Athens v. Sparta
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Athens v. Sparta

Austin, Texas, United States | INDIE

Austin, Texas, United States | INDIE
Band Alternative Pop




"For These Indie Rockers- It's all Greek"

Funny what college does to you. Example:
Charlie Roadman and Erik Sanden (now of the band Buttercup, and not to be confused with the similarly named Erik Sandin of the punk rockers NOFX) are attending Trinity University in San Antonio in 1991. They have a class together in which they're studying Thucydides' history of the Peloponnesian War — one of the great historical texts by one of the greatest historians in all of Western civilization (completed by Xenophon after the aristocrat warrior Thucydides' death) and without question one of the densest. The conflict that began as a "commotion" between Athens and Sparta spanned decades, from 431-401 B.C., involved many hundreds of battles and included about as many people as are currently hanging out on Facebook. The story is one of barbarism and atrocity, heroism, plagues, mountains of corpses, speeches, military overreaching, the suffering of the civilian populations, political skullduggery and what happens when a democracy fails to live up to its ideals. It is not, in other words, a beach read.
All semester long, these two students could and should have been reading the book — Roadman recalls it was probably the Penguin version. But Roadman maintained that they didn't have to tackle it until closer to finals and Sanden, being a year younger and way too trusting, said OK.
Well. As finals loomed, they basically spent 72 solid hours immersing themselves, dividing up chapters and summarizing to one another as they surely plummeted into slumber-deprived delirium and fatigue.
You'd think such a traumatic experience would lead to a lifelong aversion to anything remotely related to ancient Greece, including olives, feta and watching Greco-Roman wrestling when the Olympics come around. But the story got into Roadman's bones, and now, lo these many years later, comes a CD.
No, seriously. Around five years ago Roadman — who's now a criminal-defense lawyer in Austin and who's been in a bunch of bands over the years — decided he'd write one song about the conflict. And eventually what came out, after a gestation that threatened to last nearly as long as the war itself, was "Athens v. Sparta: A History of the Peloponnesian War," an indie rock CD with Roadman's original songs, vocals by his longtime pal Kevin Higginbotham, spoken-word narration by actor Ken Webster and the contributions of, all told, around 20 musicians from Austin and San Antonio. About 10 of those players will attempt to cram themselves onto the stage at the Cactus Café tonight, where they'll play the work in its entirety.
And now you're thinking, "Um, this sounds soooo like a terrible idea, writing pop songs about a war from antiquity" but, quite honestly, these guys have done a first-rate job. The disc is eminently listenable, the production crisp, Higginbotham's vocals outstanding and its fidelity to historical verisimilitude (although scholars still debate whether Thucydides should be read as straight-up history or literature) unimpeachable. Maybe Roadman kept this quote in mind from the man himself: "But, the bravest are surely those who have the dearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out and meet it."
Roadman first wrote just one song, "a particularly ironic one where Pericles is encouraging the Athenians to go to war."
Then he got to thinking: "If you have a dark sense of humor, there are certainly amusing parts to it," he said. "I thought a whole album about the Peloponnesian War would be pretty funny."
For his part, Higginbotham sees themes that still resonate today.
"You kind of see democracy going a little bit crazy," Higginbotham said. "There's something about that that's striking. There's this belief that democracy is foolproof. It's about when democracy becomes polluted and a bit brutish."
"I don't know what you're talking about, Kevin," said Roadman, the more cautious of the two to connect ancient Greece with today's troubled times.
But of course the musicians couldn't help but be struck by the timing. As Higginbotham, a technology consultant, put it, "We were going through eight years of a pretty undefined war."
"It was cathartic, for sure," Roadman said.
Partly because of the size of the band, tonight's performance may well be a one-time deal. There will be a short lecture on the war before the band kicks in. And Roadman has a presentation ready to go for any schools or college classes that may be interested. The CD is for sale through the usual outlets and at for anyone who missed out on Peloponnesian War knowledge or just wants a musical dose of a classic story.
And what's next for Roadman?
"I've been reading up on the Sepoy Rebellion," he says a bit sheepishly.
Ah, yes. That would be the 1857 rebellion of Indian sepoys — soldiers for the East India Trading Company — after they were issued guns that allegedly were to be greased with animal fat. Perfect for another CD.
"I think Charl - Austin American Statesman

"Athens v. Sparta"

