September 10, 2018 - Florida State University

When I started writing my Odyssey in 2001, I didn't envision that 17 years later I'd still be performing it, let alone it would be as big of a part of my life as it's become in 2018.

I called it "Joe's Odyssey" as a nod to the idea that what we read as The Odyssey is more properly called Homer's Odyssey because there would have been other versions by other poets (perhaps Hesiod's Odyssey etc.) and the text we have has been (rightly or not) attributed to Homer since not long after he (probably) lived.

Over 17 years of performances the title Joe's Odyssey has evolved from meaning "Joe's version of the Odyssey" to also meaning "Joe's journey performing the Odyssey." I like this little bit of layered interplay because I think it echoes a phenomenon we find in the text of Homer's Odyssey: the idea that Odysseus shares certain characteristics with that of a bard, namely that he is a guy who travels around telling stories. I don't think it's unreasonable that the ancient poet (or poets) who assembled the text was very aware of this and inserted this comparison into the story in both explicit and implicit ways.  

The development of an alternative meaning to my title is the type of magic that I find extremely compelling and moving in art.  Sometimes you create something and the universe (both your personal universe and the larger type of entity) conspires over time to gift you an additional layer or wrinkle that you could not have foreseen in the act of creation but nonetheless is real and valid and poignant.  I suspect this to be true of some of the magic in Homer's Odyssey too.

Another aspect of my Odyssey that has developed into its own thing over time is my post-performance discussion.  At first it was a way to make the program more attractive to educational audiences and help students dive further into the story and my interpretation.  

But over time I've come to understand that the discussion is just as important to my performance as the singing and has more significant implications than as just an educational tool.  As I've written here (and elsewhere) the discussion portion of the program is the opportunity to witness the meaning of my performance created in something approaching real time, a meaning that will be specific to that particular audience on that particular day in that particular room, and a meaning distinct from the meaning of every other performance.  This is also a component of the oral culture out of which Homer's Odyssey was born.

Additionally, the discussion is my opportunity to get inside the character of Odysseus even further.  I'm a traveler stopping through to tell stories and then interact with the audience of my stories and in doing so I usually reveal more about myself and my own odyssey, not dissimilar to Odysseus' experience among the Phaeacians. As the discussion goes on and I field questions and observations, it generally results in me disclosing more and more (mostly) true things about myself and my experiences and the whole program becomes increasingly self-referential and layered in its subject-material interactions, much like Homer's Odyssey.  

So on this particular Monday morning I woke up in a strange land (Tallahassee, Florida) where I'd been marooned for several days (playing a Record of Life show on Saturday and for a day off on Sunday) staying in a palace (a Best Western).  When I had put away the desire for food and drink (at the free hotel breakfast) I boarded my raft (Subaru Outback) and sailed to a nearby colony (Florida State University).  My host (a Classics professor) welcomed me with xenia and I was shortly on stage in front of 200 strangers (classical myth students) first singing an old tale (Homer's Odyssey) and then talking about a newer tale (Joe's Odyssey).  

By the time the sun had reached its zenith I was back on my raft with earned treasure (payment for my performance) and heading to the next island (Jackson, Mississippi), the last stop (I hoped) before the final leg of my journey back to Ithaca (Chicago). 

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