WILLIAM SHATNER Sleighs It With New Star-Studded Xmas Album - “It’s Wild And They’re Wild People”
December 24, 2018, a year ago
Live Long And . . .: What I Learned Along The Way. Despite being the name of his recent biography, Canadian-born William Shatner echoes a personal sentiment for which all of us Earthlings can strive. Alas, our time on this planet is so very short, one must seize the moment and be fulfilled. And fulfill - a trait Shatner has embraced since creating the iconic character of Captain Kirk of the starship Enterprise in 1966. And although the short-lived series was cancelled after a mere three seasons, it created a template of sci-fi fantasy that has touched and inspired generations. But that is just one side of the multi-talented former Montréaller.
His musical career began during his Star Trek tenure with bizarre spoken-word takes on the psychedelic classics such as The Bryds’ ”Mr. Tambourine Man" and The Beatles’ "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”, which can be heard on 1968’s The Transformed Man.
But Shatner's first-ever holiday album, Shatner Claus, features a vast array of what he calls “vanguards, icons and misfits” including ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, Yes’ Rick Wakeman, Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Artimus Pyle, The Cars’ Elliot Easton and punk legends Iggy Pop and Henry Rollins.
In a most jovial manner, Shatner has shone a bright light on Christmas with this new festive record.
“It’s interesting isn’t it?,” Shatner begins from sunny Los Angeles, a far cry from his snowy Quebecois roots. And he fits the “vanguards, icons, and misfits” mold perfectly.
Shatner: “Well that’s it, isn’t it? It’s all a challenge. So, I’ve got this album out that has really taken off.”
BraveWords: The rock n’ roll royalty is just spilling out of this thing. As a fan of both Christmas and most of these bands, how did you conquer the feat of getting all these people together?
Shatner: “Well, in some cases, they were on some of the other albums I’ve done, and they apparently enjoyed the experience and the publicity I guess. So, for one reason of another they came back when we said we were going to do a Christmas album. A number of them said they’d like to join in, which we relished. And then some others that we contacted jumped in as well, so it wasn’t hard to recruit these people once they heard what the thought was, and it’s gratifying to know that these super-talented people were willing to lend some of that talent to the album.”
BraveWords: Was there anybody on your wish list that couldn’t appear? Or are you happy with the final result?
Shatner: “I can’t think of anybody that I wished had said yes who said no. You know, when I finished the album I settled on the order in which the numbers would come out - I knew I wanted to open with 'Jingle Bells' and close with 'We Wish You A Merry Christmas', and in between the traditional songs that we were bending a little bit, anchoring the album with this epic poem that we set to music, and the Christmas story which was set to music being the heart of the album. I thought “this is really good!” - but I wonder how good it is because you don’t know until the audience tells you. We sent the album out to a number of critics and the first guy I called I said, ‘You’re the first person I’m talking to who has listened to the album who hasn’t worked on the album. What did you think?’ Here it was, I was going to get my audience response, and there was a brief pause and I thought, ‘oh dear maybe I’m wrong?’ - but he said ‘Awesome’ - and that was the first review.”
BraveWords: Well, it’s nice to see a man of your stature that wants to kind of inject a little bit of edge in your outlet, like the punk rock attitude and flair of Henry Rollins and Iggy Pop.
Shatner: “It’s wild. And they’re wild people. I’ve gotten to know Henry especially over the time, he’s become a buddy. It’s a whole other world that I never knew of in Canada when I was growing up and even later in life it wasn’t part of what I was interested in until I began to do rock n’ roll and I realized that the essence of it is energy, and how vital that is, and how meaningful. I was amazed at what I had missed when I was not paying attention to rock n’ roll.”
BraveWords: That is a bit surprising that the classic rock of the ‘60s and ‘70s never resonated.
Shatner: “Because it wasn’t in my thing - I was Frank Sinatra. The music was foreign to me, and the people around me were jamming, and it was raucous, and I thought, ‘my goodness that’s not the pop I know - the Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme that I know.’ It was only when I began to perform it that I realized the appeal, and more than appeal the drive to know it and thusly perform it - it was overwhelming. I mean, I’ve come to all this very late in life. I was shooting, I was filming late at night and I had just downloaded - this is some years ago so we had the iPods - and I had a new iPod and somebody said I’ll download my library for you in your iPod - which is apparently is illegal but I didn’t know it was illegal until well after, until I told this story. And so the Beatles’ White Album was on it, and for me you know the Beatles were simplistic singers, no complexity in their songs or in their orchestrations, but I had ear phones on which I almost never use and I was listening to the White Album - and all of a sudden the intricacy of the White Album was being drilled into my brain late at night. And I suddenly understood The Beatles! I never got it before. All of a sudden there it was, revealed. So that’s my slow progress.”
