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October 06, 2011

William Shatner delivers new album, book and … dead rats?

Posted in: Books

William Shatner photographed in 2007. (David Sprague / For the Los Angeles Times)

William Shatner never really rides off into the sunset, he just switches saddles — actor, pitchman, author, equestrian, recording artist, interviewer, filmmaker or, um, starship captain.

The 80-year-old is back this month with a new spoken-word album that features plenty of famous collaborators (Steve Miller, Peter Frampton, Dave Davies and Johnny Winter are part of the classic-rock contingent while Lyle Lovett, Brad Paisley and Sheryl Crow represent younger generations representing twang districts) and a new book called “Shatner Rules” (written with Emmy-winning comedy writer Chris Regan) that promises both insight into the universe and the tenets needed to live life in a more Shatneresque way. (You can read an excerpt here.)

“It’s autobiographical,” Shatner says of the book, which hit shelves this week. “It’s an amusing, light read, but at times I try to introduce more serious themes. I’m at the age where I think more about what my life has been and what the future holds. I just hope it’s entertaining. … I have a sense of curiosity about many things — hopefully about everything — and a curiosity about people and who they are and how they are. That’s been part of my life ever since I could talk.”

The album, meanwhile, arrives next week from Cleopatra Records as a two-disc CD, three-LP vinyl collection or as digital download. It’s called “Seeking Major Tom,” and it’s part of a decades-long musical odyssey for Shatner that is either an intense experiment in spoken word, a wildly prolonged pop-culture gag or, perhaps, a bit of both.

“Every piece of entertainment is made with the idea that ‘This is going to be terrific’ and ‘This is the best thing I’ve ever done’ and then it hits the public and then the public tells you whether it’s good or bad,” Shatner said. “I have a new album called ‘Seeking Major Tom’ and a new book called ‘Shatner Rules’ and I think they’re both terrific, some of the best stuff I’ve ever done, but you’ll tell me. … It’s like when a cat brings in a dead rat. Here is my gift. What do you think? I loved doing this, I love seeing it, here you go, don’t be too cruel.”

Here’s a promotional video from Cleopatra Records that explains the concept behind the album.

Shatner has also become quite the on-screen interviewer, with projects such as “Raw Nerve,” “Aftermath with William Shatner” and the recent documentary “The Captains.”

“I don’t bring anything,” Shatner said of the inquiry projects. “I bring myself. I don’t work from notes, on ‘Raw Nerve’ or ‘Aftermath,’ although ‘Aftermath’ is a little more preparation because something has happened and I have to know the facts. But I know nothing about the people. When I’m interviewing somebody I don’t work from prepared questions. I don’t have any piece of paper in front of me, I have nothing in my ear. I’m operating from a paragraph that I’ve read going in — that they’re married, they have children, they’re divorced, their father died — these major moments in their life that I think maybe I will get to if it gets to that. And then I just have a conversation, the way I’m talking to you. We start to talk and avenues open up, and I explore that avenue. Perhaps the most difficult thing of all is to remember your original question and where you were going as you take a divergent path that may be more lucrative in terms of knowledge than the one you were treading. Otherwise it’s just an exploration of the person. That’s what you’re seeing in ‘The Captains’ and the interview shows that I do. You see a jazz interview.”

William Shatner as Captain Kirk, stardate 1960s (Los Angeles Times archives)

The original “Star Trek” aired from 1966 through 1969 but the faces, images and ideas of the show have an ongoing mission in pop culture and, in some ways, the series tinted every Shatner project that followed, whether it was “T.J. Hooker,” “Boston Legal” or those Priceline commercials. Shatner said he long ago came to terms with “Trek” and the way it could be both a bright spotlight and a deep shadow in his professional life.

“I never felt insecure about a series that only went so long and was so firmly in the past for me,” Shatner said. “What I had been dealing with is the celebrity that it foisted on me and [determining] how best to use it to make other things happen, which is what’s happened over the many years. I found a commonality and a comfort zone in everybody in that everybody had similar experiences of sacrifice that they had to make in order to do this. The sacrifices were so extreme that, in looking back, some of them wouldn’t have made it.”

– Geoff Boucher

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