Joe Goodkin

Chicago-based performer Joe Goodkin. (Submitted photo)

What began as a challenge has turned into much more.

Beginning as a self-described “intellectual challenge” nearly 15 years ago, singer/songwriter and Classics major from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Joe Goodkin decided to merge both of his interests into one project—aptly named “Joe’s Odyssey.”

The project is a solid 30-minute song cycle (24 songs total) that adapts Homer’s classic work “The Odyssey.”

“I was really taken by the story of ‘The Odyssey’ when I studied it in college,” Goodkin recalled. “And the whole oral tradition aspect in general. So I went after it.”

Goodkin performed the piece regularly for roughly five years in the mid-2000s, but set it aside until 2010. Since then, he noted, it has come together both in performance and as a bigger part of his career.

“It took a long time to get good at it, and just as long for me to embrace it for its strength both creatively and as a business person rather than to be intimidated by its idiosyncrasies,” Goodkin said.

Outside of his work on the project, Goodkin performs under the moniker Paper Arrows, crafting upbeat alternative rock. With Paper Arrow’s he has had what he calls “licensing victories,” including in-store play through Old Navy, and three songs featured in episodes of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”

Touring with a full band version of Paper Arrows is almost financially impossible, Goodkin confessed, which is why he’s been focusing primarily on “Joe’s Odyssey.”

Goodkin said that performing “The Odyssey” has been more of a challenge than the actual songwriting.

“It’s the physical nature of performing for 30 minutes straight, and the challenge of keeping an audience engaged with just a guitar and my voice,” he said.

On what he hopes people experience when listening to his “Odyssey,” Goodkin said that he hopes people who are unfamiliar with the tale, or are turned off by history, can find a way to connect with the story and the particulars of its creation.

“I’d love to provide an experience that is different from how we take in music and culture now,” Goodkin concluded, noting that he would perform “The Odyssey” without any amplification if possible. “I love the idea of sound hitting eardrums directly with no intermediary but the air.”

Goodkin will be performing “The Odyssey” at both Carleton and St. Olaf—with both events organized by the classics departments at each campus.

Alex Knodell, assistant professor of classical languages at Carleton, said it’s a good opportunity for both classics students and for people who are just interested in history and literature.

“It’s a particularly interesting example of how people are still engaging with ancient works in ways that are totally modern and making them relevant,” Knodell said.

Knodell’s counterpart at St. Olaf, Christopher Brunelle, echoed those sentiments, and said there are many students on campus who will appreciate a well-known work in a modern setting.

“I’ve heard from colleagues at several institutions that Goodkin puts on an engaging and beautiful show,” Brunelle said. “With an individual interpretation of ‘The Odyssey’ that draws in both students of Homer’s text and people who have never read him.”

“Best of all, Homer may have been dead for millennia, but Joe takes questions after the show,” Brunelled joked. “I’m looking forward to hearing a Homeric composer talk about his craft.”

Kevin Krein is a general assignment reporter for the Northfield News. You can reach him at 507-645-1106.

Kevin Krein covers arts and entertainment, non-profits, community events and people, and matters relating to Rice County and the surrounding townships for the Northfield News and the Faribault Daily News.

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