ADULT STORYTELLING IN CAMBRIDGE, MA: HERCULES IN HELL

“Oh, Hercules, I find your story so exciting!” effuses Persephone, Hades’ unhappy wife. Hercules has landed in the Underworld, a place he didn’t expect to be.

 
“Do you?” he asks, disgusted at the situation. He’s been telling his life story in order to get out of here and go to Olympus. Persephone, Hades’ unwilling wife, longs for news of the living, which until a moment ago Hercules was. But now he’s dead.

 
Hades doesn’t like his wife’s tone. “Oh, hold your heart back, Persephone,” he says jealously, wondering if this confession business was a good idea. He tries to make Persephone happy, but considering that he’s raped, abducted and imprisoned her here in the Land of the Dead, it’s a hard sell. She hates him. “He won’t be here long.”

 
Hercules has lived a hard, terrifying life. The last thing he wants to do is remember it for these two. “Let me go now and I’ll stop right here,” he growls sarcastically.

 
“Calm yourself,” Hades demands.

 
“Calm myself,” he retorts, getting angry. “Do you think it makes me calm to sit here and tell all this to you two dreary souls?” His voice has risen.

 
“Hades, he is rude!” she complains.

 
“Uh, yes,” Hades responds, “Hercules, shades like you typically do not speak here. If you’d like me to remove your voice…”

 
“No, no, no, I’ll calm myself,” the dead hero replies. “Oh, yes. I learned to do it. Took a long time…”


This is the fictional setting I use to tell the myth of Hercules. Only the characters speak. There is no narration from me. Just Hercules, Hades, Persephone and a host of other voices from Hercules’ sad, shattered life. That and a full, ongoing score on 12-string guitar with an introduction on Celtic harp. The tale is a long one, but it’s filled with humor, tragedy, adventure and in the end, hope. And I hope you’ll join me this coming Sunday evening, April 23rd at 8 p.m. in Cambridge, MA to hear it and imagine along with me. The venue is Grendel’s Den. Enjoy a mythic Greek meal, good drinks and some adult storytelling!
Tickets are here.

The Real Hercules Was A Rage-Filled Killer

When the Art Institute of Chicago commissioned me to tell the story of Hercules for an exhibition, I wasn’t aware that the glossy hero Hollywood had told me about was actually a sociopath and killer. His temper was volcanic and nobody near him was safe. This is the actual myth we’re talking about.

 
In order to free himself from the guilt of murdering his young family in a blind rage, Hercules is given a way out: ten labors (it ends up twelve). Worse, he must perform them for his weak, cowardly cousin, the king of Mycenae. It makes for a good story, though, how his cousin hates him and tries to send Hercules on labors that will kill him. The Nemean Lion, for instance, has a hide that blades or arrows cannot pierce. Hercules breaks its neck and ends up skinning it with its own claw, hollowing out its skull and wearing the dead lion as a helmet and robe. After that, arrows bounce off him.

 
Later, as poison blood hisses onto his lion’s skin, he kills the Hydra by knocking off its many heads, but makes a fateful mistake by dipping his arrows in the blood, which kills on contact like VX. That one act haunts his life and in the end, kills him. But being less than immortal, he can’t know that will be his end. At first he thinks nothing of people, or of slaying them, until after his labors he is forced to live as a woman and a slave for three years. Something in him changes and he is free to love again, but even so, he must still kill again to save his newlywed wife.

 
Hercules in Hell is a full-blown immersion into Greek mythology, told in a very fun way. Lots of amusing character voices and a score on 12-string guitar. The show is on the The Boston Calendar. 8 pm, Sunday April 23rd. Tickets are here.

HERCULES IN LOCK-UP

Stanislaus County Juvenile Hall is the lock-up for dangerous teens in California’s Central Valley, and until that day, the girls and boys incarcerated there had never been allowed into the same room. The warden, however, had okayed it for my show. With arms crossed and hands on opposite shoulders so nobody could hit anybody, the kids filed in, about forty miserable, thrown away children, past the guards with sidearms and pepper spray. There wasn’t a single African American kid among them, I noticed, just whites and Latinos. Some were quite young, nine or ten, but most were twelve to sixteen. Forbidden to speak to each other, they sat in chairs and listened to the 12-string guitar music I was playing through a couple of massive speakers. They were seated about six feet away from me. What these kids had done to end up in this hellhole, I had no idea. My friend, Roy Stevens, opera singer and polymath, had set up the show.

