Thursday, April 28, 2011

98. William Shatner, "That's Me Trying" (2004)

(listen)

I know that this and the album it comes from are mostly intended as a grand joke. And it's a pretty good joke, I'll hold my hand up there, riffing off Shatner's stock in trade here at the end of his career, the fatally insincere buffoon in his dotage lost in the consequences of a lifetime of refusing responsibility. But there's also something here that tugs very hard at the heartstrings, embedded deeply in the details of the lyrics written by Nick Hornby. The singer tracks down his disaffected daughter by looking up her address in "the phone book at the library," and comments, "Weird, that you've been living maybe two miles away for the best part of 20 years." A lifetime of loss is compressed into that. He can't remember how old she is, or who was president when she was born. And he's not about to change—"But I don't wanna talk about any of that bad stuff, why I missed out on your wedding and your high school graduation"—except in teeny, impossibly tentative, and too-little-too-late ways: "I'd like to explain, but I ... can't." The chorus is a dagger to the heart, free-floating and aching: "Years of silence / Not enough / Who could blame us / Giving up?" I think it's arguable that Hornby and Ben Folds, the musical brains behind the project, have more to do with what makes this work than Shatner. Yet even as Shatner's hammy improvs clutter it up (is there any doubt he's responsible for the "daughter dad action" throwaway that very nearly torpedoes the whole thing?), I'm not sure anyone else could have pulled it off. Shatner occupies the role perfectly, as the bumbling foolish Dad you can't help hating and loving both. Like the awkward animated figures in the homemade YouTube video I'm pointing to, sometimes the only thing you can do is hang your head at the sheer pitifulness of it.

2 comments:

  1. "intended as a grand joke"

    Like all great 'comedy' music, the underlying tone and meaning can still be very serious - and that's okay.

    By comedy music, I don't been songs with jokes in, but the likes of Neil Innes, Flight of the Conchords,Tim Minchin. Songs where they can easily be nistaken for serious songs if you are not listening carefully!

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  2. This song is not really intended as comedy (except perhaps in a very wry and almost dark way), although the overall album might be a "grand joke", as you say. I originally got it on the strength of their cover of "Common People", which I really liked, and ended up just downloading the whole thing. I've been surprised how well it ages -- especially this song, which came as a real surprise. I agree 100% that it has way more to do with Folds and Hornby (plus the Aime Mann cameo!) Still, Shatner was the right guy to 'sing' this. You can imagine him being this guy, looking up the daughter he fell out with years ago, and hoping that they can just "forget about the past" (gotta imagine there is a lot of past… or maybe not enough) and move on. Of course, being a father with a daughter, it does tug at the heartstrings… I hope I will never be this guy who says at the end "You wanna try Cold Mountain?... or is that too long?"

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