One of the purposes of Greek epic in its original oral form was to create what the Greeks thought of as immortality.
The heroes in the stories performed great deeds which granted them what the Greeks called κλέος ("kleos") or "glory."
κλέος comes from the verb κλύειν which means "to hear" and idea was that by performing great deeds people will "hear" about you through performances of epic poetry and therefore your name and glory will live on, beyond your life, for (I suppose) eternity.
So in a pre-literate society, immortality came through people talking or singing about you (interestingly the word "fame" comes to us through the Latin cognate of the Greek word φήμη (pheme) or "speech" and we have a bard character in The Odyssey called Phemius).
It's likely that less-famous "regular" Greeks also had their glories formalized in song performances, maybe even as digressions from the more universally known heroic epics (a bard might slip a tangential story about a local hero in alongside these wider known deeds of the an Odysseus or Achilles).
This was on my mind as I drove onto the University of Florida campus for what would be a third visit and performance of the Odyssey: I previously performed for the Classical Myth course in 2014 and 2016 and was excited to be back to a place with which I've developed some familiarity and positive associations in Gainesville.
This trip I'd also be returning to Florida State in Tallahassee for the second time as well as Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi. In between I'd booked some Record of Life/Loss/Love gigs, 4 total, meaning this would be my largest scale attempt to blend my two projects into a successful touring model.
My first RoLLL of gig was in Knoxville, Tennessee, the day before I played University of Florida. I played a live radio program called The Blue Plate Special and it was excellent: a great crowd in a room that is really meant for listening.
I had 30 minutes to perform so trotted out what I feel like are the strongest and most relatable RoLLL tunes, which included the song Ashes:
As I started singing the words, which are about a trip my family and I took to scatter the ashes of my grandfather, grandmother, and uncle, I realized I was not even an hour from the site where we had held our little informal ceremony.
The song begins "On a mountain top in eastern Tennessee" and I had been somehow unaware that's basically where I was until I began singing.
A little chill went up my neck and my voice trembled a bit. I leaned into the song feeling the truth in the words and the story I was telling and feeling the connection to the audience and the surroundings.
I conceived of my RoLLL project with a lot of the same considerations as Homeric epic poetry: I wanted very much for the stories of my family to live on preserved in song, to be sung and heard in the same way the ancient Greeks preserved their heroes in performances. And here I was out on the road able to connect this song about my grandfather, grandmother, and uncle to a local place and a local audience: I was living out the role and function of the ancient bard but was granting κλέος to my very own.
This moment was still stuck in my head and heart as I started my Odyssey show for about 200 students the following day. The room was beautiful and dead silent and the discussion was great.
I said goodbye to my professor contact and walked into the thick early afternoon Gainesville air. I was off until the next evening when I would perform my RoLLL songs in Tampa.
I smiled knowing that again my loved ones would live in song, their memories preserved in the air between my audience and me, their lives cut into the vinyl grooves of the records I carried from place to place.