 
By then I’d told this hour-long story, Hercules in Hell, many times. Earlier in the week I’d performed it at the men’s prison, and they’d asked for autographs afterwards, so I knew the story worked. It moves people who are in trouble because the genuine Hercules of myth is nothing but trouble. Incredibly strong, he suffers from blinding rages, even as a teen. After each one he wakes up and sees the death he’s just dealt. But like a werewolf returning to human form, he can’t remember having done it.

 
It’s a good story for kids in lock-up, and for folks in general. I perform it often and will be telling an adult version of it this coming Sunday, April 23rd at 8:00 pm for my final appearance at Grendel’s Den in Cambridge, MA. The other shows have gone remarkably well, with wonderful audiences. As with all these epics, I’ll be playing the 12-string guitar to accompany myself. The Hercules score is unique among all my scores, employing a tuning I use for no other tale. It certainly mesmerized the kids in Juvenile Hall that day. They sat there for an hour in silence and then asked questions for twenty minutes. And nobody hit anybody.

 
Tickets for Hercules in Hell, if you’re interested, are here.

Twenty-Seven Wives? Good Luck with that, Lord of the Moon

Lord Duksha is immensely fat and has the head of an Ibex, with huge curving horns. As a powerful mantra-wielding sage and deity, he’s convinced that there simply aren’t enough women in the world, and so has sixty-two daughters in all. As a doting father, he jealously guards their well-being, especially once they’re married. He wants them all to be happy. And so when Soma, the Lord of the Moon, shows up and asks to marry twenty-seven of Duksha’s daughters, the sage thinks he’s crazy.

 
“That is a great many wives,” he cautions. “How will you keep up with that?”

 
“Don’t worry,” Soma replies confidently, “I will pay equal attention to every single one. I’m quite the fellow.”

 
Of course, Duksha’s doubts prove true. Soma ends up spending all his time with just one wife, Rohini. Duksha’s fury and resulting death-curse upon the Lord of the Moon is at the heart of this hilarious adult story from India I’ll be telling this coming Sunday night, April 9 at 8 pm at Grendel’s Den in Cambridge, MA. It’s called The Twenty-Seven Wives of the Moon.

 
I’ll also be telling other tales as part of India’s Ancients: Tales from the Mahabharata and Beyond.
The musical accompaniment is on a 12-string guitar, played with sitar scales. I hope you can make it!

 

Tickets are $20 and $10 and are available here.

INDIA’S ANCIENTS: TALES FROM THE MAHABHARATA AND BEYOND

I first came across the tale of King Yudisthira (pronounced “Judistra”) and his confrontation with the guardian of the Gates of Heaven in William Bennett’s The Book of Virtues. It was such a powerful, beautiful story, I obtained an English translation of The Mahabharata (Bennett found it there) and read it. I quickly found myself in a magical world of gods, storytellers, crystal forests, fantastical journeys and profound truths.

 
I am not Hindu myself, but as an American have been charmed by the religion’s iconography and spiritual complexity for a long time anyway. Not to mention its descriptions of particle weapons and cluster bombs from thousands of years ago. For English readers, I recommend William S. Buck’s Mahabharata translation. Reads like a novel. Shortly after I read it the Art Institute of Chicago commissioned me to create performance tales with music to complement an exhibition of Vedic art.

 

I told the stories there for numerous audiences and to my delight, Americans of Indian descent came up to me after the show, effusive and delighted. Recently I performed one of these tales at the Peabody Essex Museum as part of their Lunar Festival. Including How Ganesha Lost His Head, I’ll be offering these tales this coming Sunday, April 9th, at 8 pm at Grendel’s Den on Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA.

 

Although I own and play a sitar, I don’t perform with it, quite frankly because performing in the lotus position doesn’t work for me (even being in the lotus position doesn’t work for me) and sitars can’t be played seated in a standard chair. However, if you like, you can catch a clip of my sitar playing on SoundCloud here.

