By JOE GIDDENS
One of Canada’s finest exports turns out to have as many careers as he has had wives. You’ve seen him fight men in rubber monster suits, helm the Enterprise and sell you on travel websites. Now it’s time to allow the man to grace your playlists as well.
Shatner released his first spoken word album, “The Transformed Man,” in 1968. Strip away the music of The Beatles and trade John Lennon’s singing for deadpan dramatic reading of the lyrics to “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” and you get what would be the prototype of Shatner’s album-making career.
Shatner’s discography is an exercise in irony. It mirrors the late comedian Andy Kaufman, in that the listener is never sure if Shatner’s spoken word is intentionally done for comedic effect or if he’s completely sincere in his efforts.
The greatest example of the riddle that is Shatner comes from the aptly named 2013 album “Ponder the Mystery” on the track “Sunset.” It opens with a chorus repeating “Sunset, sunset,” followed by near New-Age sounding synthesizers. It’s here that Shatner starts talking about how we are all one in the setting regardless of our race or creed, soon turning into a stream-of-consciousness diatribe on shades of color.
Later albums take on the Carlos Santana-style of collaborative revolving door of who’s who big-name musicians, such as Brad Paisley, Henry Rollins, Lemon Jelly, Vince Gill, et al. Last month, Shatner took to the hallowed grounds of country music that is the Grand Ole Opry to promote his latest effort a country album with Jeff Cook from the band Alabama. The AP reports that the 87-year-old’s next effort will be a blues album.
Despite the listener having the feeling that there’s some amount of irony in Shatner’s albums, such sentiments may get washed away by 2004’s Ben Folds-produced album “Has Been” on the track “That’s Me Trying,” where Shatner’s talking about his efforts to reconnect with his estranged daughter. Regardless of one’s interpretation, Shatner is expressing himself in a personal way like all great art.
The track touches on universal themes of isolation, regret with the subtext that the octogenarian’s advancing years are causing him to reflect on the choices he has made over the course of a life of success in the entertainment industry. Did success come at the price of his personal life? Or did success cause problems in his relationships? The Shatner offers questions but no answers.
The mystery that is Shatner makes me wonder how sincere do we want our music to actually be?
For years I was holding onto the belief that grunge music was more about overcoming angst than taking up residence in it.
But after Chris Cornell’s suicide added to the long list of dead musicians of the genre. Perhaps some level of detachment between musician and music can be healthy.
Cornell’s suicide also causes me to pause when listening to “Blow Up the Outside Word”
“Nothing will do me in before I do myself
“So save it for your own and the ones you can help”
With Spring Break approaching, do yourself a favor and ponder the mystery of Shatner. Or if at all feels like too much, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at 1-800-273-8255.