William Shatner gives me a headache. Long, long ago he was the captain of the star ship Enterprise on the only real Star Trek series. The show was over before I was old enough to watch it, but it was a staple on Saturday night. You had to endure a few minutes of Lawrence Welk and then Shatner would boldy go where no man has gone before.Shatner made some very bad movies and sings on one of the worst records ever made.There are two ways of looking at Shatner. He has gone from a promising Shakespearian actor to making Priceline commercials and becoming the Object of Worship in an internet cult. You can point out that the commercials are funny and that he is working long past an age when most people have retired. He is always trying something new as his very complete web site shows. You can mock him as hundreds of web sites do, but he always comes back. The jokes about hair and girth were funny when he was younger and still trying to be a sex object. Now that he has grown comfortable being old, they just don’t seem funny any more. “Hah! Look at the old man! Isn’t he fat! And bald!” is not exactly clever.Shatner has “it”. . . that strange star power that makes even his bad stuff compelling. This year I saw a Hallmark special that was pretty bad, but Shatner owned the set when he was speaking. How does he do it? He is not afraid to be different and in a world of thousands of sounds, his voice and odd delivery cuts through.Then there is his new CD: Has Been. It was on my Christmas must-buy list. (You cannot go to Steamers all the time, though if you are not there now, you wish you were.) Why? I heard the music was shockingly . . . good. And so it is. Shatner always has been a sound. Now he is a compelling record. I have turned this CD on twice in a room full of people used to ignoring background music. It stopped every other sound in the room both times. Most people mock it, but then they start listening.The cd is full of mockery, of Shatner of course, but also of a culture that lets him exist and pays him well. The title song points out that most of the people mocking him as a “has been” are “never have beens.” With the mockery, comes a big dose of truth about death and life. It is also full of hope as Shatner intones that “has been” may be again. The sound is unique, like nothing else you can hear, and oddly authentic. It is post-post-modern mocking the mockers and at times refreshingly old fashioned.Tonight Shatner earned a Golden Globe. He did it by playing what people expect to see, twisting it, doing it in a manner that cannot be forgotten, and allowing himself to grow old. There is hope for us all if we do the same.
Essay / Art