 

Loving the sitar ever since I heard Ravi Shankar play his at Woodstock, as a guitar player, I’ve taught myself to play, if not ragas, then raga-like accompaniments on the 12-string. It is this music that will flavor our evening of stories from India. Hope you can make it! Bring an Indian friend. Tickets are here.

WHEN A GUITAR SOUNDS SYMPHONIC

I’ve been playing 12-string guitars to accompany stories for a long time. Nowadays I play a Taylor 12 and a custom-built Ron Ho made in Port Townsend, Washington, both great instruments. This coming Sunday night I’ll be using the Taylor to score The Odyssey: Belly of the Beast, tuned to a modified open E, a unique tuning that allows the guitar to sound, well, symphonic. Or at least that’s the goal.

 

The music is like a second voice, adding drama to the spoken words, much the way a movie score works. Leitmotif is a cool word coined by Richard Wagner denoting themes for characters and emotions, and The Odyssey is filled with many of them. One is a soothing, broad oceanic theme meant to relax my listeners. Another is a haunting, melancholy theme of longing that signifies Odysseus himself, wishing he were home even as he’s facing terrifying dangers. Polyphemus the Cyclops has his own music, too, bursting atonalities played in double-stops on the bass strings. Musicians tend to enjoy the accompaniment as much as the tale itself.

 

The show is at 8 pm on Sunday, April 2 at Grendel’s Den in Cambridge, MA. If you know anyone in New England who might enjoy this performance, please pass it on.

 
Tickets are $20 here.

INSIDE THE TROJAN HORSE

Homer’s original Odyssey begins with his son, Telemachus, searching for his long lost dad. In my re-imagined telling, it begins with Odysseus himself crouched inside the Trojan Horse along with his men, hoping the Trojans don’t discover and kill them. They are, after all, utterly alone on the battle plain, the thousand ships of the Greek fleet having sailed away to give the illusion of defeat. And Odysseus, who never wanted to come to the war in the first place, reflects on his beloved wife and son––he hasn’t seen them in ten years––and all his fallen comrades.

 

 
I follow Odysseus’s story all the way, mostly from the wily hero’s point of view, since he’s the only one who survives to the end. He makes terrible mistakes, lapses of judgment he only regrets later. His first, to go raiding for extra plunder instead of sailing straight home. This causes the deaths of friends on the beach at Ismaros, followed by a nine day storm that blows his fleet to the ends of the earth. After that, he’s utterly lost.

 

 
So begins The Odyssey: Belly of the Beast, a storyteller’s version of Homer, told with haunting themes on 12-string guitar and a host of character voices. Plus descriptions of the sea, of islands with waterfalls, of grisly caves, and of life aboard a Bronze Age ship.

 

 
Join me in Cambridge, MA on April 2nd at 8:00 pm at Grendel’s Den to listen and imagine this tale, told in English, of course, with no poetry. Just storytelling. The show is 75 minutes, the first quarter of this epic telling.

 

 
Ticket are $20 and available here.

Odds Bodkin Tells Love Stories at Grendel’s Den in Cambridge, MA

Down through the ages, certain stories have tried to capture the mysterious relationship between women and men––everything from Samson and Delilah to Antony and Cleopatra.  Plenty of lesser-known cultural attempts at capturing what trust and love mean are out there, too.

For Worlds Apart: Tales for Lovers, I’ve chosen two of my favorites from the lesser known side of folklore. A haunting, swelling musical theme on Celtic harp tuned to resemble a Japanese koto underlies The Crane Wife, the first tale in the final show of a series at Grendel’s Den in Cambridge, MA this coming Sunday afternoon at 4:30 pm.

Osamu is a poor and lonely sail maker who can’t afford a wife. Living alone in his hillside hut above a salt grass marsh, he often sees the white cranes landing in the wind. He marvels at how it seems to be held in their wings. But when a fierce storm blows a white crane into his door, leaving it stunned, he sees one up close after he brings it inside, nursing it back to health. The bird’s black, shining eyes gaze up at him until he sets it free.

But the season of storms is not over, and a second tempest brings a frantic knocking on his door. Astonished to find a beautiful young woman standing there, soaked and shivering, he lets her in. The mysterious Yukiko will not tell him where she comes from, but she does not wish to leave, either, and so becomes Osamu’s wife.

