Midway through describing a random meeting with The Waltons actor Richard Thomas, Tom Shillue interrupts himself to marvel at the number of times people have incredulously asked how much truth his stories contain. “It’s all very basic stuff up here. I’m not rocking anybody’s world, right?” Shillue asserts, continuing, “Why in holy hell would I make up anything? I mean, if I was making this stuff up it would be profoundly uninteresting, wouldn’t it? It’s friggin’ boring! I ran into John Boy? Who gives a crap?”
Yet it’s precisely that embrace of the seemingly mundane setting the NYC-based Shillue apart as such a renowned, compelling storyteller. His choices, distractions, meanderings and resolutions accurately mirror the narratives woven into (and from) every individual life. The journeys boil down to the baby steps, the process, the setting and accomplishing of goals—like, say, Shillue’s own “12 in 12” year-long series of monthly EPs, of which Impossible checks in at number ten—that bring about the small victories and the dramatic revelations. Confronting and processing reality is, after all, a confounding, universal cornerstone of being human.
Shillue connects his rendezvous with Thomas to a memory of Chico and the Man star Freddie Prinze committing suicide (to which Shillue’s father remarked, “What a turkey!” thereby instilling in his young son that “shooting yourself in the head was not an acceptable way to deal with your problems”). The half-hour Impossible contains two additional tales: Sharing space on first track “Unremarkable,” Shillue admits to accidentally leading a tourist family out of their way as they attempt to navigate the New York City subway system. The titular track two comes as close to a ghost story, complete with spooky strings heightening the tension, as anything Shillue’s committed to (digital) disk thus far. Though his older brother instilled in him the need to filter all strange coincidences through a rational equation of numbers, likelihoods and probabilities, Shillue still has difficulty fully explaining what transpired the day he and his Emerson College dorm mate, Dave, spent folding and flying the paper models featured in the book Top 20 Airplane Designs of 1980.
When they happened upon directions for a type of helicopter, the pair ventured into a dark stairwell to better track its vertical descent. After the “whirlybird” unexpectedly shot off to the side and Shillue descended eight floors to retrieve it, what he found at the bottom is eerily on par with anything, he emphasizes, Jack Palance could have marveled over as host of the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! 1980s revival.
“Either it happened, or it didn’t. Either I’m a prophet, or a total fraud,” Shillue offers as a closing disclaimer. “You can believe it…or not.” Fortunately when it comes to his art, his outlook and crossing the finish line of his grueling “12 in 12” marathon, his older brother’s calculated probabilities don’t readily apply. For Shillue, and for anyone else actively authoring his or her own personal narrative, disbelief is never an option.