William Shatner: Genius or Idiot?

10/08/2013 10:37 AM |

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I’m very sad I haven’t been following this the last month. For one, we could use a little levity in the wake of the several massive political and cultural traumas we’ve endured—and are still enduring—the last couple of weeks. But acknowledgments are due: I only heard about this amazing artifact of pop culture through Brooklyn Vegan, which reported on this five days ago: William Shatner’s new prog rock record, a collaboration with members of Yes. It is titled Ponder the Mystery, and it is awesome.

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If you follow the BV link to the Rolling Stone interview (or just read the choice quotes they pulled) about the new Shatner effort, you’ll get the gist of why I’m fascinated. For one, Shatner confronts the opinion that his music projects are novelty and pure kitsch. Asked if he’s worried that listeners will just assume that it’s a novelty record, Shatner replied that it was up to him to “convince them that it’s not a novelty record.”

So, I ask you L Magazine reader, to judge for yourself. A few weeks ago, Something Else Reviews streamed a song from the upcoming LP titled “Where Does Time Go”. The song opens up with a bad rip-off of Dark Side of The Moon-esque clock-ticking, and then a pulsing synth enters just ahead of Shatner’s voice. “Where does time go,” Shatner wonders (not sings!), “I’ve finished the dishes. I’d go to the store. Before I know it, time is no more. I planned for the weekend, I drive to the sea. Lunch at the deli, no time for tea.” And, when the drum kicks, Shatner seems to drip into an existential quandary: “Where does time go?”

I want to give the man credit, even though he did some, um, unmentionable things to Pulp’s “Common People” and Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” (alright, yeah, the solo at 3:27 by Zakk Wylde isn’t bad). Shatner’s been making tunes since the late ’60s. There’s a “beatnik” version of “Mr. Tambourine Man” that appeared alongside dramatic readings of some of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches on the album The Transformed Man. And 1968 Shatner isn’t so much different from 2013 Shatner, except that the late ’60’s concepts and arrangements are more interesting. But this is not novelty. This is really how Shatner imagines music. And, in that light, it is pretty fucking awesome. And “prog rock” doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom and apocalypse, it can be funny too. Maybe that’s just my reading. So, either Shatner is a conceptual artistic genius by fooling us that this is his idea of music, or he’s actually genuine. In either case, it’s damned interesting. Now, all we have left to do is wait for Leonard Nimoy to start making music like this again.