It’s likely you have listened to William Shatner’s unforgettable rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” and thought to yourself, “WHOA—what in tarnation was on Shatner’s mind there???”
We now have something of an answer—the answer is, Not very damn much!
Kevin Pollak recently interviewed Ben Folds on his long-form talk show. Folds has had (among other accomplishments) a fruitful musical collaboration with Shatner, most notably he was the man behind Shatner’s successful 2004 album Has-Been, featuring such actual, talented musicians as Joe Jackson, Aimee Mann, and Adrian Belew.
Folds related a conversation he had with Shatner about his legendary first album The Transformed Man, released in 1968 (edited to eliminate crosstalk and the like).
Folds: Well, you know, when I was a kid and I was trying to, you know, I wanted to be a songwriter and Neil Sedaka had done it by the time he was 13 and I didn’t, you know, but I was still goin’ for it. One of the things I did in high school was, I really liked, at an art sale I bought … the William Shatner record The Transformed Man. And that’s the one that has “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “Tambourine Man.”
Pollak: Yeah, “Tambourine Man”…. he just keeps screaming it.
Folds: It’s really good!
Pollak: So you see what I’m saying—there’s no perfection there….
Folds: He didn’t know what he had done, like I asked him about that record and he said, “Well, you know, it was a day and we were shooting Star Trek….” and it was one thing on his list and he did it in real time, it was like a 45-minute thing. He didn’t even know what he had done, it was just like, he just left. And then it became this huge cult classic.
So there you have it. Perhaps 45 minutes is a wee bit of an exaggeration, but the point couldn’t be clearer. Shatner went to the studio and just cranked out the vocals for those mothers and then went off and did something else that day. That was it—no big musical idea, no “concept,” just following through on an idea to cash in on a little bit of that Summer of Love zeitgeist and employ his unique actorly skills in a way nobody would ever have thought possible.
There can be no doubt that the track successfully captured that preposterous/genius thing that has always been a trademark of Shatner’s acting.
Here’s the Pollak interview; the Shatner section starts around the 28:50 mark:
“Mr. Tambourine Man”
“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Microworld: William Shatner’s psychedelic short film about microprocessors and transistors (1976)
Happy Birthday Canada: Here’s William Shatner singing the Canadian National Anthem