In 1998, alt-pop rising star Ben Folds took a breather from the then-hugely-successful Ben Folds Five to cook up a side project, more for fun and experimentation than anything, called Fear Of Pop. Two tracks on that album were basically spoken-word poetry/rants set to music, with the poetry honors done by none other than William Shatner of Star Trek fame. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean than Ben’s a dyed-in-the-wool Trekkie, but he has at least copped to an admiration for Shatner’s previous album of music/poetry, The Transformed Man. And lo and behold, enough mutual admiration emerged between Folds and Shatner to spark this little CD called Has Been.
And so help me, it’s kinda fun to listen to.
Fear Of Pop‘s “In Love” basically sets the mold for Has Been. Folds provides the musical accompaniment and does the bulk of the actual singing, while William Shatner lends his voice to a serious of monologues. The lyrics are purely Shatner’s, and the music is Folds’ in most cases. And it’s a better combination than you might at first expect. A lot of people are used to equating the Star Trek star with a galactic-scale ego. That includes me, by the way – I’ve read one of the guy’s autobiographies. But somehow he’s able to convey the inherent loneliness and pressure of his somewhat unique position in “It Hasn’t Happened Yet”, “Has Been” and “Real” (a dandy little collaboration with country artist Brad Paisley), and yet also gives full vent to things that bug him in a free-form rant with Henry Rollns, “I Can’t Get Behind That.”
But encroaching age and mortality are also very much in evidence on Has Been. “You’ll Have Time”, presented almost as a mock church sermon, talks about how there’s only so much time to live life but an eternity afterward to look back and regret the things that were never done. This Is Me Trying is a confessional from a man trying to reconcile with a bitterly estranged adult daughter before time runs out for both of them. And most haunting – some might say disturbing – of them all is “What Have You Done.” Not even weighing in at two-minutes, it’s an almost music-free piece in which Shatner relives the true story of coming home to find that his wife had drowned in the swimming pool. One almost has to hit stop after that track and sit back for a bit, maybe listen to something else a bit cheerier, before going on. It’s really a bit of a shock to the system.
Overall, Has Been is startlingly effective as listening material. I wasn’t ready to, as Shatner and Rollins put it, “get behind that” conceptually until I heard it. It’s by no means perfect, and it’s not for everybody by any stretch, but William Shatner’s Has Been must be heard to be believed; Golden Throats, it’s not.
- Common People featuring Joe Jackson (4:38)
- It Hasn’t Happened Yet (3:52)
- You’ll Have Time (5:20)
- That’s Me Trying featuring Aimee Mann and Ben Folds (3:51)
- What Have You Done (1:49)
- Together featuring Lemon Jelly (5:41)
- Familiar Love (4:02)
- Ideal Woman (2:26)
- Has Been (2:21)
- I Can’t Get Behind That featuring Henry Rollins (3:02)
- Real featuring Brad Paisley (3:10)
Released by: Shout! Factory
Release date: 2004
Total running time: 40:12