In HiFi: Spoken Word Live at HiFi Bar

by Bill Shunn & The Sex-Rays

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about

Recorded live on 11 October 2015 during Sunday Sessions at HiFi Bar, a few weeks prior to the release of Bill's memoir THE ACCIDENTAL TERRORIST (Sinister Regard Publishing).

Sunday Sessions produced and hosted by Barbara Lynn Cantone.

credits

released November 9, 2016

Daniel Geoghegan: drums
Jon Pope: bass
Bill Shunn: voice

Music by Daniel Geoghegan & Jon Pope
Words by Bill Shunn
Recorded by Jeff Lang

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all rights reserved

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about

Bill Shunn New York, New York

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Track Name: Bio
I am

a writer
a blogger
a podcaster
a programmer

a designer
an inventor
a collector
a cabinetmaker

a foodie
a fiddler
a tinkerer
a traveler

an atheist
a priest
a curmudgeon
a felon

a photographer
a chauffeur
a skeptic
a rube

a ruffian
a layabout
a lurker
a dilettante

a poseur
a pundit
a primate
an ancestor

an earthling
an alien
a canvas
a convenience

an improvisation

an illusion
Track Name: Coney Island Lifeguard Blues
Brooklyn-bound N train, Thursday evening.
Leaving Ditmars Boulevard,
End of the line,
He slouches through the doors from the next car
Like a gunslinger into a quiet saloon.
Angry and blond under a straw fedora,
Jaunty beach towel around the shoulders
Of his Cuban shirt,
Belligerent hips thrust forward,
Hand jammed down the front of his
Oversized blue swim trunks
Like he's just waiting
To unload on the first cocksucker
Who looks at him funny.

No one gives him the satisfaction.

Where's he coming from, this Lord of Flatbush,
This Warrior coming out to play?
There's no beach at Ditmars,
Not unless you just swam over from Rikers.
It's ninety minutes to Coney Island
And dusk will soon be falling.
A hundred minutes, let's say, since humiliation
Sent him fleeing the sand and cotton candy
To the farthest corner of the earth:
Astoria, Queens.

But the gravity of betrayal on an otherwise
Perfect afternoon draws him back,
Back to an abandoned beach blanket for two
In the shadow of a graffiti-tagged lifeguard tower.
Flopped in a plastic seat, legs splayed,
Glaring and helpless,
He burns to curse the heavens,
But all the God was prayed out of him as a child.
Or is he still a child,
Hand down his pants
Fondling his balls like worry beads,
Like a long-dormant rosary?
Hail Mary full of grace.
Spectacles, testicles, wallet, watch me,
No, don't watch me,
What're you lookin' at anyway?

Ninety minutes to Coney Island,
End of the line,
To take back what's his—
Or, more likely,
Kick sand in the face of the moon.
Track Name: Biking on Bryn Mawr
Biking on Bryn Mawr Avenue,
clear sky, afternoon sun,
I pull over to the curb
for the ambulance
hurtling my way.

But it turns on Clark,
and as I pass through
the intersection I see
the gapers gathered,
the body in the street,
face down, lying twisted
like a crash-test dummy.

I have to look.
But I can't look.
I make myself not look,
face forward into traffic,
lest I become the thing
I gaze upon.
Track Name: Smoke
I make it my general practice
not to drink and write.
At least, I try not to drink
when writing fiction,
where the prose should be clear
and lucid as water,
even as it refracts the light.

But poetry's a different matter.
A little whisky never
hurt a poem. Not much, anyway.
Certainly not this
glass of it, distilled from smoke
that might have
scribbled words like these in
the air as it
jittered away, leaving only this
amber residue,
not so transparent as it appears.
Track Name: The Lunar Night, Chicago
In the indigo sky
hang lights like lanterns
strung from here to eternity.
Bright holes punched in the night,
they creep in from the east, queued for
landing but aimed at the spotlit moon holding
fast in their path. But the moon gives way, first
to one plane, then the next, endlessly ceding its place
in line as if shy to touch down at O'Hare. Would
they even know how to handle a moon out
on the tarmac? Call the Marines! Call
Homeland Security! Just get that
thing quarantined before
it hurts some fool or
alters the tides.

In the icy park
we watch the planes,
the dog and I. Lights prowl
past us on two horizons, Damen and
Foster Avenues, impossibly distant in the
winter air that falls like gravel from my mouth,
the subzero air as cold as no air at all. Around us
spreads the pocked and cratered snow. We are alone.
If I were to slip here on the ice, hit my head, crack
my skull, the blood spreading like transmission
fluid as my dog whined and licked my face,
no one else would know. In space
no one can hear you whimper,
and we might as well
be on the moon.
Track Name: Telegraph
The telegraph was not invented in 1836
but three thousand years before Christ,
when the first writer took up a pointed stick
and traced out on papyrus the careful,
casual chain of coded symbols that
transmitted meaning across time and space
directly into a brain equipped to decipher it.

The telephone was not invented in 1876
but over five thousand years ago
when the first writer took up a pointed stick
and scratched out the vibrations in clay
that tickle the tympanic membrane of the heart
with thoughts conceived in days older than dirt.

Telepathy was not invented in 2170
but forty thousand years before Christ
when, by the light of smoky torches,
the first writer poured out his heart
in ochre, hematite, and charcoal,
unable in any other way to express
the experience of stalking a god,
and slaying it with a pointed stick.
Track Name: My Trench Coat
I used to wear a trench coat
When I was in high school.

