William Shatner is a modern marvel.
The 82-year old Canadian actor began his career in Shakespearean theater. Then he became the iconic Captain Kirk of Star Trek. Then his show was cancelled and he found himself out of work, divorced and virtually homeless. Finally, after a surprise cult-following reenergized the Star Trek franchise, Shatner began finding bit roles, and his comeback eventually morphed into an impressive acting career that now consists largely of the actor parodying himself.
One of the most surprising, if not oddest, turns in Shatner’s career has been his foray into music. It started when he released hyperbolic, spoken-word versions of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “Mr. Tambourine Man” in the late sixties. The impassioned, absurd renditions were met with a universal giggle. Undeterred, Shatner went on to deliver a similar cover of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” in the late seventies. He has now recorded four full albums, the most recent of which, Ponder the Mystery, debuted this month.
“It’s a progressive rock album,” Shatner told me in a recent interview. “And, like they mostly are, it’s a concept album. Like The Wall. I see progressive rock as a type of science fiction. It extends the horizons of imagination and asks where the world will be in the future.”
For this album, Shatner paired up with Billy Sherwood of the progressive rock band Yes. Shatner wrote all of his lyrics and submitted them to Sherwood to be set to music.
“It’s about a guy in despair on the beach an hour before sunset,” Shatner said in his typical grandiose cadence. “And through the beauty of the darkness he regains his joy for life. It’s an album about the appreciation of life and love.”
All of expected Shatner-ness is in there: the unabashed passion, the booming crescendos, the utter seriousness with which the artist approaches the material. But there is also something very genuine about Ponder the Mystery that seems to set it apart from Shatner’s earlier work.
“I am inordinately proud of this album,” Shatner said. “I hope I’m not falsely proud.”
Shatner took a very serious approach to creating this album. He enlisted the help, not only of Sherwood, but also of Tony Kaye and Rick Wakeman of Yes, all of whom now play as the progressive rock band Circa. Jazz guitarist Al DiMeola, country star Vince Gill, jazz keyboardist George Duke and Foreigner’s Mick Jones all make appearances on the album.
Shatner has planned just three performances of the album, all of them in the greater Los Angeles area next weekend: one in Agora, one in San Juan Capistrano, and one at Saint Rocke in Hermosa Beach.
“If we’re successful, if the audience says the album is good enough, we’ll tour more,” he said. “I am not nervous in the way that most are being onstage. But I am nervous to find out if it is as good as I think it is.”
“So, really, the pressure is on you,” Shatner added with a laugh.
William Shatner performs his new album Ponder the Mystery on Wednesday, October 23 at 8 p.m. at Saint Rocke, 142 Pacific Coast Highway in Hermosa Beach. Doors open at 5 p.m. Tickets are $48 and are available at www.saintrocke.com.