At the Barnes and Noble music counter, there's a teenage guy working there that every girl on this planet seems to be after. And when I was there yesterday, he was flirting with me mercilessly and it was getting me really p*ssed off. I couldn't think of any way to get rid of him and he kept rambling on about how pop culture is every nail in his coffin, etcetera, etcetera. In other words, stuff no one wants to hear.
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Then I got a genius idea to get him to leave me alone. It was devious, probably insulting to the musical artist in question, and very, very effective.
"I was just looking for William Shatner's 'Has Been.' Do you carry it?"
I could have fluttered my eyelashes and winked at him for the rest of the day if I'd wanted to. There was no way he wanted me now.
William Shatner is sort of an iconoclastic figure of everything kitschy. I'm sure that Hello Kitty and Vanilla Ice worship him (or else they're really serious, which would be even funnier). Anyone who buys his CDs loses all hope of being a card-carrying member of the Indie Elitist Society. Anyone who watches "Star Trek" is immediately labeled a thirty-eight year old man who lives in his parents' basement and worships William Shatner. And part of this is the Shatner in question's fault. I mean, Jesus Christ...he covered "Mr. Tambourine Man"! You just don't touch "Mr. Tambourine Man."
And if that's a role you think would drive him insane, you've got another thing coming. You need only look at his little...performance on late night TV. "Get a life!" was his kind, heartfelt message to Trekkies everywhere. "You guys are obsessed!" He's completely washed-up and, what is more, he couldn't be having more fun.
But wait...what about talent? Kitsch is all well and good and can last some "artists" a lifetime, but what about art?
Well, that's where "Has Been" comes in. To kick the American, Shatner-hating, sneering public in the behind, that is.
The keyboard-driven opener, a cover of Pulp's hit "Common People," certainly kicked ME in the behind the way I've never been behind-kicked before. I mean, let's be honest here: I bought this CD to get rid of a lecherous teenage salesman and planned on returning it to the store, but I read a couple reviews that made this seem like a masterpiece and decided I wanted to hear it. And let me tell you, if you've never heard the once-Captain Kirk bellowing "You'll never FAIL like common people!" alongside piano pop artiste Ben Folds, you haven't really lived.
"It Hasn't Happened Yet" is a slow, thoughtful number, something you really wouldn't expect from Shatner. It isn't really one of the stronger tracks on the album and it's not one of the most memorable, but it does show his speaking range: he brings an air of sorrow and melancholy to the song simply through his hushed whisper.
After I've been humbled into thinking maybe this guy's really got something, he comes out with...a gospel number? What in the hell? "You'll Have Time" opens with a groaning organ and his drawling voice pointing out that you should "live live like you're gonna die...because you're GONNA. Hate to be the bearer of BAD NEWS." We all remember him as Captain Kirk, the king of hammish enunciation. Now he's William Shatner, the king of hammish enunciation that actually works. His voice is warm and rich, the kind we all want to hear on the other end of the telephone once in awhile instead of "Hello, we've got a great offer for you!"
Then there's another song not written by Shatner, but by some guy named Nick Hornby (I'm going to feel really stupid when you all know who he is and I don't, by the way, so pretend you don't know). The song is called "That's Me Trying," a tale of love that didn't quite last told by a sentimental, weary Shatner. The man has so many moods it's easy to believe he's an actor. Everything on here is very theatrical and it absolutely works.
"What Have You Done" is definitely a masterpiece of low maintenance music, featuring Shatner's pensive and very frank tale of his wife's death over a solid bass rhythm and nothing else. He seems to be very resigned about the whole...I hate to say ordeal, but that's the way he tells the story: as though it were all a big mess.
The next song is a lovely little ballad called "Familiar Love," which, although not particularly memorable, is very easy on the ears. It's another exhibit of Shatner's versatility--he would be a great addition to a rock opera just because he could take on the guise of any character and make himself believable. "Together" is the only song here which I can definitely say I don't like, and I'm actually not sure why.
And then he goes back to being irrepressible and completely insane on "Ideal Woman," a declaration of love at all costs. "I just want you to be you," he tells the woman, rolling his voice around every word the way he always has. Only before it sounded really stupid and hammish; here it's very fitting.
On "Has Been" the ever-stranger Shatner decides to take every single cliche about Western movie theme songs, stick it into one song, and tell the tale of a man going to war against hypocrites of the West. Yes, that is what I said: going to war against hypocrites of the West. That's not a sentence you're going to be reading often.
"I Can't Get Behind That" is a giant pile of quotes just waiting to be used as eccentric teenager's away messages (check mine one of these days, you'll see). My favorite thing that William Shatner (and guest star Henry Rollins) seemingly just can't understand is "so called singers that can't carry a tune and get paid for talking, how easy is that?" It doesn't take rocket science to see who he's talking about on that one.
"Real" reminds me of what a Tim McGraw song would sound like if Tim McGraw had any talent whatsoever. There's a light country melody in the background, and a country-pop guest star named Brad Paisley. The song is an ode to Shatner's being...well...real. Like we really needed that. He convinced me of it ten songs ago.
I can see the more closed-minded among you thinking this is another kitsch classic in the making. Hell, I can even understand that. But let me tell you: you decide not to buy it, you're missing out.
I brought this CD out on a date to make the poor guy in question listen to it. He scoffed and sneered at the fact that "Shatner's still even alive...and not living under a rock somewhere." But I didn't smack his shoulder the way I would normally.
Because I saw his toes tapping.
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