November 13, 2020 - University of North Carolina (A Discussion)

I've written a lot here about how my relationship with my Odyssey has changed the farther I get from the time in which I created it.  

Lately I've taken to framing it as "when I wrote these songs I was Telemachus' age and now I'm Odysseus' age," which is cute but doesn't really capture the full complexity of the interaction between creation and creator.

In my performances I often get questions about why I made a certain creative decision in my telling.  Some aspects are easy to answer: I put instrumentals into the piece because I needed a break from singing and can play the guitar pretty well. 

But some choices and features... I don't really have a good understanding of why I did them.  Why did I create a weird tuning to play in? Why did I write from a shifting first person perspective? Why didn't I write more songs for more characters? Why did I... decide to create a one man esoteric musical retelling of the Odyssey at all? 

The strange thing is, I can remember making a lot of these choices and I still have the very book in which I can see my handwriting, can see someone work ideas into songs, make lyrical decisions, rearrange, revise, settle on... I can actually still picture the room in which I wrote all these songs and I remember my life in those months in 2001-2002 very vividly. 

But I often can't answer the question of "why?" I did it one way as opposed to another. That, is the magical component of creativity I suppose, the things you do because... you just do them.

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The pandemic has changed a lot of plans this year for me: it canceled shows and forced me to re-conceive my work on the fly for online audiences.  For years (really, decades) I have been vehemently opposed to having my performances videoed and made available online. I've even gone so far as to chase people down who have posted unlicensed videos and have them remove the offending videos.

In a YouTube world, this has probably been a bad business and promotion decision but I have stood by it on principle - there is so little left in world in terms of music and performance that you can't preview online that I wanted audiences to come into my shows never having seen me perform the Odyssey, so that there was a least a tiny bit of mystery for them as to what my Odyssey was going to be (spoiler alert: it's just a dude singing for 35 minutes and making dumb jokes about Homer telling his audiences to silence their cellphones).

I had to relax this rule somewhat as I did Zoom performances for groups of students, some of whom needed to watch/listen asynchronously. 

But I never thought I would relax it to the point where I would video a performance and make it available entirely asynchronously, which is what I did for a class at the University of North Carolina last week. I actually also put together videos of my Blues of Achilles performance making this class the first group to watch both of my works in the Homeric order as a part of a single unit. The professor suggested that the students would watch the videos and then I would join by Zoom for two class periods during the week, one to discuss the Iliad and one to discuss the Odyssey.

Several weeks before, I put my iPhone on a tripod in my studio and for the first time ever videoed myself singing my Odyssey. It was a good performance.  Then I uploaded it to YouTube and sent a private link to the professor and... waited. 

Last Friday (after we considered my Blues of Achilles piece on Veterans Day), I joined the class again to talk about my Odyssey...

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The first 317 times I discussed my Odyssey with an audience, I had just finished performing it. As I fielded questions and thought about my work, my brain was still lit up with the fire of performance: I had just lived my piece, crawled inside it, and the residue from the performance surely colored the way I considered and talked about it. It's sort of a limbo state in which I have one foot in the creator world and one foot in the analytical world. 

For this discussion, I had two feet planted firmly in the analytical world. I was a perceiver of my own work from a farther distance than I'd ever been, as much an audience member as the source of the work.

It was... strange? New? 

Complicated. 

We had a great discussion. I talked about aspects of the composition and performance I'm fairly certain I never have before. It was sort of an out-of-body experience or rather maybe my usual post-show discussions are out-of-body and this was very much in-body.

What it really was, was like critiquing a picture of yourself from almost 20 years ago. 

And you know what? I took a pretty good picture 20 years ago. 

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