All is well until they run out of food and she offers to weave him a magic sail to sell in the village, a sail that whispers wind itself and can propel a ship in calm air. Her one condition: never look at her as she works at the loom behind her privacy screen. At the heart of their relationship is her trust in him that he’ll never do it and look. Does he? Come see the show and find out what happens.

The second tale, The Dame Ragnell, originally written in the 14th Century, asks the universal question, “What does a woman desire most?” Sir Gromer, a dark knight who will kill King Arthur unless he can answer it, demands that the King solve it in a year’s time or die. Once he starts to think about it, Arthur falls into a depression. There are just too many answers. He has no clue.

Enter Sir Gawain, Arthur’s best friend and the handsomest of the Round Table men. He’s the most eligible bachelor at Camelot. The ladies-in-waiting have hot flashes as he walks by. They’re all in love with him.

Gawain laughs at the question and says, “I think it best to ask a woman, sire. Or many. We’ve got a year. Let us ride out and ask women everywhere what they desire most, even in foreign lands. Surely an answer will occur again and again. Tell that to Sir Gromer, my liege, and you’ll be free of this.”

Hopeful and excited, Arthur rides out in one direction with a book in which to write down the answers, and Gawain rides off in another. They interview thousands of women, of all classes, and write down their answers. But after the year is nearly out, Arthur and Gawain grow despondent. There are just too many answers. There isn’t one that stands out.

In three days Sir Gromer will cut off Arthur’s head  and Arthur’s code of honor obligates him to die––he’s given his word––unless he can answer the question. Alone, Arthur rides to the glade in Inglewood Forest where it all began and the most hideous woman Arthur has ever beheld appears on a fine pony. The Dame Ragnell knows the answer and will tell Arthur in time to save his life, but for a price. Sir Gawain must marry her of his own free will.

From there, the story becomes hilarious and very moving. Hope to see you there.

Tickets are here.

The Great Mother’s POV

How would you feel if Earth’s creation––mountains, sea and sky, all living things––were your work and you were Gaia, the original creator of it all? She was, at least according to the ancient Greeks. Gaia is the first of the Titans and she’s driven by Eros to create life constantly. She gives birth to the Twelve Titans, all of them perfect. But when she births six monsters, peace in the Titan family falls apart and launches a Game of Thrones-style conflict among generations. Sex, violence, betrayal and rebellion fill this vivid adult story from Greek mythology told from Gaia’s point of view.

Come hear Master Storyteller and Musician Odds Bodkin tell this wondrous and shocking tale at Grendel’s Den in Cambridge, MA at 5:30 pm this coming Sunday, January 22nd. With character voices, a full score on 12-string guitar and fresh narration, Bodkin turns this little-known myth into a vivid imagination entertainment.

Adult storytelling. Not for children.

Bodkin’s first show at Grendel’s Den sold out, so grab your tickets now!

Fall of the Titans: The Original Game of Thrones

Truth or Dare: What Details Should I Include? It’s An Adult Audience, After All.

My text of Hesiod’s Theogony reads like this:

Great Ouranos came, bringing the night,
and spread out around Gaia, desiring philotês,
and was extended. His son reached out from ambush
with his left hand, and in his right he held the sickle,
long and serrated and the genitals of his father
he quickly reaped and threw them behind his back
to be carried away.

“Philotês” means a few things in ancient Greek––friendship, love and sexual intercourse. In this case, it’s definitely intercourse and I’m sure you see where I’m going with this. In this scene, Cronus, the last-born of Gaia’s Titan children, un-kings his father Ouranos to become king himself. Gaia, who’s at the center of my Fall of the Titans tale, is furious with Ouranos for having imprisoned her six latest babies. Ouranos is the Sky (Mother Earth/Father Sky) and has been her husband for eons. Gaia is the Earth. All along he’s been a proud father, having watched Gaia produce 12 perfect Titan children after having philotês with her.

But now that she’s given birth to three Cyclopses and three Hecatonchires (scary beasts with fifty heads) and Ouranos fears what they will become when they grow up, he’s made her angry for the first time. He’s dragged the baby monsters in chains down into Tartarus and locked them in giant prison cells. After this, Gaia decides she is done with Ouranos and wants him de-throned. Since kingliness and fertility were one and the same in the Bronze Age when this tale was set down, castration is the solution. Her ambitious son Cronus agrees to do it. Soon he becomes a paranoid king and since Phoebe, one of his older sisters and a prophetess, foresees that one of Cronus’ children will overthrow him, he eats them one by one as they’re born. Baby Hera, baby Poseidon, baby Demeter, baby Hades and others.

