Sometimes, has-beens are really cool.
Such is the case with William Shatner’s epic 2004 album, “Has Been”. It’s far enough in the past, and more recent releases by Shatner have made it plain and clear that this is the man’s musical magnum opus.
Of course, it helps to have talented friends. “Has Been” was arranged, produced, and featured quite a bit of musical material written by Ben Folds, who had enlisted Shatner for vocal duties on his eclectic oddball side project “Fear Of Pop” in 1998.
Prior to 2004, everyone’s musical memory of Shatner probably started and ended here.
In fact, “Has Been” was Shatner’s first solo album since 1968’s “The Transformed Man”, and that’s probably no accident – his attempts to branch out creatively had been mocked enough that any normal individual with a healthy self-respect would see no need to venture back into a recording studio.
But we’re talking Shatner here.
With help from Folds, and collaborators and guests such as Brad Paisley, Aimee Mann, and Joe Jackson, “Has Been” is actually quite an artistic statement. Shatner, in his own words, muses over the pitfalls of fame (whether it’s zooming toward him like an oncoming train, or visible only in the rear-view mirror), unrealized ambitions, and, in one deeply disturbing case, the then-recent suicide of his wife.
Age is also an elephant in the metaphorical room, whether it’s the realization that there’s only so much time left, or more humorously, what may be the all-time-best old guy’s rant, “I Can’t Get Behind That”, a duet with none other than Henry Rollins. Yes, that Henry Rollins.
If Shatner was truly a has-been, would he be able to command such a group of A-list musical collaborators? It seems doubtful. For one amazing, shining musical moment, he was relevant, both topically and musically, and it was a beautiful thing…and a fleeting one. The follow-up, 2011’s “Seeking Major Tom”, returned to the crowd-pleasing cover song schtick of “The Transformed Man”, this time with a star-studded lineup of musical collaborators…but they were other people’s songs, not the deliciously honest originals of “Has Been”.
And that’s the really sad thing, because the cover-band seems more like something a real has-been would do. On his 2004 album, Shatner was very much in the present, and we were getting the real Shatner, not the self-caricature that he seems to relish in performing for everyone. Even on Twitter, Shatner is constantly trying to rally fans to various charitable causes; real has-beens on Twitter tend to heap unwarranted abuse on random passers-by.
Despite the title of his best album, William Shatner is no has-been – he’s still the captain.