Hercules, Rage and Women

In the genuine myth (if that’s not an oxymoron) of Hercules, he’s a prince destined to be king and early on marries his first wife, Megara. They have children until Hera, who hates him, sends a madness and while blindly raging, he kills his young family. The guilt that devours him afterwards is intolerable, but Zeus and the Fates decree that if he can perform his famous labors, the guilt will end. This promise drives him through much of the story, during which he avoids women, afraid he’ll lose his mind and kill them, too.

 
Halfway through his Underworld recounting of his life, Persephone asks him about women. Weren’t there any? All those years? No, he says, but talks about the finest woman he ever met, Queen Alcestis, who’d taken her own life so her husband could live on. Hercules had rescued her from the Underworld, for which Hades has yet to forgive him. Then he asks about the Queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta, who he’d been tricked into killing by Hera, and how she’s doing in the Land of the Dead. After telling her story, Hades agrees to treat her ghost with a little more kindness.

 
Constantly filled with rage, Hercules spends a lifetime trying overcome it. It doesn’t really leave him until he spends three years as a slave to Queen Omphale for yet another murder. Accepting the punishment, he’s shocked when she takes his lion skin and commands him to dress like a woman, condemned to weaving with the girls. He learns to make his own dresses. Few people know about this cross-dressing episode in the myth. Yet it is only after this that he truly learns to appreciate women, and is finally free to love again.

 
Still, in the end, love is his undoing. His second wife, Deianira, loves him completely and they live together for years. Yet it is she who causes his death. To find out how, come listen to the tale, Hercules in Hell, this coming Sunday night, April 23 at 8:00 pm at Grendel’s Den in Cambridge, MA.

 
It’s a shocking, twisting tale. Told with 12-string guitar. An adult telling.

 

Tickets are here.

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.

Opioid Addiction in The Odyssey

Meaninglessness is tough for everybody and lately, in the U.S., along with a lot of unemployment hopelessness, it’s led to the Opioid Crisis, as it’s called in the news. Folks from all social strata are now overdosing on heroin and fentanyl, ruining their own lives and lives around them to get that orgasmic rush for a little while.

 
It’s not a new human problem. In fact, in Homer’s Odyssey, set down 2,700 years ago in ancient Greece, the poppy and its effects are part of the tale. In The Odyssey the plant is called “lotus”, but that’s just a word-shift. This isn’t t the thousand-petaled pink lotus of Hindu lore, a symbol for the opening of consciousness. No, this is chewable heroin. At least it is on the Isle of the Lotus Eaters, a place full of drug addicts where Odysseus and his men land, early on in their journey.

 
Blown by a great storm into strange waters, they can smell the island’s alluring perfume from afar. Desperate for water and provisions, they land and Odysseus orders three sailors to explore the island and find provisions. They come upon a group of people, prone on their backs, eating flowers.

 
“Silly foolish man,” says one. “You don’t want provisions. You want lotus.”
“What’s lotus?” asks a sailor.
“Lotus is love. And lotus is bread. And lotus is sport. And lotus is wine,” replies the addict, “depending upon who you are when you eat it.”

 
Trying it once, the sailors are hooked and end up prone with all the others. It’s a humorous episode and they escape alive, but only after Odysseus finds them, realizes what the flowers are, and sails away, preferring to starve a little longer than be trapped there forever. He knows the power of poppies. How they rob a man of his will. Calling to the other fleet captains, he yells, “Nobody eats anything here! Do not breathe if you can help it!”

 
Their next adventure is in the cave of the cyclops, where, in order to survive, Odysseus needs all the will he can summon.

 
I’ll be telling the Lotus Eaters as part of The Odyssey: Belly of the Beast this Sunday April 2nd in Cambridge, MA at 8:00 p.m. with my 12-string guitar to add beauty. It’s a 90-minute show. Grendel’s Den on Harvard Square is the location. Fun evening. Hope you can make it.

 
Tickets are $20 here.

Odds Bodkin

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.

Eye of the Cyclops

He’s as tall as twelve men standing on one another’s shoulders. He sees the world through a single, malevolent eye in his forehead. Although tender with his own flocks, this giant shepherd is quite happy to tear men apart and eat them raw, spitting out the heads as slightly too crunchy. He’s Polyphemus the Cyclops, a character I’ve had fun portraying for years whenever I perform The Odyssey: Belly of the Beast, which I’ll be doing on April 2nd at Grendel’s Den in Cambridge, MA.
Some listeners find him quite sympathetic, they tell me. Perhaps that’s because to me, he’s a gigantic child of sorts, living a simple, solitary life until Odysseus and his men, searching for food, show up in his cave when he comes home. For some reason my right eye always closes and remains shut whenever this character speaks in his deep, roaring voice. Whatever I can see of the audience out there I see through my left eye, often with retinal projections of blood veins, which are actually mine, not fictional in any way. Stage lights cause this strange effect.
Call it solidarity with the most renowned cyclops of myth!

