It’s No Fun To Wake Up in the Underworld

Hercules is not pleased. He’s just been burned alive on a funeral pyre he himself ordered. Expecting to wake up on Mt. Olympus, instead he’s standing before Hades and Persephone, King and Queen of the Dead. He’s been diverted to the Underworld. Why? Because Persephone craves news of the living and won’t let Hercules go until he tells his life story. Furious at this trick, Hercules makes empty threats until he reluctantly agrees, and so begins his epic, tragic tale.

 

This is Odds Bodkin’s approach to the Greek myth of Hercules. With a surging score on 12-string guitar and voices for Hercules, Hades, Persephone and other characters, Bodkin offers this evening’s entertainment this coming Sunday, June 25th in an intimate setting at the Riverwalk Café and Music Bar in Nashua, NH. Bring a friend and get ready for some adult imagination.

 

Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door. Great food and cocktails, too.

Epic Hercules Performance in NH/Odds Bodkin/Sunday at 7pm

Intense, vivid storytelling for adults comes to the Riverwalk Cafe and Music Bar in Nashua, NH this coming Sunday night, June 25,  at 7 pm. Join Odds Bodkin and his 12-string guitar (and eat great food and enjoy drinks) for Hercules in Hell, Bodkin’s epic rendition of the Greek mythological hero’s life.

Upon hearing this story, a woman who’d never heard Bodkin commented after the show, “I was utterly mesmerized.” It’s fun imagination entertainment with a beautiful score on guitar and voices for Hercules, Hades, Persephone, and many others. Cinematic in scope. With plenty of humor, too.

Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door.

HERCULES IN HELL/Odds Bodkin in Nashua, NH Sunday June 25th at 7 pm/Mythology Intro on Celtic Harp

Master Storyteller and Musician Odds Bodkin will perform Hercules in Hell, an epic story for adults, at the Riverwalk Music Bar this coming Sunday. Scored with 12-string guitar and introduced with a Celtic harp accompaniment, this is the myth of Hercules as few have heard it. His teenage rages and teacher murders. How he loses his mind and kills his wife and children. The only escape from his guilt the gods offer? Twelve Labors, done for a despised and weak cousin who orders Hercules to kill the Hydra, capture a stag only the virgin goddess of the hunt may touch, drive off giant birds with brass feathers, on and on. Greek mythology for grownups.

Performed with character voices and vocal effects, this is pure imagination entertainment.

Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door. Get them here.

Absolutely Gushing

The highest hilltop in Greenwich, Connecticut is the location of Sacred Heart, a fine school for girls. On the sunny day I was there last week, Long Island Sound was visible in the distance. In the school’s big empty auditorium, as I warmed up my 12-string guitar to perform The Odyssey: Belly of the Beast, the doors were open. The PA was blasting and the music was lyrical, and as I played onstage I noticed girls peering in from the hall to listen. It takes me a half hour of playing to ready my hands for the seventy-minute story, and whoever’s in earshot gets to listen. They smiled and waved and I waved back. Sacred Heart School enrolls elementary through high school girls, and I’d been told by Megan, the English teacher who’d brought me in, who I’d not met before, to expect 5th and 9th graders. 5th was studying Greek mythology. 9th was reading The Odyssey.

 

So to give them something to listen to as they filed in, I decided to play them an overture. It’s a free-flowing exploration of my story’s musical leitmotifs. The 5th and 9th graders sat, but then other grades began to arrive. 4th graders, I found out later during the Q&A, 7th graders, and others. The auditorium kept filling up, which was fine with me, of course. I think it was the music’s Siren Song that wooed them in. That and a very civilized faculty willing to let them go, I suspect.

 

Afterwards I drove home on the Merritt Parkway in rush hour traffic and arrived back in New Hampshire five hours later, somewhat bedraggled and too tired to wonder how the show went. The next morning I received this email. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if things go well. That afternoon, I think things did.

Dear Odds, 

This morning all of the students arrived to school absolutely gushing about yesterday’s performance. In my classes this morning, all the girls wanted to discuss the wonder of the performance. We were all absolutely captivated. It was a magical and transportive experience. Thank you so much for giving us such a gift. We hope you will be able to visit us again. 

Kind Regards,
Megan Monaghan

 

Megan gave me permission to share her letter. Reactions like this remind me of why I got into this business, and I’m still in it, enjoying every rarefied moment. It’s an aesthetic delight for me, and kids never forget this show. If you know anyone who’d like to invite me to tell The Odyssey: Belly of the Beast at any elementary, middle school, high school or university, send them to this link. Kids don’t forget it. Why? Because their Muse has been summoned. It shocks them, since often it’s the first time they discover they’ve got one.

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.