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Doctor recommended for optimal cerebral hygiene 

William Shatner, Has Been

Monday, October 25, 2004

When I ran across that headline - William Shatner, Has Been - a couple of weeks ago, my first thought was: true enough. My second thought was that The Guardian was being a bit harsh. My third thought, the actual question of whether or not to read the article, was swiftly followed by my fourth thought: no.

That said, nothing, not even having read the article, could have prepared me for the shock I experienced this past Friday evening, flipping the channels, landing on the Tonight Show, and seeing the musical guests in action. It was truly one of the most bizarre things I have ever seen, and the opening line of Pascal Wyse's article in The Guardian comes close to describing my astonishment.
Complete the following sentence: "Ben Folds, Nick Hornby, Brad Paisley, Joe Jackson, Aimee Man ... " The chances of an average life-form guessing "William Shatner" are equal to the Starship Enterprise turning out to be made entirely of smoked salmon.
At first, it took about a half a minute to sort out what exactly I was looking at. There was William Shatner fronting a rock & roll band that was playing something that sounded like a missing track from Elvis Costello's This Year's Model album. Shatner was reading, not singing, off papers on a music stand. To his left was a shockingly aged Joe Jackson trading lines with Shatner, and to his right was Ben Folds doing his best attempt at a Steve Nieve impersonation. Having read the article now, I've come to learn that Has Been is the name of an album that Shatner has released, produced by Ben Folds, and including guests like Jackson, Aimee Mann, and Henry Rollins. The song I had witnessed was called Common People, and is actually a cover of a tune by British Pop band Pulp.

As it turns out, the performance was not without merit. I've never been overly uptight about musicians borrowing signature sounds from other artists. It's been done throughout musical history and it is fairly easy to sort out the blatant rip-off from the homage. In the case of Common People I would think that Elvis C. would be tickled by this good-natured riff on his late 70's sound. It was pulled off with plenty of punk attitude and killer organ from Mr. Folds. Additionally, the song Common People, in Shatner's hands, actually came off quite dramatic. A great sarcastic commentary on classism and privilege, it actually gained something from Shatner's campy recitation. In fact, I think I'll just leave you with lines from that song.
I took her to a supermarket,
I don't know why but I had to start it somewhere,
so it started there.
I said pretend you've got no money,
she just laughed and said,
"Oh you're so funny."
I said "yeah?
Well I can't see anyone else smiling in here.
Are you sure you want to live like common people,
you want to see whatever common people see,
you want to sleep with common people,
you want to sleep with common people,
like me."
But she didn't understand,
she just smiled and held my hand.
Rent a flat above a shop,
cut your hair and get a job.
Smoke some fags and play some pool,
pretend you never went to school.
But still you'll never get it right,
cos when you're laid in bed at night,
watching roaches climb the wall,
if you call your Dad he could stop it all.