 

Tickets to the Grendel’s Den show are available here.

Learning to Tell THE ODYSSEY

The letter arrived from a teacher in Norwich Vermont, addressed to storytellers across New England. David Millstone, a fifth grader teacher, who ended up writing a great book called An Elementary Odyssey, was searching for someone who could tell a few episodes from Homer’s great epic. The Sirens, maybe. The Cyclops. Maybe the Test of the Bow. I didn’t know any of them, but immediately wrote him back claiming I could tell the whole thing. Hire me! I’ll tell the entire epic in three hours, I told him, two half-hour shows a day for three days.

When I was a kid I’d seen a movie, Ulysses, with Kirk Douglas. Made in 1955 with early stop-action monster effects, it was a mixture of tan guys in knickers, sword fights and beautiful women filmed among blue waters and craggy islands, most of it on a sailing ship with oars. It was a hazy memory at best.

After I’d walked out to the end of this limb, he wrote me back fairly quickly. I was hired. The residency was in three months.

Imaginative work is really good if you can get it, and here I had the perfect excuse to create a new spoken-word tale, but a really big one this time. A storytelling longer than a movie. I’d never tried to stow anything quite that large in my hold, so I bought the Fitzgerald translation and set to reading, jotting down essential details I thought were either crucial to the story or gratuitously gory and fun. I ended up with 42 episodes in all, but still, they were spread over thirty pages in my journal. If you’re trying to forge mental images and remember them while playing a 12-string guitar, a mess like that doesn’t help.

“I need to be able to see this whole thing in one place,” I told myself, and so for my own sanity and the feeling that yes, this was manageable, I forced myself to write the essentials of each scene in teeny tiny script, cramming them all onto a 2-page spread in my journal.

Here are those two pages from many years ago. It was the beginning of an odyssey of my own.

PS: I’ll be performing The Odyssey: Belly of the Beast at Grendel’s Den in Cambridge, MA on April 2nd
at 8:00 p.m. It’s the first 75 minutes of what is now a 4-hour performance. You can buy tickets here, if you’d enjoy such a show. From the Walls of Troy to the Cave of the Cyclops.

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

What is Gaia Theory? What Does It Have To Do With FALL OF THE TITANS in Cambridge?

This coming Sunday January 22nd at 5:30 pm I’ll return to Grendel’s Den in Cambridge, MA to tell Fall of the Titans: The Original Game of Thrones, an ancient Greek myth. The 90-minute show, told with narration, character voices and a score on 12-string guitar, is prefaced, believe it or not, with modern science, Gaia Theory in particular. Gaia Theory isn’t a belief, it’s a bundle of sciences. Biology. Chemistry. Physics. Ecology. Plate tectonics. Climatology. Paleo-geology. Vulcanology. Glaciology. On and on. It combines these and other disciplines into the grand notion that Earth is a giant, self-regulating organism, creating and sloughing off complex life forms for many hundreds of millions of years.

Pangea (“all-Earth”) is the name scientists have given the ancient super-landmass that fused the continents 300 million years ago but which drifted apart into what we’ve got today. In certain places, rock layers along the west coast of Africa are identical to rock layers along the east coast of South America, after all. Now the Atlantic Ocean separates them, but at one point they were in the same spot on Pangea. Continents drift about an inch a year.

So what’s the link to my storyteller’s version of Hesiod’s Theogony, a poem from 700 B.C. about the ancient Greek gods we see in the movies all the time? The link is paleo-seas, the waters that surrounded Pangea’s break-up. Scientists have given them names. The Tethys Sea. The Iapetus Ocean. The Pontus Ocean. The Rheic Ocean. Where did these strange names come from?

Well, the scientists who named them were obviously familiar with Hesiod’s creation myth, because Tethys, Iapetus, Pontus and Rhea were Titans, children of Gaia, the Earth itself, all of whom are characters in the Theogony (“birth of the gods”). Think of them as the Earth-Makers. The Bronze Age Greeks looked around and saw mountains, sky and seas and had no idea where they’d come from, so they dreamt up a Titan who created each one of them. Tethys, a Titaness, created the streams and rivers. Pontus created the sea. Iapetus created death to make room for new life. Rhea was the mother of the Olympian gods––Zeus, Hera, Hades, Demeter and so on. They were all part of a family that tore itself apart because of imperfection.

At least that’s the story.

So learning about ancient seas made me curious about the names, the names led me to the story, and now Fall of the Titans is a full-blown performance piece. It’s lots of fun with some pretty cosmic music on 12-string guitar and voices for Gaia, Ouranus, Cronus, Rhea, baby cyclopses, Zeus and others. It is an adult story and is definitely not recommended for children.

I’ll have my Celtic harp to help introduce the science part.

Tickets are $15 for tables and $10 bar seating. I hope to see you there!

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.