The Peloponnesian War has already spawned scores of historical texts and dry documentaries, but leave it to Austin’s Charlie Roadman (F For Fake) to try setting it to music. The lawyer by day/rocker by night delves deep into Thucydides’ classic story on his new Athens Vs. Sparta, teasing out its finer details by pitting the established text (narrated by Hyde Park Theatre Artistic Director Ken Webster) against his own lyrical interludes, which are more concerned with feelings than facts. It all works surprisingly well thanks to vocalist Kevin Higginbotham’s ear for gorgeous melody, adding an undercurrent of pathos to a story that was previously all about dudes pummeling the shit out of each other. - The Onion Decider

"History Repeats: Ancient Greece reflects modern poltics on Charlie Roadman's war record"

Our cities grow in size, our awareness of the world around us increases, technology steadily advances, but some things remain immutable, chief among them human nature. The cliché says those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it, but perhaps it’s less a problem of knowledge than our own inherent failings and short-sightedness. Though airwaves abound with cop reality shows and courtroom dramas, crime abides. Ancient religious teachings continue to be used as justifications for violence. And, despite the many fruitless wars revisited in texts dating back thousands of years, we still plunge into quagmires with logic-defying frequency, suggesting rationality has nothing to do with it at all.

These are a few of the insights gleaned from Athens v. Sparta, a fascinating 15-track musical condensation of the Peloponnesian War based on Thucydides and Xenophon’s recounting of the conflict. A combination pop-opera, Greek drama, modern allegory, and historical CliffsNotes created by Trinity University history grad and musician Charlie Roadman, the album resonates on several levels and is likely unlike anything you’ve ever heard. It details how Athens’ cultural hubris, faltering democracy, self-serving oligarchs, indifference to its allies, and ill-considered military adventurism resulted in a war doomed by poor prosecution and overextended forces.

“The story’s about passions being inflamed and then some bad ideas that come from that. So, yeah, it’s pretty relevant,” says Roadman, who works as a criminal-defense attorney in Austin. “Things just jump off the page in Thucydides because you relate to them. There’s a lot about it that people respond to because we’ve just witnessed eight years of [war], but it wasn’t deliberate. It’s just that the irony of things really makes for good lyrics.”

The album intersperses narration from Thucydides’ text, read by Ken Webster, creative director of Austin’s Hyde Park Theatre, with singing by Kevin Higginbotham and atmospheric backdrops painted with guitar strums, effervescing loops, skittering beats, and shimmery washes of melody that melt easily into the woodwork. Roadman fashioned the music from the contributions of 19 musicians who call either Austin or San Antonio home. He describes it as “downtempo pop,” and it isn’t far removed for electronic chill-out music, giving the 2,400-year-old history lesson a ghostly futuristic sheen.

As the conflict winds chronologically through its 27-year course, the modern-day resonance is striking. In “Civil War in Corcyra: Stasis,” Webster explains that as revolution spread, the meanings of commonly accepted words were changed to suit opportunistic politicians. “Reckless audacity was declared courage. Exhibiting foresight and caution meant you were a coward and deceitful. The ability to see all sides of a question meant that you were unable to act on any. Plotting against your opponents was a justifiable means of self-defense. Party membership and loyalty came to be regarded as the highest virtues,” Webster intones in his measured but forceful delivery.

In “Nicias Warns the Athenians Again,” when Athens considers attacking the island of Sicily even as the war with Sparta rages, general and politician Nicias counsels against it, citing the size of the country and its distance from home. “It is folly to go against men who could not be kept under, even if conquered,” goes the passage. “The Helenes in Sicily would fear us most if we never went there at all, and next to this, if after displaying our power, we went away again as soon as possible.” The expedition ended in utter failure. Later, as the war turns decidedly against the Athenians, those who sounded the drumbeat in the beginning backtrack, brazenly declaring themselves lifetime pacifists.

“While Charlie was focused on being true to the text, when you listen to the record and look at the passages, it’s clearly about the disintegration of democracy, and people exploiting loopholes in democracy to become brutish and violent. There’s a lot of parallels there, and I think as people listen to the record they tune into that, because it’s such an uncertain time for our own democracy,” says Higginbotham, who’s been playing with Roadman in bands such as F4Fake since they were both

The album’s genesis goes back to 1991, when Roadman and Buttercup singer Erik Sanden were assigned Thucydides and Xenophon’s couple-thousand-page tome, and blew off reading it until three days before the final. Justifiably concerned, they crammed by reading alternate chapters then recounting the events to each other, effectively halving the assignment. The story stuck with them, and eight years ago Sanden bought Roadman the definitive edition of the text, The Landmark Thucydides, edited by Robert Strassler.

