Normal me: Okay everyone, here’s the deal. James’ computer is being a pain in the rear end right now. It’s not rendering anything quite right, leaving visual artifacts everywhere. While we wait for him to figure something out, here’s something new. Music is an integral part of Star Trek as well as James’ creative process, so why not review some? So, that’s what Artistic is going to do. I hand it over to you, Artistic.
Artistic me: Thanks. So, today we’re going to review “The Transformed Man,” William Shatner’s debut album. Please, please, hold your scornful laughter until later. It’s honestly better than you think, if you look at it the way it was meant to be looked at. What Shatner tried to do here is juxtapose modern and classical prose and poetry so as to show that even modern works have artistic merit. Most of the pieces that are juxtaposed do, in fact, present opposite sides to their respective subject. You’ll see what I mean as we go through each track. And now, without further ado, let’s look at the music of the Shat.
“King Henry the Fifth/Elegy for the Brave” (Frank Devenport, Don Ralke)
The first track on Shatner’s debut album features one of Shakespeare’s most well known monologues, the “Once more unto the breach, dear friends…” speech from Henry V. In this selection, Shatner emphasizes the motivating aspect of the speech. The effort behind the speech is to motivate Henry’s troops in advance of their battle with the numerically superior French forces. This is explained in the introduction of the track and sets the scene as one of immanent battle. The hard-charging, drum driven music brings out the pulse-pounding and adrenaline filled atmosphere of medieval combat.
(Personally, I’d never do the monologue that way myself, but it provides a referent for me if I ever play the role. I’ll follow Kenneth Brannagh’s version more closely, I think.)
As you hear Henry charge off into battle, however, the mood set by the music changes dramatically. Changing to one of melancholy or sadness, it sets up the transition to the second portion of the track, a piece I believe to be original and written specifically for this album, “Elegy for the Brave.” It speaks of a fallen soldier in a calm field; a field that, like that of Flanders, fails to betray the true losses that occurred there. The expression on his face is not one of peace but of confusion or loss, exemplifying a popular feeling about war at the time as pointless or unclear. The soldier is lucky, in a way. He does not experience the sadness caused by his loss or have to watch himself decay in old age. He is now at peace. His fight is over, and his rest will be eternal.
These two pieces contrast the popular opinion of war in the eras in which they were written. In Shakespeare’s era and the era of Henry V, war was an honorable profession; one that men would aspire to so they may prove their worth. On the other hand, in the mid 20th century, particularly the Vietnam era, war was a scornful occupation, one that was to be avoided or shunned.
(Please neglect the Hamlet piece, we’ll discuss that later.)
“Theme from Cyrano/Mr. Tambourine Man” (Bob Dylan)
Track two begins with a monologue based on the Edmond Rostand play “Cyrano de Bergerac.” The essence of this monologue lies in the concepts of self-confidence and artistic independence. The speaker, Cyrano, expresses his disdain for many of his contemporaries who would best be described in modern terms as “sell-outs.” These “poets” and “writers” create their works of art not for the sake of creating them, but instead to gain wealth and fame. Cyrano, on the other hand, remains independent of these individuals. He creates his own works and cherishes them for the merit they have in his own eyes. Disregarding public opinion, he judges his writing for what it is and not who it is meant to impress. In fact, he doesn’t set out to impress anyone. Writing is his passion and as long as he can continue, he will be satisfied. With his independence, any successes will be his and he will not owe anyone for the positive responses he may receive. Cyrano remains free of patrons or followers and takes his own path to his own personal success, taking pride in what he does because he and he alone accomplished it.
The second segment is a dramatic interpretation of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Oft criticized, this interpretation emphasizes the “follower” personality of the speaker. Shatner’s rendition brings out a mood of uncertainty and even fear. Whereas Cyrano was independent and confident, the speaker now is unable to choose his own path. He seeks out the leadership of another to inspire him. Desperately, he expresses his desire to follow the “Tambourine Man” on whatever journey he undertakes. The speaker discounts his own senses and feelings, relying upon the thoughts and beliefs of another, allowing that person to choose his destinations, ideas, and even future.
The comparison between a highly self-motivated artist and the fearful follower gives another interesting perspective in the change of mindset over time. Produced in 1968, the album can be considered a microcosmic showcase of the mood of the time. The future was, in the minds of the country’s youth, uncertain and turbulent. The speaker in “Mr. Tambourine Man” encapsulated this uncertainty and brought the fear and apathy felt by many together with a hint of cynicism toward the conformity to “non-conformist” ideals.
(Fitting that the clips would be from Star Trek, though I have no idea why these scenes were chosen. Any correlation is dubious at best.)
“Hamlet/It Was a Very Good Year” (Ervin Drake, Don Ralke)
The third track starts with Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” monologue, one of the most famous of all monologues ever written. (See, told you we’d get to it). Shatner’s rendition brings out not only the desperate depression but also the anger associated with Hamlet’s dissatisfaction with his situation. The emotions build up progressively from dejection to determination to anger and finally collapse back into dejection as Hamlet’s sudden epiphany about the merit of ending his own life falls apart when he realizes that would not solve any of his problems.
To counter the melancholy of Hamlet’s somber monologue, Shatner follows it up with a song made famous two years earlier by Frank Sinatra. “It Was a Very Good Year” follows the speaker as he looks back on his life. Picking out romances from different stages in his life, he examines each one, remembering the pleasant moments in them. Shatner imbues each verse in order with contentedness, cockiness, and casual calmness. In the final verse, he begins to speak uneasily about his age until, after remembering the good times he had in his life, he becomes confident that he lived a good life, asserting that it was, in fact, a very good year.
