William Shatner – Has Been Review

William Shatner
“Has Been”
Shout Factory

“I can’t get behind a fat ass.”
From “I Can’t Get Behind That”

Man, where to start?

Born in Montreal, Quebec, in 1931, over the years Shatner has become a firm part of Americana and amassed a fine resume.

He started his television career in 1965 on the short-lived “For the People” before moving onto “Star Trek.” While “Trek” was not immediately successful, it eventually gained momentum and spawned a film with many sequels (Shatner starred in seven of the films in the role of Captain James T. Kirk).

Over the years, he also starred in a number of series including “The Barbary Coast,” “T.J. Hooker,” “Third Rock from the Sun,” hosted the show “Rescue 911,” and currently stars in “Boston Legal.” He’s had parts in a variety of movies including “American Psycho 2,” “Loaded Weapon” and “Miss Congeniality.” Shatner has become a successful novelist, penning a number of books called the TEK series.

And now add accomplished musician to the list.

Shatner’s “Has Been” is a cornucopia of styles wrapped around this enigmatic person and features a slew of guests from around the music scene. Ben Folds produced and arranged all the songs on the album. Drummer Matt Chamberlain (who’s worked with Fiona Apple, Tori Amos, John Mayer and David Bowie to name a few), Henry Rollins (of Black Flag and Rollins), Joe Jackson, Brad Paisley and Aimee Mann all show up in some capacity at one point or another throughout the album. Folds also performs on most of the songs and had a hand in writing most of the tracks with Shatner.

The album kicks off with a rousing cover of Pulp’s “Common People.” Joe Jackson handles guest vocals during the track which also features Folds on bass and synthesizer. From the opening the song (and maybe the album?) seems like a car wreck, a pop/rock track with Captain Kirk at the helm. But somewhere along the line you realize this isn’t a joke; Shatner somehow manages to make the track his own and by the end, as he seethes through the final lines, the listener can feel this is for real.

The hodgepodge of musical style rears its head immediately. “It Hasn’t Happened Yet” plays out like a ’70s adult-contemporary-fused spoken-word club tune. “You’ll Have Time” starts off like a gospel sermon and unfolds into a full-blown choir event by the end.

“Has Been” offers a little of everything: a trippy-rock track (“Ideal Woman”) and an angry coffee-house bongo spoken-word (“I Can’t Get Behind That”). There’s even a heart-felt pseudo-country ballad (“Real”) and western-infused Tex-Mex song (“Has Been”).

Two tracks relly stand out in this collection: “I Can’t Get Behind That” and “Real.”

On “I Can’t Get Behind That,” Shatner and Rollins trade lines about various things they can’t get behind (the price of gas, how Shatner’s kids talk, student drivers, lifetime guarantees: “Who’s lifetime? Not mine,” etc.) that is immediately humorous but also extremely true-to-life. “Real” is the exact opposite, but also probably the best track on the album. Penned for Shatner by country star Paisley (who also sings the chorus and plays guitar on the track), it talks about how Shatner may seem super-human on the big screen, but he’s really just a man:

“And while there’s a part of me
In that guy you’ve seen
Up there on that screen
I am so much more
And I wish I knew the things you think I do
I would change this world for sure
But I eat and sleep and breathe and bleed and feel
Sorry to disappoint you
But I’m real.”

Of the recording process, Shatner points out in the liner notes “it was the most marvelous experience of my life.”

As for the reasoning behind such a release: “These musical moments are, essentially, from my heart. These are thoughts and experiences of mine that very few people have heard before. I wanted to share them with my loved ones.” He also calls Folds “friend.”

Folds has a lengthy description of the recording process, how he and Shatner came together and how the various musicians got involved.

Overall, this is an interesting collection of material and offers a real insight into a star’s thoughts, feelings and personality. At times poignant, at times funny, this release is definitely one thing: entertaining.