POST-MORMON STORIES

The Falcon and the Snowman and Me

Sometimes another person’s life offers a glimpse down the corridors of an alternate life avoided. That’s the case for me with convicted traitor Christopher Boyce.

William Shunn
7 min readAug 5, 2022

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A young white man wearing sunglasses, a white blazer, and jeans, poses insolently leaning against a huge “Welcome to Idaho, The Gem State” sign, against a background of trees and undergrowth. He holds a beer bottle.
Summer 1987, on the road from Bonners Ferry, Idaho, to Libby, Montana. I swear I picked that empty beer bottle up from the side of the road. (From the author’s collection.)

This essay was written in 2015.

In 1985, I was a far bigger fan of jazz guitarist Pat Metheny than just about any other musician. The album that infected me was 1982’s Offramp, which sounded unlike anything else I’d ever heard. I became a hardcore consumer of any and all vinyl featuring either Metheny or his compositional partner in the Pat Metheny Group, pianist Lyle Mays. (My friends and I could and did spend hours debating the meaning of the 20-minute title track from As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls. Yes, we were not normal.)

The LP jacket for the soundtrack album to “The Falcon and the Snowman” leans against textured gray wall, while the vinyl record itself peeks halfway out.
Kids, this is … hell, you probably know better than I do what vinyl is.

Thus it was inevitable, thirty years ago, that I would buy the new album from the Pat Metheny Group as soon as it appeared, even if it was the soundtrack to a movie I had not seen. I had a vague understanding of the true-life espionage case behind The Falcon and the Snowman (based on the book by Robert Lindsey), which told the story of Christopher Boyce and Daulton Lee, two young men from southern California who were arrested in 1977 for selling intelligence secrets to the Soviet Union. (Boyce was a falconry enthusiast and Lee a cocaine dealer, which is where their sobriquets came from.) I always meant to see the film, but never did.

But that didn’t affect my enjoyment of the soundtrack. In fact, it might have enhanced it, as I could listen and try to imagine what was happening on screen during each passage. It wasn’t my favorite Metheny album by any means, but parts of it I liked quite a lot. I even grudgingly came to enjoy the collaboration with David Bowie that kicked off side 2 of the record, “This Is Not America” — though I disliked the way the credits on the single made it seem like the Pat Metheny Group was just Bowie’s backing band.

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William Shunn

Writer, poet and puzzle maker. Hugo and Nebula Award finalist. Author of The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary. He/him/Bill.