The Sunday Video: William Shatner “Rocket Man”
This week’s Sunday Video is for the benefit of those unfamiliar with the anthological musical career of William Shatner. This particular performance, Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s “Rocket Man” at the 1978 Science Fiction Awards show, parodied in episode 5 season 3 of Family Guy, stands apart for me amongst various spoken word covers of Mr. Tambourine Man, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, and the extended version of Pulp’s Common People, not only because of the song’s title (beyond which its relevance fades) but for being arguably the best example of Shatner’s imperturbable, sober, and at times overtly ruminative beatnik styling’s.
On the surface a poseur, Shatner, despite exhausting or rather squandering his allotment of patience through the years, is in my opinion worthy of much respect, and even sympathy.
Being among the first men, and certainly perhaps the most exalted, to become famous for being a fictional space explorer in an era when the public were nursing a secular obsession with the heavens – one that since, nourished by the lucrative commerce of human fantasy, has grown into a cultural leviathan – Shatner was not only forced to navigate the largely uncharted waters of celebrity, but because the genre of sci-fi wasn’t recognized as worthy of an academy award until the late 80s, a deep sense of under appreciation also.
One imagines Shatner’s mindset as perpetually torn between the immersive fantasy of a dream and the comparatively crippling reality of life as a Canadian actor. Early in his career it is reasonable to assume that these ‘waking moments’ were instrumental in shaping Shatner’s maturing disillusionment. And as the world became increasingly out of touch with itself through televised fiction, and in turn with those depicted by it, so Shatner demonstrated a progressive detachment from the world, as evidenced by the ever-frequent employment of his spaced out ‘captains log’ voice and giant, compensative ego.
That said, despite being an actor who imitated the role, Shatner is a true hero. Embattled by the pointedly extreme status of cultural icon he has, through clear demonstration of personal suffering at the hands of his own ‘warped’ ego, attained the rank of a martyr. Ironically, despite being a celebrity, he has largely been derided for all pursuits outside of Star Trek; persecuted by self-proclaimed bastions of taste for being a ham, a charlatan, and a boob. Nevertheless, although we might laugh, our hands are all stained with Shatner’s blood, and the blood of every idol.
Punctuated by dramatic inhalations and exhalations of smoke and tempered by a monotone dialogue this recording provides invaluable insight into a man haunted by his own success and dated special effects. The employment of split screen technology here enables Shatner to publically explore his alienation through his chosen medium of theater. Bereft in the murky depths of self-contemplation the first Shatner stares at his twin with a mixture of horror and pity in quiet, disparaging awe as though the unfavorable image of his persona is genuinely falling upon his eyes anew. From the initially broken and brooding Shatner to the more hopeful chorus singing Shatner the incarnations become progressively looser, culminating in Shatner number three, or ‘party Shatner’ as I like to call him, a staggering and disheveled drunk whose tragedy encompasses both Shatner’s inner demons and the unfortunate tangent that is his musical career.
In its defense, however, regardless of how awful a singer he is, covering other people’s songs has been a clearly therapeutic and perhaps necessary device in maintaining the sanity of this classically trained actor on the fringes of professional credibility. And to his credit, compared to co-star Leonard Nimoy’s foray into the world of music, Shatner’s own, in particular this magnum opus, is vastly admirable[.]
William Shatner “Rocket Man” via MobileEsther
This post was contributed by Thomas Hollingworth