Music Review: The Transformed Man by William Shatner
I have long been a fan of that which is unintentionally funny, but before I go any further, let me state, with absolute seriousness, that there is more to this album than that.
I'd heard the stories. The reputation of this album, and in-particular, Mr. Shatner's renditions of Mister Tambourine Man and Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, proceeded itself. My first real exposure to it was when I was about 20 and found a copy of it on CD, paired with a slightly-truncated copy of Leonard Nimoy's Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy on the same disc, at my local indie music store. I was ecstatic and bought it immediately. Turns out, unbeknownst to me at the time, it was a bootleg -- mastered off of vinyl records no less! But despite the not-so-great quality, it delivered.
Now, around the time I first picked this up, I was attending night classes downtown to become a computer programmer. I'd carpool down there three nights a week with my friend Ed, one of my oldest and best friends, and the one person who checks this blog on a regular basis. Anyway, I'd recorded the CD onto tape and would listen to it in the car on the way to school some nights, and Ed would interject with some funny comments or laughter. Years later he told me that he was trying to figure out how to open the car door and roll out without hurting himself when I'd put this on.
The question most often asked of this album is "What was he thinking?" I have a decent remastered copy on CD now, and the liner notes describe what Mr. Shatner was trying to achieve, which was basically an actor's artistic take on the material. Needless to say, most people didn't get. I'm still not sure I do. But I will say this: I had to read Shakespeare in high school, and never understood the appeal. It all seemed very overrated to me. But when I listened to Shatner's rendition of the speech from King Henry The Fifth ("Once more unto the breach...") I finally got it. There's also the title track, which is a poem by a guy named Frank Devenport. It's about someone leaving the hustle and bustle of daily life and escaping into the tranquility of the wilderness. It's an amazing poem, with a great musical accompanyment. Though I do have a funny story about it.
One night we were on the way to school and that track, The Transfomed Man, was playing. There's a part near the end where the music stops and you think it's done -- then it picks up again, with Shatner continuing "Then one day...", which evoked laughter from Ed. But as the music swells, the track ends with Shatner saying in a loud, resolved voice "I knew that I had been awakened. I HAD TOUCHED THE FACE OF GOD!" The music continues, and I looked over at Ed who was squirming in his seat -- he was physically uncomfortable -- that's what the end of that track did to him. And that, to me, was the funniest thing about the album. I searched YouTube for a clip of the song but didn't find one.
Bottom line: this album is for you if you
- Didn't get Shakespeare in high school
- Want to experience Shatner's artistic take on some classic songs
- Want a cheap laugh
- Want to hear the really decent poem at the end of the album
This album is a classic, but not always in a good way.