Shatner “Sings” Tales of the “Has Been”
By: Commander T’Lara Cha’Stelin
William Shatner is not the first name that comes to mind when one things of great music. He’s not even the second, third or fourth. Usually, when one thinks of William Shatner and music, the first thing that pops to mind is an air sickness bag, the type found on most reputable airlines. However, despite his apparent lack of musical panache, Shatner likes to give it his all and “Has Been” is the result. Some may cringe, but actually, “Has Been” isn’t all that bad. Honestly. Really. I mean that in all sincerity. It’s quite … good. A musical collaboration with pop producer Ben Folds, “Has Been” features enticing lyrics, good beats and enough of Shatner’s self-parodying style to bring a smile to the most cynical critic’s face. The album opens with the rollicking (and yes, rocking) track, “Common People,” a cover of the original hit by the English rock group Pulp. Just to assuage the fears of many, Shatner does not actually sing. He delivers lyrics. That is, he talk-sings. Which, in theater, means the actor can’t sing, so he just talks along, hopefully in time, with the music. “Common People” is a great way to start off a talk-singing album, too, mostly because you don’t expect the juxtaposition of guitars rocking out to a 73 year old guy talking about a girl he picked up in a bar who wants to “sleep with the Common People.” And yes, it draws you in. And makes you want to listen to the rest of the album.
Shatner reads most every lyric on the album with tongue firmly placed in cheek, backed by such musical luminaries as country singer Brad Paisley (who wrote the song “Real” especially for William Shatner), British rock icon Joe Jackson, Aimee Mann (formerly of ‘Til Tuesday, now a successful solo artist) and the great Henry Rollins. (Also, listen close for a cameo appearance from Leonard Nimoy, sampled from “Star Trek V” and “Star Trek VI”) As a matter of fact, it is Shatner’s duet with Henry Rollins “I Can’t Get Behind That,” a litany of annoying things such as people who drive like student drivers, leaf blowers, computer-driven telemarketing calls, and people who talk-sing (something that Shatner adds he could “get behind”), that steals the album. This is the perfect “I’m having a cruddy day” song … one that can help nurse along your anger, but leave you smiling at the end. Mostly because you’ve had a good laugh. And no, not because of Shatner’s singing.
Another standout is the title track “Has Been.” Think Shatner meets spaghetti western composer Ennio Morricone meets those Anti-Shatner forces at every Star Trek convention. Yes, he addresses it head on: “What are you afraid of? Failure?/ So am I/ Has been implies failure/Not so/Has been is history/Has been was/Has been might again.” (A testament to the fact that “Has Been” did it again: Shatner’s recent wins at the Emmy and Golden Globe awards for his portrayal of semi-senile attorney Denny Crane on “Boston Legal.”)
But while Shatner has a good time griping about leaf blowers, singing that he’s real, and telling off his detractors … the album takes a suddenly morose turn with “What Have You Done?” This isn’t a song. It’s three minutes of sheer emotion. No backing track. Just Shatner. And he’s talking about finding his wife dead at the bottom of a swimming pool. “She was underwater In the shadows/Was it there, was it not?/I stepped back/A veil in front of my eyes/The water was still and so was she/I dove in with so little breath/In truth I knew/I was too late for death.” While Shatner delivers the piece with his trademark passionate emotion, and the poem itself is haunting, it felt out of a place on the CD. A very strange juxtaposition, indeed.
So, while Shatner may have his detractors, “Has Been” serves as a musical thumbing of the nose to them. And it’s a heck of a listen. Really. Honestly. I mean it.
Visit www.shatnerhasbeen.com for more information on “Has Been” and it’s production.