Odessey and Oracle

Yesterday a lady came into the bookshop where I work, inquiring after a copy of Homer’s Odyssey.  “Surely we have it,” I assured her, as I queried the database.  Indeed, we had a copy of Homer’s Odyssey in storage, and I could easily bring it over to the shop.  She inquired who the author was.  “Homer,” I said, and named the translator as well.

Turns out she wasn’t looking for Homer’s Odyssey at all.  She was looking for Homer’s Odyssey, which is apparently a story about a cat.  Oops.

We had a laugh about this, and I had to confess that, on top of this title/author debacle, I also couldn’t remember how to spell Odyssey.  Now, I have a degree in literature and I’m usually a stickler for proper spelling and grammar, but thanks to the British Invasion-era band The Zombies, I can never recall how to actually spell “Odyssey.”

There are few albums in the world that I think everyone in humanity should own, but the Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle (note that spelling!) is one.  It’s a resplendent piece of work; although it was received poorly on release in 1968, and although the album’s name contains a typo courtesy of cover artist Terry Quirk,  it has since become lauded by critics and fans alike.  It’s properly a cult record, and it fills my ears with wonder every time I listen to it.  Each song is brilliant, but so too is the package, the journey. It’s astounding to think these guys were barely into their 20s when they cut it.

The Zombies  were already a known entity in the UK and the US by the time Odessey was in the works.  They’d scored chart hits with “She’s Not There,” and “Tell Her No” (and possibly paved the way for Emo, if you listen to some of those lyrics).  In late 1967, the Zombies completed…well, their Odessey, but their new singles were charting poorly and demand for live performances was declining.  So, they disbanded.

A funny thing happened a year later.  “Time of the Season,” released as the b-side to two of those failed singles, managed to ascend the charts.  But by 1969,  Zombies Chris White and Rod Argent were seeing success with the band Argent, and Colin Blunstone had gone briefly to work in insurance before carving a solo career.  Yet, “Time of the Season” was more than Billboard’s flavour of the week: it became anthemic of that late 60s / Summer of Love era, appearing prominently throughout pop culture to this day.

I saw the Zombies perform live in May, 2007, at Vancouver’s storied (and sadly defunct/bulldozed) Richards on Richards.  I was in my mid-twenties, and fully expected to be the youngest in the room.  Much to my surprise, I was closer to the median.  Half the audience appeared to be younger than me.  Culture night with the parents, I figured.

Now, Richards’ was a great venue, with a stage tucked into the back corner, surrounded three-quarters of the way by a wraparound balcony.  Capacity was generous, but so was the sense of intimacy, and every sight line was great.  On this night I was on the main level, about midway back.  I stood there in awe of the band, who played with heart and technical brilliance, and in awe of all those kids who seemed to be singing along with every word of every obscure song.  Nothing was more enthusiastically received than “Time of the Season,” though, and the two-level wall of sound coming at the stage from the audience must’ve been astounding.  The singer, Colin Blunstone, wore an expression that was somewhere between gratitude and awe, and I imagine he must have been thinking, “I never would have imagined, 38 years ago, that a bunch of Canadian kids would be singing back to us a hit we scored after breaking up.”  Humility and love of craft were abundantly clear from the stage that night.

I guess if there’s a moral to that story: do what you do out of love, and see what magic comes back to you, however long it may take!

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One comment

  1. Mike Enright - ex Finchley Grammar · · Reply

    Might those pianos you ‘cartooned’ monochromatically (while in Finchley) still be ‘knockin’ out a tune’ ?

    Like

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