I have two Fall of the Titans shows coming up. I’ve told this story to young audiences in a sanitized, PG version (“Wound your father, so that he may no longer be king” is how I phrase it) but these two shows are for adults, one in Nashua, NH and the other in Cambridge, MA (see below for details). Of course, this is just one small moment in the epic tale itself, but a crucial one. It sets up all kinds of wild events, including the appearance of the Goddess of Love Aphrodite––the first of the Olympians––and a poignant moment later in the tale when Gaia is forced to visit her emasculated ex-husband and beg for his help.

So I’m still wrestling with this Lorena Bobbitt moment. Still not sure what I’ll do.

This coming Sunday night (Jan. 15) at 7:00 p.m. at the Riverwalk Cafe and Music Bar in Nashua, New Hampshire I’ll be telling this tale (tickets here) and once again at Grendel’s Den in Cambridge, MA at 5:30 p.m. on January 22nd. Tickets here.

Wish me luck in telling FALL OF THE TITANS: THE ORIGINAL GAME OF THRONES.

FALL OF THE TITANS: THE ORIGINAL GAME OF THRONES/upcoming show in Nashua, NH

Along with Homer, the ancient Greek poet Hesiod essentially codified old spoken tales of the Olympian gods into the wondrously complex mythology we know today as the Greek myths. It’s good to bear in mind that in their day, these were deeply religious stories and the Greeks believed them as fact. Where had the Earth come from? What caused day and night? Who created the stars? How did the sea become salty? How did memory and prophecy enter the world? Why did weather change? What caused volcanoes to erupt?

Religions do this, each in their own way, even fossil religions like Greek pantheism, and so all these questions Hesiod tried to answer in his poem, The Theogony. “Theo” means deity and “gony” means “the birth of,” and so Hesiod’s “Birth of the Gods” covers all these topics and many more, all filtered, of course, through the mind of a brilliant man who lived circa 700 B.C.

Most folks know about the antics of Zeus, Hera, Athena, Aphrodite, Apollo and the other gods as grownups, but far fewer know the tale of how they were born into a Game of Thrones-style family feud among their parents and grandparents–the Titans.

This coming Sunday, January 15th at 7:00 pm at the Riverwalk Music Bar in Nashua, NH, I’ll be telling my storyteller’s version of this wild old yarn. I call it FALL OF THE TITANS because after they created the Earth, the Titans did indeed fall. It has echoes of Moses in the reeds (Zeus is the hidden baby) and features gorgeous scenes of creation as well as sordid adult moments. If you don’t know this story, you’ll learn how the goddess of love, Aphrodite, was born. Be warned: it’s fairly chilling for most guys. Ambition, lust for power and child-devouring also play significant parts in this Bronze Age narrative.

This is an adult performance and not recommended for children under 13.

As usual, I’ll have my Celtic harp for background lore and my 12-string guitar for scoring the tale itself. I last told this tale in Boulder, CO to an adult audience and they had a great time, so I hope you’ll consider coming to the show. Tickets are $10 here.

2017 Adult Storytellings at Grendel’s Den in Cambridge, MA

Jan. 8: Odin and Thor Battle the Frost Giants: Viking Adventure Myths

Two epic Viking myths wrapped in little-known lore (Thursday is Thor’s Day; Wednesday is Wotan’s Day) told by Master Storyteller and Musician Odds Bodkin. First, Thor Meets the Frost Giants, a tale of magic and illusion as Thor and Loki journey to Utgard, capital city of their enemies. Then, The Mead of Poetry, the long tale of Odin’s search for the blood of his best friend who’s been murdered, his blood brewed into a wisdom-bestowing elixir. Told with 12-string guitar scores and Celtic harp musings, with character voices and vocal effects. Seating at 5:00 pm. Show begins at 5:30 pm.

 

Tickets $15 table seating, $10 bar seating. Get your tickets here. Continue reading “2017 Adult Storytellings at Grendel’s Den in Cambridge, MA”