Friday, February 10, 2006

Spock...What If...I Were to Record a Song...That Is Actually Good?

F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote famously, "There are no second acts in American lives," and while this pronoucement has the air of wisened truth, the only thing dumber would have been for Fitzgerald to say "Zelda is the most sane person on the planet."

No, Mr. Great American Novel, America is full of second acts. America is about second acts. We're the great nation that gave us the "Comeback Special." Sports foists upon us "Comeback Player of the Year" awards. Donald Trump wrote "The Art of the Comeback." (Though if The Donald had been a better businessdude, he wouldn't have needed a comeback to begin with.)

O captain, my captain

One of my favorite comebackers is William Shatner. Shatner is Canadian by birth, but his second act -- his third, really -- is truly American. Once Star Trek was canceled, the former Captain James Tiberius Kirk gave the showed the world all of his acting glory as supercop T.J. Hooker (wearing a girdle).

T.J. Hooker, by many accounts, the worst T.V. show of all time. It jumped the shark before there was anything to jump.

Shatner got wise, though, making fun of his own overacting in those Priceline commercials, and has been doing well ever since. Now he has an Emmy, a starring role on television, and when he's in a movie, it's not supposed to be a punchline ("Come over to the TV, you gotta see this movie! They've got Captain Kirk playing a game show host who is really a gay-pornstar secret agent! Ha ha!").

He also recorded an album last year, "Has Been," his second such effort. Haven't heard any of the man's music? You'd know if you'd had. Like your first shag, the first time you hear William Shatner "sing" is a memorable experience.

(I imagine that most people's first sexual experience is just like mine, totally hot and even surpasses the fantasy, which I once related in Penthouse Forum, when 16-year-old blonde virgin twins with Double D boobs knocked on the door of my snowed-in mountain house, asking if they could borrow some sugar. And I gave them some sugar. I mean, the first time you have sex wouldn't be awkward, embarrassing, or humiliating, or anything like that.)

Back in 1968, Shatner recorded "The Transformed Man," a "spoken-word" LP of famous songs to cheezy background music. Two of the songs on the album, "Lucy and the Sky With Diamonds" and "Mr. Tamborine Man" stand out as two of the most unintentionally hilarious songs ever committed to vinyl. It is the ultimate fusion of amazing source material and wretched interpretation -- imagine Ed Wood doing Shakespeare.

"Hey, Mr. Tamborine Man!" he screams for recognition at the end of the song. "Mr. Tamborine MAN! MR. TAMBORINE MAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!" It sounds as if he is constipated and masturbating at once.

So it was not with mild anticipation that I approached Shatner's latest musical effort, "Has Been." Half covers, half original tunes, "Has Been" received a professional treatment, from producer Ben Folds to Henry Rollins and others making a vocal contribution.

The first song I heard was "Common People," a cover of a song by a British quartet called The Pulp. I was expecting, praying, for the sublime moments that characterized his previous musical efforts. As a low-key rhythm section backing him up, Mr. Bill talks of a rich princess who wants to sleep with him, one of the "common people." The song builds up from there, adding a guitar, actual singing by Joe Jackson, and a boy's choir towards the end.

I kept waiting for the badness to begin. Instead, the song flowed along, and was kinda catchy. After a minute, I had to admit I kind of liked it, without irony. And then I had to admit that I liked it more, and yet even more. Like the story of Walker Percy reading a shriveled manuscript of "A Confederacy of Dunces," I listed first with surprise, then anticipation, and finally, incredulity: this song can't be this good. But it was. And I can't stop playing the damn thing.

There is a lesson here, especially for us insane typists who write fiction. If William Shatner can go from "Star Trek" to "The Transformed Man" to "T.J. Hooker" to Priceline commercials to "Boston Legal" and, finally, "Has Been," there is hope for all of us foundering on the slick slopes of artistic achievement. Bookfraud can go from angry young man to angrier grad student to mellowed-out married man to sycophant blogger to who the hell knows what the next step will be (though it won't be releasing "Come Fly With Someone Else, Get the Fuck Away From Me," his album of his exciting pop-punk-jazz standards).

We can produce the worst crapola ever, and, if we're smart, nobody has to ever see it. Of course, if one publishes novel that sells 14 copies, you won't get a chance at a comeback, though a novel that sells 14 copies probably doesn't warrant a comeback from. Not that I'm advocating suicide or anything like that.