Many people have noted the power a song has to transport you (sometimes even against your will) to a different time and place in your life, a kind of involuntary memory trigger akin to Proust's madeleine.
As I sat backstage at The Robin Theatre in Lansing, Michigan, exhausted from a week of touring, the strains of Herbie Hancock's Chameleon drifted into earshot and gently impressed themselves into my conscious. Immediately I had a flash of the apartment I lived in my sophomore year of college: an absolute dump that curated some of the best times my six roommates and I had in our post-adolescent lives.
The Head Hunters record (on which Chameleon is the first song) was a staple of our weekly Thursday night parties and really the entire year we crowded together in a 5 bedroom basement rental.
Four days prior I had been in New York hanging with one of my roommates from that year, Cornell, after playing a show in the East Village. Cornell was most likely the person who introduced Head Hunters into our rotating soundtrack that included heavy doses of Band of Gypsys and Stevie Wonder's Talking Book and Innervisions records.
I felt that pang of nostalgia as the music faded and the owner of the Robin, Dylan, began introducing me to the 50 or so Waverly High School students gathered on a end-of-school-year field trip.
This show was an outgrowth of a show I played at The Robin in 2017, which I wrote about HERE, and a great example of how shows that might be underwhelming at the time can lead to longer term successes.
Interestingly, that show was also at the end of a tour, though the 2017 tour was all Odyssey shows while this year I had grafted this Robin show on to a week of Record of Life/Loss/Love shows that took me from Cleveland to Rochester to NYC to Philadelphia to Baltimore in 5 days and now, after a travel day, to this morning show back in Lansing, Michigan.
I wrote about how enamored I was with The Robin as a performance space in my first blog and I think those feelings only intensified for this second performance. The sound, the lighting, the feel: everything about it is phenomenal. I hadn't sung The Odyssey in a month but my intensive rehearsals for the week of Record of Life/Loss/Love shows and the rhythm of performing every day for almost a week left me with a worn and warm confidence that, coupled with the great sound system, made for what felt like a great performance.
The contrast of performing the Record of material, which I've done live still only a handful of times, with this piece that I've done over 260 was an instructive experience and the discussion afterwards was really great.
One student brought up a song called "The Feast," the shortest of three instrumentals in my Odyssey, that seeks to emulate the feeling of a group of people dining. I'm always surprised when that song catches an audience member's ear because it's only about 30 seconds long and sublime: I think of it as sinew.
But what also struck me was that I remembered consciously trying to channel the funkiness of a song like Chameleon when I wrote The Feast in my little bedroom in December of 2001. It's the only Odyssey song that could even approach being called "funky" and has a blocky percussive riff that moves from I to IV and back just like Chameleon.
I was so struck by the coincidence of hearing Chameleon for the first time in maybe 15 years and then having an audience member dial-in so specifically to a song inspired by it that I acknowledged the influence in my answer and after the show Dylan played the song again as the students filed out to their field trip lunch plans.
Back in the car I pulled up Head Hunters on my phone and sank into Chameleon as I rolled west back to Chicago.
This lone May Odyssey show (coupled with a rare August booking) meant that I was on track to play the piece at least once in every month in 2018, which would be a first for me.
The beginning calls of Watermelon Man punctuated my thoughts and I smiled a weary nostalgia-laced smile that Odysseus would envy as I turned my ship homeward.