BraveWords: Is there anyone that you worked with on this Christmas album that you were truly star struck with?
Shatner: “Billy Gibbons I didn’t know about - I was just going to mention his name - because there he was right in front of me, touchy-feely, and I had been asked to do a blues album after the Christmas album and Billy Gibbons was the first person I talked to saying would you help me? And he said absolutely- so I’m beginning to work on a blues album in which I want to incorporate Billy Gibbons and his talent. And you know, Aretha Franklin is a blues person and I’m in the lowlands with her Mt. Everest singing talents and how do you make that work when blues is that soul music coming from a blue soul and the scream of pain that is melodious, I mean it’s a tough nut to crack. I’ve approached the problem ever since I started with the Transformed Man, I didn’t realize the extent of the problem but I did a country music album as well these last few months - Why Not Me? Is the name of the album - and in the album one of the songs has a line ‘I should have loved her’ - it’s actually the name of the song - the singer balances on the word ‘I should have loved her’ and the anguish and the pain ‘I should have LOVED her’ on the singing note it becomes apparent - but how do I, saying the word, suggest the same passion? And that’s the problem I had faced with conveying what is easier for a singer because of the melody and the high notes - how do you do that with what is basically the spoken word, and that’s the problem I wrestle with in both albums.
BraveWords: Now are you a genuine fan of this holiday season? You’ve got a big family so it must be Christmas mayhem in your world.
Shatner: “Oh, that’s an interesting question. It is. Christmas for me as a kid growing up in Catholic Montréal was filled with the religious aspect of it as well, but the social and cultural aspect of Christmas was very much in my life and the idea of being thoughtful about the future and the past, and gifts to people that you loved, and family togetherness, and the beauty of the Christmas season. Especially in Montréal with the snow reflecting the lights and the crispness of the air. So Christmas may not have had the same religious meaning, but the social meaning was all there.”
BraveWords: But to see Christmas lights on palm trees pools instead of outdoor hockey rinks, there must be a bit of culture shock this time of the year?
Shatner: “It’s jarring to see that, and I’ve never gotten used to it. You need snow, but you need a particular kind of snow, the kind of crystallized snow that reflects a lot, not soggy wet snow. You need very high, dry snow, and it needs to crunch under your feet so when you walk on the snow there's the sound of grape nuts or something, and the snow reflects the light so everything’s glittering, everything has a different sound to it. The Gestalt of Christmas is really different in Canada than it is in Southern California.”
BraveWords: Do you have much of a Canadian connection these days? Do you get up here to visit very often?
Shatner: “I spent the weekend in Ticonderoga, New Yorkwhich is about 200 miles south of the border or less, so like to feel I was in Canada because itextends down below to Burlington, Vermont. I have two sisters in Canada and lots of cousins, some of whom are claiming connection and some who don’t - but there are a lot of Shatner relatives in Canada still.”
BraveWords: To finish off, I’d like to take you back to your Star Trek days because when you and your crew were travelling to different planets - did you ever think the entire world would be holding a version of your famous Tricorder 50 years later? That amazes me.
Shatner: “It amazes me too. I was in a car - I had a friend in Canada who must have been more insane than I realized - because this guy had a regular phone somehow in the car and there was a wire leading down into the glove compartment from a regular phone. And he would tell me that that phone worked and that he could call home anytime he wanted to. You know, you don’t want to tell a guy he’s nuts or that it’s not true, you don’t want to embarrass him so I just let it go. I knew it was untrue, that he was making this up with this dial phone and a wire leading to nowhere - but that remained in my mind for a long time because I thought that would be really convenient. And then, years later somebody approached me and said that if I put in the trunk of my car this huge battery and sending device, whatever that was, something that would send the signal - if I put that in the car I’d be able to radio somewhere - that seemed too bulky - it was 2’ by 2’ and took up the whole trunk. The miracle of this hand-held thing I had seen fictionalized for years! I’m even more aware of how miraculous modern technology is and how extraordinary the new advances will be in the next few years - that there will be enormous changes in size and ability of these hand-held devices that you can no longer term phones - I think my last count was 57 books on my telephone, and I’m reading out of my telephone all the time. I mostly keep two books going so I can turn from one to the other and I got access to the British Library with the Encyclopedia Brittanica, and the British National Library, and the great libraries in the States that would take you many lifetimes to get through I have access to. I took a cross-country trip with a new car and I had installed in the car the satellite, so innumerable entertainment to wile away the hours while driving across the country. I never touched satellite radio because on my phone my wife and I were accessing the geography where we were, the history as we passed through the south - so we entertained ourselves using the telephone as a library, not as a connection to greet outside people. The phone is one of the miracles of our time and could also, like the internal combustion engine, be the seeds of our destruction.”