Friday, January 9, 2009

Shatner Speaks: I'm Not the Man They Think I Am at Home

Faithful readers - and do I have any other kind? - will remember that some time ago I expressed some wonder about whether William Shatner's legendary Brechtian performance of "Rocket Man" was intended to be taken seriously. This afternoon, I picked up Shatner's autobiography, Up Till Now, for other reasons, but then I realized it might also hold the key to that question.

Sure enough, Shatner tackles the issue head-on. First of all, he reveals that the spracht-singing, which took place when Shatner hosted the 1978 Science-Fiction Movie Awards, was all his idea. "When I was asked to perform the song I thought I'd try something very unusual," Shat writes. "I'd perform the song in its many layers, doing part of it like Sinatra might do it, another part of it emphasizing the rock-it, man, hip aspect of the song, and honestly, I've forgotten the third level." That's a shame, because I'm sure that was the most excellent level of all.

Bill runs through a description of his performance - "a few lines later a third Shatner appeared, a tired, disheveled, perhaps even dissolute man" - before getting to the fallout:

The audience was stunned. People watched in shock and awe and then asked the question, Is he kidding? There is a very thick line between performing a song seriously and doing it in mock seriousness - doing it well enough to confuse the audience about that is the actor's art. Was I trying to make my performance humorous? Was it intended to be a parody of meaningful singers with cigarettes? Or was I simply out of my mind?

As so many of the great science-fiction movies remind us, there are some things that mankind was never meant to discover. I will simply report that this remains the best-known performance of the song "Rocket Man" ever done.

Now, Shatner doesn't seem to appreciate that the answer to "was I out of my mind" is clearly "yes," but that that doesn't preclude any of the other answers. Still, I came to this book hoping that Bill would settle the question. In the end, I think he's done so much more than that.


Repoz said...

I'm still amazed they mispelled "The Big Giant Load" all those years.

Gavin said...

I remember just about falling off my couch when I saw Beck parody this performance in his video for "Where It's At"--not just because it was incredibly funny, but because on a certain level, I couldn't believe anybody else knew about what Shatner had done.

MJN said...

Have you heard Shatner's recordings of "Mr. Tambourine Man" or "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," from his 1968 album "The Transformed Man"? They are very similar to his "Rocket Man"; i.e., you're not quite sure whether Shatner is serious or in on the joke. He certainly has his own style, and he sticks with it.

Marshall said...

("Mispelled"? Nice.)

T. Nawrocki said...

I've heard his "Lucy." Shatner says that his album was instrumental in getting him the gig, where he has purveyed the same kind of thing.