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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Music for the Ages - The Dark Ages that is

These days I often recieve gift cards for bookshops and records stores for my birthday. This is to ward off the inevitable reaction I have when people just go ahead and buy me music themselves, which is to hold my nose, cross my eyes, and make loud gagging noises. To be fair, that's just me doing an impersonation of what I think the CD will sound like.

This can leave a very bad impression whilst people are trying to enjoy cake.

The positive side though is that I get to buy my own music, which is more practical in the long run anyway.

I simply have difficult, very eclectic tastes that run from Post-Romantic classical (Bruckner, Mahler) to Modern (Ives, Messaien), to Religious Minimalism (Gorecki), to flat out cool rock (U2, Radiohead, Sigur Ros, REM), some nostalgic Classic Rock as well (Beatles, ELO, The Who), and of course great music from cartoons.

I realize many of you were expecting a very silly list. To keep you from being disappointed, please substitute the following paragraph for the previous one:

"I have very eclectic tastes that run from Post-Bavarian neo-electric polka (Kurt Schinglepricken und Der Mad Steiners, Gertrud Frocken von Schnickertush and her Frankenrumpsters) to Country Ska (Country Joe and the Gunja Gang, Boxcar Ziggy), to Gregorian Punk (The Most Solemn Brothers of Club Venezia Monastery and Pub), to Neo-Renaissance Electronic Flatulence Beach Music (The Toots; Beans, Wind & Fire; Silent but Deadly!, Pull Our Fingers, and Jan and Dean), some nostalgic Big-Band Anarchist Jazz (Benny Switchblade and the Hoboken Revolution), and of course music from cartoons."

Anyway, every once in a while I get a thirst for something out of my comfort zone. No, I don't mean a country-western album or a rap CD. I'm looking for something different to enjoy, not trying to work up the nerve to slit my wrists.

This week, I found just the thing. It's different, it's funny, it's peculiar, and I've secretly always wanted to own it. Yes, I finally went and purchased William Shatner's The Transformed Man.

This is an album to be treasured. It has a rendition of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds on it that Paul McCartney reputedly described saying, "It's wrong, but it's so wrong it's great." It has a version of Dylan's Mr. Tambourine Man on it that ends with Shatner screaming "MISTER TAMBOURINE MAN!!!!!!" as though the bloke were a serial killer who jingle-jangled people to death.

On top of Bill's hammy, extravagantly over the top performances of 60's pop hits and monologues from Shakespeare, possibly Man of La Mancha, and other works, there's some of the most cliched arrangements of music you'll ever hear. The arranger must've been the Ed Wood of music, gifted in an awful and terrible way that will have you in tears of laughter, even as your eardrums are screaming for mercy. Somewhere, Spike Milligan is saying to himself, "Why couldn't I get THAT guy? That guy kills!"

Don't believe it can be that awful? Listen to this, and this, and also THIS!

Oops, that last one was Sebastian Cabot of Family Affair "singing" Like A Rolling Stone. That's just hideous. I'm sorry you had to hear it. That was rather sadistic of me.

With Shatner's magnum opus we get a kind of egocentric genius that defies ridicule and embarrassment and for that matter singing, since Bill recites all his lines like a beatnik in a smoke-filled coffeehouse. All that's missing is the collective snapping of fingers at the end of each piece. Admittedly, he may have had actual beatniks in the studio, but they were probably to paralysed with shock to move their fingers...the ones that survived.

No matter what Shatner intended (and from the precious liner notes, you'd think he was recording The White Album) the result is a glorious, legendary mess. His recent "follow-up" album Has Been is actually fairly competent and even quite entertaining in a reasonably normal way, so of course, it completely fails to measure up to the lunatic heights of "Transfigured."

So, I'm quite happy this week. I may even have to go out and purchase a Leonard Nimoy album, just to keep up the mood. He actually sings on his though, so it might not be as fun.


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