"Why did you adapt the Odyssey into song?"
Of all the thousands of questions I've fielded over 343 performances of my Odyssey, I find this one the most difficult.
And there it was again, from the audience of Vassar students to whom I performed virtually on an April afternoon almost 20 years to the day of my first college Odyssey performance at Indiana University in 2002.
In my answer, I catalogued my academic and musical bona fides as well as some of the other versions of Homeric epic that inspired me. But I think biography and bibliography explain the how more than the why. The why is a lot harder to pin down.
After I finished up with the Vassar students, I went back and read the piece I wrote (now already 4 years ago) about that 2002 show.
Interestingly, it was on that occasion that I announced publicly for the first time that I was going to adapt the Iliad into song. That announcement became The Blues of Achilles, which I’ve now done almost 40 times in person and virtually since March of 2020. That brings my total number of epic-inspired musical performances to almost 400.
I’ve almost quit doing the Odyssey numerous times. Heck, I did quit doing it for almost five years.
I fought against the idea of writing an Iliad adaptation for sixteen years after I finished composing my Odyssey. Once I committed to it, I didn’t write a song for nine months because I was paralyzed by the text and my research and couldn’t find a way in. I thought I might not be able to write anything but then an interview opened the door for the first song and the rest came pouring out.
Once I finished The Blues of Achilles, I couldn’t see how it should be presented. Now I see multiple ways the songs might be performed.
Tracing the evolution of my Odyssey and Iliad works is a study in patience and persistence. In letting things happen at their own pace. In pushing hard but also pulling back when necessary. In understanding that sometimes the modern system of music performance and distribution is not compatible with the goals and aims of one’s creativity. And validation comes in many forms.
The answer is: I don't know and it doesn't matter. From the beginning of my journey to create and perform these works that are such a big part of my life, I've followed feelings that I can't put into words.
It goes back to seeing a couple of Greek words in a book 27 years ago. It goes back to classes from college: Ancient Greek, Homer, Classical Myth, Comp Lit.
It goes back to being an underemployed heartbroken recent college graduate who found solace sitting in a tiny bedroom with his dog poring over translations of the Odyssey and singing into a tape recorder (ask you parents, kids).
It goes back to looking up the phone numbers of high schools in phone books (ask your par- oh never mind) and calling English departments to try to get gigs.
At numerous points, my journey could have turned towards a different direction but it didn't: something told me to keep going with my epic work. And I listened. Not always immediately and not always in full. But I did listen.
And that's why after 20 years of the Odyssey and a couple more of the Iliad, I'm still as excited and moved by the material as I was when I read it, when I wrote it, and every time I get to sing and talk about it.
And exactly why that is... will just have to remain as mysterious as the Muse.