These two pieces together present opposite sides of the human condition at the end of what could be described as a positive phase of life. Hamlet looks upon his current situation and instead of remembering the good times he had experienced focuses on the negative of the present. The speaker in “It Was a Very Good Year,” however, realizes that the best days of his life are over and accepts that fact with grace, reminiscing about all his pleasant experiences. Certainly, if more people would tend toward the second viewpoint, life would be much better for all, would it not?
(The following video comes from Shatner’s performance of this piece on the Mike Douglas Show)
“Romeo and Juliet/How Insensitive (Insensatez)” (Vincius DeMoraes, Norman Gimbel, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Don Ralke)
Everybody knows the “what light through yonder window breaks” monologue from “Romeo and Juliet.” Shatner performs it as one would expect it to be performed. Beginning with awe-struck wonder, he quietly compliments Juliet from the shadows until she comes to the balcony. In an instant of panic, he recedes before continuing his monologue. His momentary sadness at the fact that Juliet knows not of his presence shifts to admiration as he maintains that she herself is communing with the heavens. His confidence grows progressively through the piece as he continues admiring Juliet from afar.
As the monologue ends, there is a sudden dramatic change in the tone of the music with an ominous drumbeat preceeding the melancholy violin and soft piano that accompanies the second portion of the track, “How Insensitive,” “a bossa nova jazz standardcomposed by Antônio Carlos Jobim, loosely based on Frederic Chopin’s Prelude No.4 with lyrics by Vinícius de Moraes [with] English lyrics […] written by Norman Gimbel.” The soft, sad music accompanies Shatner’s depressed reading of the lyrics as he speaks of the lover he left behind. Interestingly, the track ends with faint, howling wind to mirror the emotional desolation of the speaker.
Two different looks at love, one at either end of a relationship. The “Romeo and Juliet” monologue shows us the desperate admiration and longing that one feels before finally winning the heart of their love. “How Insensitive,” on the other hand, shows us the lonely sadness of one whose love has ended and the pain felt at leaving a lover forever. This track is another small microcosm on the human condition with two of the most painful conditions one can find him or herself in.
(I had to put this one up myself…if it isn’t blocked or anything, which it probably is. If so, leave a comment and I’ll link to an audio file…somehow.)
(Audio File: http://www.4shared.com/audio/Zs8X7AyN/04_Track_4.html )
“Spleen/Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” (Frank Devenport, Lennon/McCartney)
As I understand it, “Spleen” was an original work written for this album. To say the least, the music belongs in a 60’s horror film, possibly featuring Vincent Price. Shatner delivers the initial lines of the piece with a quiet foreboding that enhances the frightful aspects of the dialogue itself. As though a look into the mind of an unstable man, things quickly fall apart, accentuated by ringing bells and chaotic, discordant tones. The speaker relays the manic scene inside his mind fearfully, on the verge of a breakdown, until finally, the segment ends with a defeated speaker concluding his rant, followed by a final crash of thunder.
In a sharp turnaround, however, the music turns to an almost magical, mysterious tune, bringing in the familiar refrain of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” The following rendition is often criticized, but if you really consider it carefully, it fits the time and the theme of the song well. Amazement, surprise, wonder, and excitement mingle as each aspect of the fantasy is revealed. Shatner dwells on the specific characteristics of the scene, emphasizing the unique and wondrous quality of the world created by the lyrics.
Horror film fodder crossed with psychedelic imagery, this track brings out two contrasting elements of the human psyche. The dark images of depression are exemplified in “Spleen” while “Lucy” presents a hallucinogenic euphoria. These two sets of visuals, or rather the prevailing moods associated with them, are present in all minds to some extent and are taken to their extreme in this case.
(Not quite sure what the person who put this together was on. Then again, we do know what Lennon and McCartney were on…)
“The Transformed Man” (Frank Devenport, Don Ralke)
Ostensibly another original piece written for this album, the juxtaposition occurs within itself. The brief description of our materialistic and busy world provides the contrast against which the rest of the prose can be viewed. The speaker leaves behind the world we all are trapped in and becomes one with nature, looking for a transcendent view of reality. He becomes one with “the eternal now,” silently meditating upon the majesty of nature until he “touch[es] the face of God.”
This track, the shortest of the album, is somewhat of an enigma among the more purposed tracks preceding it. An examination of a man’s quest for enlightenment, it stands alone as a piece that requires no background. It is what it is and it makes no bones about that fact.
(Again, I had to upload this myself. If it’s blocked, let me know.)
(Audio File: http://www.4shared.com/audio/V55DvAZD/06_Track_6.html )
Artistic me: Okay, hopefully that helps you with seeing Shatner’s intention in creating this album. He wasn’t trying to be a musician, he was trying to be an educator. He saw the best there was to see in contemporary prose, poetry, and song and wanted to bring that out for all to see, showing that what we have today is not so far removed from the great works of the past.
Normal me: Thank you, Artistic, that was a good commentary on an album that most people point to as a joke.
Artistic me: It’s really unfair, don’t you think?
Normal me: I’d agree. But now, even though James doesn’t have any new artwork to post, what would this blog entry be without some of his Trek work? In the mode of “The Transformed Man,” we’ll compare some of his early work with what he’s done more recently.
February 21, 2008: Batsai Class Fighter:
Looks very much like a toy. Though somewhat streamlined as a result of the whole “subdivision” tactic, it’s certainly not too refined in its shape. Goodness knows the flat aft profile won’t win it a Collier Trophy any time soon.
1 December 2010: Iolair Class Fighter:
Certainly a much more refined design with better aerodynamics by far. Partially inspired by the YF-23, I believe.
Normal me: Well, that’s it for today. Hopefully we can continue to bring you more images as well as musical reviews. Until next time, on behalf of all of us, this is Normal signing out.