This encouraged Roadman to write a song about Pericles’ funeral oration, a rabble-rousing rant that provoked the Athenians into war, reminding them of their glorious history - San Antonio Current

"Academic Accolades"

In a little less than an hour, this new CD offers an engaging and historically sound account of the major events of the Peloponnesian War and introduces Pericles, Lysander, and other figures in Greek history. In the style of a Greek drama, the narrator presents the story, drawing on the written words of Thucydides and Xenophon, while a singer takes the role of the chorus, highlighting the action with contemporary music and language. I commend the script as a substitute for any textbook narrative, in part because it relates events of the Peloponnesian War to issues in present-day politics and war familiar to students. The original music composed for this production provides an effective background for the spoken word and heightens the tragedy of the war. I regret that this CD was not available years ago when I first began teaching Western Civilization courses! I would have made use of it every semester. - - Terry L. Smart, Ph.D., Professor of History, Trinity University


The History of the Peloponnesian War - album



“A great war, more worthy of relation than any that had preceded it.” So begins Thucydides’ great history and the story of the Peloponnesian War, a conflict which took place in the latter part of the 5th century BCE and enveloped the entire Greek world for some thirty years or more. Although the major grievances were between Athens and Sparta – the two most powerful Greek states throughout the period – the horror, scope, and complexity of the struggle eventually spread across the Mediterranean Sea, from Sicily in the West to modern Turkey in the East, bringing violence and catastrophe to disparate people throughout, and forever changing the course of history. An Athenian general and aristocrat, exiled for much of the war, Thucydides was well placed to observe the ensuing conflict from all points of view, and his timeless and sometimes unsettling tale remains as fresh today as it was two and a half thousand years ago. As the historian concluded, he was not writing merely for his own contemporaries, but to give the world “a possession, for all time”.

So it is not without due cause that historians and scholars have attempted to understand and retell Thucydides’ story, without pause, since it was first written. Athens v. Sparta now joins that tradition, infusing the classic narrative of the Peloponnesian War with a take that is vibrant, modern – and above all, musical. Led by a veteran of the Austin indie music scene, Charlie Roadman, Athens v. Sparta was inspired by Thucydides and his successor Xenophon – who took up the history upon Thucydides’ death – to create a new version, capturing the gravity of the ancient narrative within the approachable framework of well-crafted latter-day musical sensibilities. The result is a vivid, fascinating, occasionally humorous, and often surprising fusion, that achieves its aim well: to present the fullness of the war, its circumstances and consequences, to ears not yet attuned to the niceties and nuances of ancient history – to educate and to entertain, a project ideal for garnering interest in students new to Greece and the classical world.

This kind of challenge was not easy, and adapting the war to a music album has taken three years to put together, with 20 musicians involved in creating the final product. Thucydides and Xenophon’s narratives present two substantial volumes, intimidating to even the well-seasoned historian. Using the celebrated edition of Thucydides by Robert B. Strassler, the principal and most dramatic events of the war are divided into fifteen tracks, chronologically ordered, covering the full extent of the conflict. Each track develops the story in two ways. First come the words of Thucydides and Xenophon themselves, poignantly narrated alongside musical backing by renowned Austin actor and director, Ken Webster. Second, cutting through the narrative, is Charlie Roadman’s own interpretation of the events, put to lyrics, and often telling the stories of those who do not find a voice in Thucydides’ text: onlookers, combatants, hapless victims of the battles. Like the primary sources, the musical version of the Peloponnesian War covers not only those moments of confrontation between the two sides, but reflects the rich detail of the period: life in Athens, relationships between allies, the open sea, diplomatic encounters, and the historical reputation of the principal characters in Thucydides’ work, from Pericles to Alcibiades. All in all, each song, with great pathos, relates the essence of this deep and drawn-out conflict and the ancient texts which told it, attracting newcomers, history enthusiasts, and music fans alike.

"I am very impressed. The CD is both historically accurate and musically very interesting. I enjoyed it immensely. I recommend that it be presented to the Texas Classical Association at the annual meeting in 2009."- Timothy J. Moore, Department of Classics, The University of Texas at Austin

"WOW! I would have never thought of presenting the history of the Peloponnesian War like that. This is excellent work and very creative. I had some high school teachers listen to it, and they too were very impressed. Great job!" - Dr. Allan Kownslar, Professor of History, Trinity University