ve looked for love, all my life I’ve cried for my desolations” but by the second those lines have become “All those times I looked for love, all those times I cried were my consolations.”
That’s the arc of my Odyssey.
The third verse starts “On the road, all the days had broken wings/Back at home they were strong enough to sing.
I think Odysseus himself could have written that line though it’s not quite right: those broken wing days on the road, it turns out, were also Consolations in their own way.
With state 49 done, less than two weeks until the scheduled journey to the 50th… I will stay awake and vigilant but also be consoled by the fact that even if my arrival is delayed, I’ll get there exactly when I’m ready to.