Black.

I wore aviator sunglasses too,
And a fedora.
I didn't want to hurt anyone--
Anyone who wasn't corrupt.
I thought that was how
A proper investigative reporter
Should dress.

I took some shit for the trench coat,
But not as much as you'd think.
It even helped me get a girlfriend--
Two years later. The memory of it.
My trench coat had sparked a crush
That could never have caught fire
In high school.

She was on the drill team.

But I never once thought of bringing
A gun to school.
That wasn't what the trench coat
Stood for.

Maybe once or twice I thought about it,
Jeff Sampson.

SHARPEN YOUR OWN FUCKING PENCIL, BITCH!
Track Name: Four Road Trips: 28
I-80
Wyoming
night time
snowstorm
eastern slope
Continental Divide
15-foot U-Haul truck
50 to 60 miles per hour
girlfriend white-knuckled
behind the big wheel
swerving skidding
on the downhill ice
all our possessions
rocking in back
not quite
overbalanced

I pump my
passenger brake
of course to no effect
snowflakes like hyperspatial
streaks in the headlight beams
I gently suggest slowing down
or even pulling over to let
me drive instead
but not gently
enough

I'm an excellent
driver she insists
you should have seen
that time I spun out in Texas
and I didn't even run off the road

but I grew up driving in snow
I tell her and you didn't
you have to slow
down

it's the wrong thing
to say and we
fishtail
again
one
moment
of terror in the
long, slow slide from
west coast to east coast

one harrowing strobe-lit frame
from the superslow-motion
accident that is

us
Track Name: Police Recover Stash of Stolen Items
The face is the biggest shock
after the name—
your name, almost.

The face you knew from childhood,
mischievous, wry, handsome,
now stony as battered granite,
the young features punched up
and pounded like wet clay
then fired hard in a thousand-degree kiln.

The face discovered with "burglary tools,
methamphetamine and more than 100 stolen items
belonging to more than 30 people."

The face leaps out from the article
from fifteen hundred miles away,
like a fugitive in a game of
hide-and-go-seek, flushed out
from the shadows of the chicken coop
when you'd forgotten you were even playing,
racing to make it home free.

What could you have done?
Returned more of his phone calls?
At some point you knew, somewhere
in those twenty years of rob arrest repeat,
you had to keep your distance.
He was your cousin. It wasn't like
he was your brother.

But you weren't there yet
at that first apartment
where you lived on your own,
when you locked your keys inside,
when that confident, capable face
you'd known from infancy said,
"I'll get in." And did.

And you thought that was so cool.
Track Name: Tasting Notes
Malt
Caramel
Subtle peppery undertone

Juniper
Crisp pine
Grapefruit aroma

Chocolate
Mellow hops
Rich toffee notes
Freshly baked biscuits

Clean desert aroma
Citrus weed
Tangy cactus spine
Horse blanket

Slight nuttiness
Hints of bourbon
Smoked rubber
Magnesium flare

Coconut oil
Disintegrated cork
Essence of latex and sand
Porcelain overtones

Back alley rainwater
Wisps of mousetrap wood
Gunpowder residue
WD-40

Battery copper
Flop sweat
Gumballs
Revenge

Rocket fuel
Interplanetary dust
Venusian methane
Tears of loneliness
Track Name: What Changed?
You used to be such a sweet boy.
What changed?

You used to tell me everything,
Ask me all your questions.
You couldn't wait to show off
Your times tables. At age three.
Which you worked out for yourself.
What changed?

You used to climb into my lap
And rub the buzz-cut fuzz
On the back of my head.
You used to ask the barber
To cut your hair
So it was just like mine.
What changed?

You used to show me your stories,
Talk about your friends,
Tell me what was on your mind.
You used to let me point out
When you were straying
From the straight and narrow
In deed or in thought.
What changed?

You didn't used to keep to yourself,
Skulk around the house,
Stay in your room,
Use that gutter language.
I didn't used to need to drink,
Or use this belt on you.

What changed?
Track Name: Instinct
Let me tell you a story.

This morning I was out walking the dog,
who, honestly, can be a grouchy pain in the ass.
But today she was pretty good. It was clear and cold, being October,
and we had waited more than five minutes
to cross a busy street. Ella was alert for squirrels,
trotting with her head up like a tiny horse,
when half a block ahead we saw a woman walking a shepherd mix
of some kind. It was small for a shepherd, brown with
a little bit of red to it.
Ella sat down on her haunches, as she sometimes does,
and wouldn't budge. It's her way of telling the
other dog that they're equals, and she's not afraid.
I made her keep walking, though, but I kept her
on the side of me away from the other dog,
just to be on the safe side. Because you never know.

As we passed the woman, her dog lunged in front of me,
growling. Ella lunged back. She's a soft-coated wheaten terrier
and doesn't look like she could be that tough, but they
were both about the same size and it was an even match.
In the confusion of bodies and leashes and guttural snarls,
I could see the other dog's teeth, points of gleaming bone,
trying to find their way home in my dog's
throat. I hauled Ella into the air by her leash and
swung her clear of the scrap. She wears a body harness and not
just a collar for exactly this reason.
The woman, sounding shaken, could not have apologized more.
Her dog never acts like that. I was shaken too. She
thanked me for being so cool, but it's like I told her:
"Sometimes things like this just happen."
There's no reason for it.

It's much the same way that I don't like you.